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In Memoriam
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Last 50 News Postings

 (Click on title to be directed to posting, most recent listed first)

Determining if Drug Price Increases are Justified
Court Overturns CMS' Site-Neutral Payment Policy
Pulmonary Disease Linked to Vaping
CEO Compensation-One Reason Healthcare Costs So Much
Doctor or Money Shortage in California?
FDA Commissioner Gottlieb Resigns
Physicians Generate an Average $2.4 Million a Year Per Hospital
Drug Prices Continue to Rise
New Center for Physician Rights
CMS Decreases Clinic Visit Payments to Hospital-Employed Physicians
   and Expands Decreases in Drug Payments 340B Cuts
Big Pharma Gives Millions to Congress
Gilbert Hospital and Florence Hospital at Anthem Closed
CMS’ Star Ratings Miscalculated
VA Announces Aggressive New Approach to Produce Rapid Improvements
   in VA Medical Centers
Healthcare Payments Under the Budget Deal: Mostly Good News
   for Physicians
Hospitals Plan to Start Their Own Generic Drug Company
Flu Season and Trehalose
MedPAC Votes to Scrap MIPS
CMS Announces New Payment Model
Varenicline (Chantix®) Associated with Increased Cardiovascular Events
Tax Cuts Could Threaten Physicians
Trump Nominates Former Pharmaceutical Executive as HHS Secretary
Arizona Averages Over 25 Opioid Overdoses Per Day
Maryvale Hospital to Close
California Enacts Drug Pricing Transparency Bill
Senate Health Bill Lacks 50 Votes Needed to Proceed
Medi-Cal Blamed for Poor Care in Lawsuit
Senate Republican Leadership Releases Revised ACA Repeal and Replace Bill
Mortality Rate Will Likely Increase Under Senate Healthcare Bill
University of Arizona-Phoenix Receives Full Accreditation
Limited Choice of Obamacare Insurers in Some Parts of the Southwest
Gottlieb, the FDA and Dumbing Down Medicine
Salary Surveys Report Declines in Pulmonologist, Allergist and Nurse 
CDC Releases Ventilator-Associated Events Criteria
Medicare Bundled Payment Initiative Did Not Reduce COPD Readmissions
Younger Smokers Continue to Smoke as Adults: Implications for Raising the
   Smoking Age to 21
Most Drug Overdose Deaths from Nonprescription Opioids
Lawsuits Allege Price Fixing by Generic Drug Makers
Knox Named Phoenix Associate Dean of Faculty Affairs
Rating the VA Hospitals
Garcia Resigns as Arizona University VP
Combination Influenza Therapy with Clarithromycin-Naproxen-Oseltamivir
   Superior to Oseltamivir Alone
VAP Rates Unchanged
ABIM Overhauling MOC
Substitution of Assistants for Nurses Increases Mortality, Decreases Quality
CMS Releases Data on Drug Spending
Trump Proposes Initial Healthcare Agenda
Election Results of Southwest Ballot Measures Affecting Healthcare
Southwest Ballot Measures Affecting Healthcare
ACGME Proposes Dropping the 16 Hour Resident Shift Limit


For an excel file with complete news listings click here.

A report from Heartwire described a letter written by Peter Wilmshurst to the AHA asking for full disclosure of conflicts of interest in the MIST trial. Wilmshurst was portrayed in SWJPCC on April 27, 2012 in our Profiles of Medical Courage series. We felt the report of the letter might be of interest to the readership of SWJPCC but there was no good section to pass along the Heartwire article. For this reason, a new Section entitled “News” has been started to report developments outside the usual medical journal purview or from other sources which might interest our readers. We encourage bringing news-worthy articles to our attention and would welcome submission of written reports of such articles.


Entries in vaccine (2)


Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer: RT Out, Pembrolizumab In, and Vaccine Hope or Hype

Three articles on non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) recently appeared which were of interest and might alter therapy. The first on whole brain radiation therapy (WBRT) was presented at the at the European Respiratory Society (ERS) International Congress 2016 and simultaneously published online in the Lancet (1). WBRT and dexamethasone have been the standard of care for patients with NSCLC brain metastases. However, the study of 538 randomized patients concludes that WBRT provides "little additional clinically significant benefit" with brain metastases. Notably, all the patients were unsuitable for surgical resection or stereotactic radiotherapy, owing to widespread metastases. However, patients younger than 60 years did seem to have a survival advantage and might represent an exception.

The second study presented at the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) 2016 Congress reports that the addition of pembrolizumab to first-line treatment with pemetrexed and carboplatin significantly improved objective response rate and progression-free survival in NSCLC (2). The study included 123 treatment-naive NSCLC patients whose tumors did not harbor EGFR or ALK aberrations. Participants were randomly assigned to receive pemetrexed plus carboplatin with or without pembrolizumab. At a median follow-up of 10.6 months, results showed that objective response rate was 55% with pembrolizumab vs 29% with chemotherapy alone (treatment difference, 26%; 95% CI, 9-42; P = .0016). All responses were partial.

Pembrolizumab is a humanized IgG4 monoclonal antibody (mouse antibody grafted to human immunoglublin) which destroys a protective mechanism on cancer cells, allowing the immune system to destroy those cancer cells. It targets the programmed cell death 1 (PD-1) receptor. The drug was initially used in treating metastatic melanoma but is a promising new therapy for advanced cancers, now including lung cancer. Brighton et al. (3) recently reported in the SWJPCC that pembrolizumab can result in drug-induced pneumonitis.

Earlier this spring a Fox News report in Phoenix made some spectacular claims about a Cuban lung cancer vaccine concluding that it “could literally save millions of live” (4-includes a video of the original broadcast). Dr. Santosh Rao from Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center in Phoenix, who apparently has seen studies on the vaccine says that the vaccine does something, and that it extends life. However, he added that "the question will always come up, is it better than some of the new therapies that we have that also help the immune system function better". Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center has been promoting the coverage on social media adding that the vaccine is “potentially groundbreaking". Dr. Doug Campos-Outcalt, Chair of New Department of Family, Community and Preventive Medicine, commented that he was as baffled by the coverage. “Why MD Anderson would hype this alleged breakthrough before it has undergone controlled clinical trials is beyond my understanding,” said Campos-Outcalt. The drug has not been used in the United States but Roswell Park Institute in Buffalo, NY, has applied to do a clinical trial on the vaccine called CIMAVax. If approved, the trial will probably not begin until 2017 and will likely take several years.

Richard A. Robbins, MD

Editor, SWJPCC


  1. Mulvenna P, Nankivell M, Barton R, et al. Dexamethasone and supportive care with or without whole brain radiotherapy in treating patients with non-small cell lung cancer with brain metastases unsuitable for resection or stereotactic radiotherapy (QUARTZ): results from a phase 3, non-inferiority, randomised trial. Lancet. 2016 Oct 22;388(10055):2004-14. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  2. Hoffman J. Adding pembrolizumab to chemo improves efficacy in metastatic NSCLC. Cancer Therapy Advisor. November 1, 2016. Available at: (accessed 11/2/16).
  3. Brighton AM, Jain T, Bryce AH, Sista RR, Viggiano RW, Wesselius LJ. November 2016 pulmonary case of the month. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2016:13(5):191-5. [CrossRef]
  4. Lomangino K. FOX, Banner MD Anderson hype Cuba cancer “breakthrough”. Health News Review. March 7, 2016. Available at: (accessed 11/2/16).

Cite as: Robbins RA. Non-small cell lung cancer: RT out, pembrolizumab in, and vaccine hope or hype. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2016;13(5):205-6. doi: PDF


Top Medical News Stories 2015

Here is our list of the top seven medical news stories for 2015 with special emphasis on the Southwest.

7. Wearable health devices

A wave of wearable computing devices such as Fitbit and UP wristbands have people keeping track of how much they sit, stand, walk, climb stairs and calories they consume (1). These fitness-tracking devices herald a series of devices that will detect and monitor serious diseases. However, these so-called medical-grade wearables require approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, a regulatory hurdle avoided by the fitness-tracking devices which will likely slow their introduction.

6. Caitlyn Jenner

Caitlyn Jenner became the most famous transgender woman in the world following an interview published in Vanity Fair (2). The Vanity Fair website saw 11.6 million visits curious about the former Olympic athlete. Though Jenner publicly shared her gender identity, many transgender Americans do not-12% of gender non-conforming adults said they had never told anyone about their gender identity. Jenner's "coming out" has and will likely continue to draw increasing attention to gender dysphoria. In Arizona, the Tucson VA recently established a transgender clinic (3).

5. Ebola

Two years after the beginning of an Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the virus continues to strike fear in the US. The Ebola outbreak sickened more than 28,630 people and killed at least 11,300, according to the World Health Organization (4). While the epidemic subsided in 2015, the virus has never completely gone away. The only Ebola cases today are in Liberia, a nation twice declared "Ebola free" suggesting that eliminating Ebola may be difficult.

4. Terrorism in San Bernardino

Multiple terror attacks have occurred in far off places like Afghanistan and Paris, but terror was brought to the Southwest in 2015 by 2 terrorists who killed 14 at a holiday party earlier in December in San Bernardino, California (5). The attack generated concern about emergency preparedness and will likely generate training for triaging and care of multiple gunshot victims.

3. Vaccines

A measles outbreak that started at Disneyland spread to 117 people earlier this year and changed the national conversation about vaccinations (1). The outbreak also drew attention to Disneyland's Orange County where a relatively large percentage of the population is not vaccinated. The outbreak spurred California and Vermont to strengthen their school vaccine laws. Vermont repealed its "personal belief" exemption, which allowed unvaccinated children to attend school if their parents objected to vaccines for philosophical reasons. California went even further, putting an end to both personal belief and religious exemptions.

2. Opioids

Deaths from opioid drug overdoses have hit an all-time record in the U.S., rising 14 percent in just one year (6). More than 47,000 people died from these drug overdoses last year according to the CDC. Concomitant with the introduction of the pain scale as the "fifth" vital sign and continued criticism of doctors for undertreating pain, prescription opioid sales have quadrupled in the US since 1999. The CDC announced that it will issue guidelines to reduce opioid overdoses and prescribing.

1. Prescription Drug Prices

Concern over high drug costs has been building for years. Prices for cancer drugs often exceed $100,000 a year and Gilead priced its breakthrough hepatitis C drug at $84,000 for a 12-week treatment (4). Outrage over drug prices boiled over in 2015 when Turing Pharmaceuticals purchased the rights to pyrimethamine and immediately hiked the price from $13.50 a pill to $750 a pill. Pyrimethamine (Daraprim®) is a medication used for protozoal infections such as Toxoplasma gondii, an infection usually seen in AIDS patients. An October poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 77% of those surveyed said that drug prices should be a top priority for Congress and the White House should and 63% favored government action to lower prescription drug prices.

Richard A. Robbins, MD

Editor, SWJPCC


  1. Reddy S. Year in review: top 10 health issues of 2015. Wall Street Journal. December, 29, 2015. Available at: (accessed 12/31/15).
  2. Chalabi M. 2015: the top news stories of the year in numbers. The Guardian. December 28, 2015. Available at: (accessed 12/31/15).
  3. Transgender services. Available at: (accessed 12/31/15).
  4. Szabo L. That $750 pill and more: 2015's top health stories. USA Today. December 15, 2015. Available at: (accessed 12/31/15).
  5. Domonoske C. San Bernardino shootings: what we know, one day after. NPR. December 3, 2015. Available at: (accessed 12/31/15).
  6. Siegel R. Draft of CDC's new prescribing guidelines stirs debate. NPR. December 29, 2015. Available at: (accessed 12/31/15).

Cite as: Robbins RA. Top medical news stories 2015. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2015;11(6):285-6. doi: PDF