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News

Last 50 News Postings

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

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 
   Incomes
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
Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer: RT Out, Pembrolizumab In, and Vaccine
   Hope or Hype
Dental Visits May Prevent Pneumonia

 

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.

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Entries in Veterans Administration (4)

Thursday
Dec152016

Rating the VA Hospitals

USA Today is listing the star rating system for the Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers based on the quality of care. The website has a link that allows searches for individual medical centers. The ratings have been done for years but the VA has refused to release the ratings saying they are meant for internal use only.

The top-rated hospitals received a 5 and the lowest a 1. According to the star ratings the best hospitals are in the Northeast and upper Midwest.  In the Southwest the ratings are not so good with the top-rated hospital Palo Alto and the lowest a tie between Phoenix and Albuquerque (Table 1).

Table 1. Southwest VA medical center star compare VA hospitals ratings.

Quality can be difficult to measure and it is not clear what metrics were used in the VA ratings. For this reason, the VA star ratings were compared to another hospital rating service Compare VA Hospitals (2). This scale uses a 1-100 scale with 100 being the best. In this scale the Palo Alto turned out to be the best in the country with Phoenix and the VA being more in the middle of the pack. There was no correlation between the ratings (r=0.2386, p>0.05). This is consistent with a previous publication in the SWJPCC which showed no or little correlation between the various hospital ratings.

The lack of correlation between rankings and not knowing the metrics which determine the rankings suggest that the VA is right, the rankings should remain for an internal use rather than adding to the confusion already generated by the various hospital rankings.

Richard A. Robbins, MD

Editor, SWJPCC

References

  1. Slack D. Exclusive: Internal documents detail secret VA quality ratings. USA Today. December 7, 2016. Available at: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2016/12/07/internal-report-details-secret-quality-ratings-veterans/94811922/ (accessed 12/14/16).
  2. Health Grove by Graphiq. Compare VA hospitals. Available at: http://va-hospitals.healthgrove.com/ (accessed 12/14/16).
  3. Robbins RA, Gerkin RD. A comparison between hospital rankings and outcomes data. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2013;7(3):196-203. [CrossRef]

Cite as: Robbins RA. Rating the VA hospitals. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2016;13(6):309-10. doi: https://doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc138-16 PDF 

Saturday
Aug272016

Another Phoenix VA Director Leaves

The Arizona Republic reports that the director at the Phoenix VA Medical Center, Deborah Amdur, will retire after only 9 months for health reasons (1).  Amdur will be replaced by Barbara Fallen, director of the VA Loma Linda Healthcare System. Fallen will be interim director until a permanent replacement for Amdur can be found. This is the fifth hospital director since former Director Sharon Helman was removed in mid-2014 amid the nationwide veterans health-care scandal that was first exposed at the Phoenix VA.

The Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) in Gilbert, which oversees the VA Medical Center in Arizona, New Mexico and West Texas has also been through a series of 4 directors since Susan Bowers retired under pressure in the wake of the VA scandal. Marie Weldon, current acting regional director, also oversees the Los Angeles-based VA Desert Pacific Healthcare System. Weldon described Fallen as “an experienced leader who will continue the tremendous effort being made to improve access to high quality health care for veterans in the Phoenix area.”

Amdur's retirement comes just one day after 12 News KPNX in Phoenix reported a taped conversation between a patient and employees at the Southeast VA Clinic in Gilbert (2). During the visit a nurse called the patient phone scheduling system “a nightmare", and a doctor employed by the VA for 3 months said he was “not a fan of the VA” and complained that assigning him 500 patients on May 23rd did not allow him sufficient time with patients. According to the tape the doctor expresses his desire to help but simply states, “It’s just I’m so lost in what to do.” Regarding the audio recording, Director Amdur said before her resignation that "the agency is looking into the matter" and threatened "actions with the providers involved”.

Congressman Matt Salmon, who represents Arizona's 5th District which includes the Southeast VA Clinic, told 12 News he was “disappointed” by what the audio recording revealed and does not consider it an anomaly. Salmon said while there are pressing matters facing the agency, he is optimistic new leadership can help turn it around. "I have nothing but praise for Director Amdur who is running the (Phoenix) VA. I think she is a breath of fresh air," Salmon said. "But the problem is so many people who still work there are the people that were there when the problem was created and getting rid of people that don’t do the job the way they are supposed to is almost impossible in the VA." Salmon said the VA's HR system needs to be revamped in order to recruit higher-quality employees. "It needs to be streamlined so that when they find good doctors they are able to hire them quickly," Salmon said.

Amdur's threats and Salmon's comments are in line with the last 2 and a half years of VA excuses for poor care by blaming bad employees rather than mismanagement and lack of oversight. Both the nurse and the doctor are new to the VA and will likely shortly be gone for telling the truth further worsening the shortage of providers. As predicted 2 and half years ago, no fundamental changes have been made at the VA and it is not surprising that problems with patient scheduling persist (3). The last 20 years demonstrate that if the VA wants to provide the best of care, it is time to stop putting VA bureaucrats in charge and replace them with professionals who know something about it, doctors and nurses. Those doctors and nurses need to be overseen by a local committee of professionals to ensure that Veterans get the best of care. Otherwise no real change occurs and VA bureaucrats and politicians will continue to blame bad employees rather than a bad system. If no fundamental change is made, it may be time to scrap the VA system and send patients to outside providers as suggested by both the patient who made the recording and implied by Salmon.

Richard A. Robbins, MD*

Editor, SWJPCC

References

  1. Wagner D. Phoenix VA hospital getting yet another boss. Arizona Republic. August 26, 2016. Available at: http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/phoenix/2016/08/26/phoenix-va-hospital-getting-yet-another-boss/89412700/ (accessed 8/27/16).
  2. Dana J. VA cancer patient secretly records doctor visit. 12 News KPNX. August 25, 2016. Available at: http://www.12news.com/news/local/valley/va-cancer-patient-secretly-records-doctor-visit/307185216 (accessed 8/27/16).
  3. Robbins RA. VA administrators breathe a sigh of relief. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2014;8(6):336-9. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc077-14.

*The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, or California Thoracic Societies or the Mayo Clinic. Dr. Robbins does see VA patients under the Veterans Choice Act.

Cite as: Robbins RA. Another Phoenix VA director leaves. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2016;13(2):95-6. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc084-16 PDF

Wednesday
Dec312014

2014's Top Southwest Medical Stories

The end of the year has traditionally been a time to reflect on the top stories of the year. Here's our list of the top local medical stories.

1. VA scandal

Phoenix was the epicenter of the VA scandal but Albuquerque and the Greeley, Colorado clinic also figured prominently in the falsification of patient wait lists. Investigations revealed that at least 70% of the VA hospitals falsified records leading to the resignation of VA secretary, Eric Shinseki, and his under secretary for health, Dr. Robert Petzel. Eventually the director of the Phoenix VA, Sharon Helman, was fired-not for the falsification of medical records but for taking inappropriate gifts. However, most of the directors of the VA hospitals that falsified data remain untouched, still receiving their bonuses. Similarly, the politicians, the inspector general and those in the VA central office whose job was to provide oversight remain unscathed. On the bright side, the scandal did result in a modest influx of monies which hopefully will be spent on patient care rather than administrative bonuses.

2. Ebola outbreak

This seems a bit odd for a local news story but the Ebola epidemic in Africa did impact locally. The outbreak was largely ignored by the American public until a patient and several healthcare workers became infected in the US. Politicians and healthcare administrators seized the opportunity to hype the hysteria and insist on training of healthcare workers. One Arizona Thoracic Society meeting was cancelled because a nursing service needed the room to do "Ebola training". As Peter Sagal said on "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" there have been more Americans married to Larry King that infected with Ebola illustrating the hysteria and resultant overreaction. This year's true medical heroes are the thousands of physicians and nurses who worked on the frontlines of the Ebola crisis in Africa at tremendous personal risk and despite chaotic conditions, underequipped facilities, and overwhelmed local health systems. In contrast to the politicians and healthcare administrators, Anthony Fauci has consistently offered reasonable recommendations and insight based on science.

3. Banner Health, University of Arizona Health Network merger

In June, the Banner Health and University of Arizona Health Network (UAHN) began negotiations to merge with Banner absorbing UAHN's $146 million debt. Banner promised to spend at least $500 million toward capital projects in the next five years and pay $300 million to establish an academic endowment. The deal is to be completed about the end of January, 2015. Mergers between the private and public health sectors have been a mixed bag and this one warrants close watching.

4. Meaningful use

Many physicians suspected that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' (CMS) meaningful use was little more than a scheme to have physicians perform useless clerical tasks. When they were not done, payment would be denied. At the end of 2014 this appears to be true. There remains no data that the meaningful use is "using certified electronic health record (EHR) technology to: Improve quality, safety, efficiency, and reduce health disparities" as intended. About 257,000 physicians will receive a 1% reduction in reimbursement in 2015.

5. Reduction in CMS hospital payments

Despite the lack of data that CMS' value-based healthcare program is doing much to benefit patients and some data that performance of the measures has been associated with adverse outcomes, CMS continues to reduce hospital payments because of hospital-acquired conditions and high readmission rates. We initially reported on this in June, 2013. We are not advocating for hospital-acquired infections or readmissions, but are advocating for measures that improve patient outcomes. Despite a phone call assuring us that CMS would look into it, nothing has seemed to change. Furthermore, much of the data is self-reported by the hospitals. As the VA scandal illustrates, self-reported data is not always reliable especially when money is involved.

6. Congress again fails to pass SGR fix

Congress passed a budget but failed to fix the widely hated sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula for physician reimbursement under Medicare. Also missing was an extension of the current pay bump for primary care. SGR has been present since 1997 and the one of the few things the politicians seem to come together on is not paying physicians, especially primary care physicians, a decent living wage.

Richard A. Robbins, MD

Editor

Southwest Journal of Pulmonary and Critical Care

Reference as: Robbins RA. 2014's top southwest medical stories. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2014;9(6):350-1. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc167-14 PDF

Wednesday
Aug272014

VA Office of Inspector General Releases Scathing Report of Phoenix VA

The long-awaited Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) report on the Phoenix VA Health Care System (PVAHCS) was released on August 27, 2014 (1). The report was scathing in its evaluation of VA practices and leadership. Five questions were investigated:

  1. Were there clinically significant delays in care?
  2. Did PVAHCS omit the names of veterans waiting for care from its Electronic Wait List (EWL)?
  3. Were PVAHCS personnel not following established scheduling procedures?
  4. Did the PVAHCS culture emphasize goals at the expense of patient care?
  5. Are scheduling deficiencies systemic throughout the VA?

In each case, the OIG found that the allegations were true. Despite initial denials, the OIG report showed that former PVAHCS director Sharon Helman, associate director Lance Robinson, hospital administration director Brad Curry, chief of staff Darren Deering and other senior executives were aware of delays in care and unofficial wait lists.

Perhaps most disturbing is the OIG finding that scheduling deficiencies are systemic throughout the VA. The OIG is currently investigating 90 VA facilities. The findings prompted Rep. Jeff Miller, House Veterans’ Affairs Committee chairman to comment “We have seen no evidence that the corrupt bureaucrats who created the VA scandal will be purged from the department’s payroll anytime soon. Until that happens, VA will never be fixed,” (2).

Though whistleblowers alleged veterans died while awaiting care in Phoenix, acting Inspector General Richard Griffin did not draw any conclusions about criminal culpability and declared that he was “unable to conclusively assert that the absence of timely quality care caused the deaths of these veterans.” Phoenix whistleblowers Drs. Sam Foote and Katherine Mitchell, said the OIG standard made no sense because 45 examples described in the OIG report showed that delayed care likely resulted in premature deaths or harm to patients’ quality of life. It is the later standard that is usually applied to physicians.

The day prior to the release of the report the Deputy VA Secretary Sloan Gibson was interviewed noting that more veterans are being sent to private doctors for care reducing waiting times (3). "The fundamental point here is, we are taking bold and decisive action to fix these problems because it's unacceptable," said Gibson. It is unclear whether these reports of improved waiting times are any more reliable than the initial denials of prolonged patient waiting times from both the Phoenix VA and VA Central Office.

Richard A. Robbins, MD

Editor

Southwest Journal of Pulmonary and Critical Care

References

  1. Office of VA Inspector General. Review of alleged patient deaths, patient wait times, and scheduling practices at the Phoenix VA health care system. Available at: http://www.va.gov/oig/pubs/VAOIG-14-02603-267.pdf (accessed 8/26/14).
  2. Wagner D, Lee M. Scathing VA report stirs outcry for accountability. Arizona Republic. Available at: http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/arizona/investigations/2014/08/26/scathing-va-report-stirs-outcry-accountability/14665455/ (accessed 8/27/14).
  3. Associated Press. Watchdog report details ‘systemic’ problems at VA facilities. Available at: http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2014/08/26/no-proof-delays-in-care-caused-vets-to-die-va-says/ (accessed 8/25/14). 

Reference as: Robbins RA. VA office of inspector general releases scathing report of Phoenix VA. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2014;9(2):140-1. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc112-14 PDF