Headlines: December 16, 2010
by Meg Larkin
First, in health reform news, six health care systems from across the country have started sharing medical data. The information sharing program is part of an effort to improve quality and reduce costs, and may help to pinpoint some of the reasons for wide regional variations in health care quality and costs. According to Time magazine, the data sharing program will bring together, “the Cleveland Clinic, Denver Health, New Hampshire's Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and an affiliated health institute, Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania, Intermountain Healthcare in Utah and the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.” The group of health systems will focus initial efforts on areas of health care where increasing costs coincide with wide variation in patient outcomes. The project’s sponsors hope that by sharing data the health systems will be able to determine which treatments achieve the best patient outcomes at the lowest costs.
In regulatory news, the FDA is cracking down on illegal dietary supplements. The FDA issued a warning letter to the supplement industry, specifically focused on body building, weight loss and sexual enhancement supplements. The letter accused some manufacturers of deceptively labeling their products and of including illegal ingredients that should only be available by prescription. FDA commissioner Margraet Hamburg pointed out that many of the ingredients in the supplements may have serious adverse side effects and could jeopardize consumers’ health. The FDA has put pressure on a number of manufacturers to recall products, and has warned that companies selling supplements not in compliance with the law could face criminal prosecution. The Agency does not have the power to force a recall.
In other government news, the C.D.C. has released new estimates for the number of food poisoning related illnesses in the United States. The new figures lower the number of estimated illnesses and deaths attributable to food poisoning annually, but the C.D.C. says that the decrease is due to more accurate calculations, not improved food safety. The FDA has said that the new data underscores the importance of the new food safety bill that is currently awaiting a vote in the Senate. Although the chamber passed the food safety bill earlier this month, because of changes made by the house, the bill must be voted on again. The data also showed which types of food borne illnesses were most common, and most deadly. According to the New York Times, only about one fifth of food borne illness is the result of pathogens that scientists could identify.
Finally, in research news, scientists have figured out why staph infections primarily attack humans, not animals. The New York Times reported that, “In a study released on Wednesday, researchers at Vanderbilt University report that staph evolved to zero in on particular regions of human hemoglobin so it could burst the cagelike molecule and feed on the iron inside.” The study also suggested that people with certain genetic variations in their hemoglobin may be more resistant to the bacteria. The new findings could explain why staph infections are deadly for a large number of people, while other people can carry it without any apparent harm to themselves. The new findings may also make it easier for researchers to study the bacteria. By putting human hemoglobin in mice, researchers are able to infect the animals with much less effort, and can more closely simulate the human version of the infection in the mice. The study’s authors are hopeful that these new developments will enable doctors to identify patients who are more susceptible to staph infections so that extra precautions can be taken to prevent patients from acquiring a staph infection during a hospitalization.
Meg Larkin is a third year law student at Boston University. Please feel free to email her with any questions, comments, suggestions or concerns.