Friday, July 08, 2011

Guest Blog: Health Care in Dangerous Times

Health Care Renewal presents another guest blog by Steve Lucas, a retired businessman who formerly worked in real estate and construction who has a long standing interest in business ethics, and has long observed the health care scene.

Health Care Renewal has often covered the disconnect between the stated goals of companies and the realities of their day to day operations. This raised the following question: Has medicine moved from being dysfunctional to being dangerous?

There is certainly no lack of material to support this question as in the last two weeks we can find examples of pharma/biotech/device companies all engaged in questionable behavior.

Medtronic and Manipulation of Study Data

In the print media, The Wall Street Journal, a pro-business newspaper regularly highlights stories questioning the actions of companies.

In the June 29 story titled "Medtronic Surgeons Held Back, Study Says" by John Carreyrou and Tom McGinty we find doctors being paid by Medtronic held back information regarding negative out comes of a bone growth product.
'Medtronic paid millions to doctors and those same doctors, oddly enough, published the 'science' Medtronic needed to sell a product,' says Paul Thacker, a former aide to Sen. Charles Grassely…'

Chantix's Cardiac Adverse Effects

In the July 5 story, "Pfizer Drug Tied To Heart Risk" by Thomas M. Burton covers the increased cardiovascular problems with Chantix that only now seemingly have become evident.

However, J. Taylor Hays, a Mayo Clinic doctor who has received funding from Pfizer for research on Chantix, responded in a commentary, 'The risk for serious cardiovascular events is low and is greatly outweighed by the benefits of diminishing the truly 'heartbreaking' of smoking.'
The article then continues:
'Some people have had changes in behavior, hostility, agitation, depressing mood, suicidal thoughts or actions while using Chantix to help them quit smoking,' Pfizer says in safety information.

Overuse of Cardiac Stents

In the July 6 article, "Heart Treatment Overused" by Ron Winslow and John Carreyrou we find the over use of stents and the profit potential for doctors and hospitals.

Outside of heart attacks, doctors are often quick to use a common $20,000 procedure to treat patients suffering from coronary artery disease, a new study suggest.

Untested Imported Drug Ingredients

In the July 6 Op-ed, "Beware the Risk of Generic Drugs" by Roger Bate reinforces a point made often on Health Care Renewal when he covers the importation of untested or tainted product used in our pharmaceuticals.
China is now the largest supplier of pharmaceutical chemicals – hundreds of tons annually – to the world. And pharmaceutical companies that buy these chemicals do not test them.

Moving on to widely read blogs,

Ghost Writing and Risperdal

1BoringOldMan in his post on bipolar kids and the doctors involved in the Harvard debacle discussed an article favorable to the drug ostensibly written by Harvard Professor Josephy Biederman:

This covers the reworking of a previously done study to promote the use of drugs in children with this printed at the bottom of the first page:

“"Printed in the USA. Reproduction in whole or part is not permitted. Copyright © 2006 Excerpta Medica, Inc."

1BoringOldMan continues with this post that since we have identified children as bipolar we are free to ignore other factors and simply medicate them to death.

As reported by '60 Minutes' in September of last year, Rebecca Riley died on December 13, 2006, at her home in Hull, Massachusetts, due to an overdose of psychiatric drugs. The drugs — Depakote (divalproex; Abbott), Seroquel (quetiapine; AstraZeneca), and clonazepam — were prescribed by Tufts psychiatrist Kayoko Kifuji for the child’s bipolar disorder, which was diagnosed at the age of 2 years.
This covers the death of a child, a child, using the above ghost written drug information.

Bayer's Use of Social Media to Market Drugs

Pharma does adjust to the times and market, if it is not explicitly forbidden then it is fair game.

Per a post in Pharmalot entitled, "To Tweet or not to Tweet"

'To Tweet or not to Tweet?' That is a question that Bayer Healthcare will be pondering for some time. The drugmaker was upbraided by the UK’s Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority for recently Tweeting about two medicines, which was deemed to be a cause for concern since the information went directly to the public.

Much like shooting a gun into a crowd and then claiming they had no way of knowing they would injure someone, a tweet is sent with the full knowledge the first thing everybody will do is hit the forward to all button.

Pharma's Public Relations People Infiltrate Patient Support Groups

Per a post on the HealthReviewNews Blog we have one of the most frightening posts possible since it shows pharma following individuals and a willingness to intrude into their personal lives.

Marilyn Mann is approached on her Facebook page set up to support parents of children with lipid disorders by a drug PR person to promote a drug.

Hi Marilyn,

A few months ago, I had emailed you about some research I was doing about a new treatment for FH. I am now working with a pharmaceutical company, and the company currently has a drug in development to help treat people with severe FH that may not be responding to current therapies.

In the comment section we find this:

I'm a communications consultant to many big pharma firms and I'm not sure the PR person in this case did anything wrong. She was upfront and polite about her role, and asked if any patients would do what many have done, and be interviewed to raise the profile of FH.
The owner of the group politely declined as was her right.
It would have been a different case if there had been any subterfuge involved, but there wasn't.
I think on this occasion you have aimed at the wrong target.
Good luck with future postings.

What do all of these references have in common? Senior executives, and health care academics, removed from the day to day work of helping people being able to claim they are not responsible while making ever larger incomes.

Natrecor Shown Not to Work

The corporate culture of medicine has become so perverse that even selling a drug that has no benefit becomes acceptable.

Per this item in the Heart Health Center Health Day News:

Study Finds Heart Failure Drug Ineffective

Billions wasted on Natrecor in decade it took to find out it doesn't work, expert says.

By Steven Reinberg, HealthDay News

WEDNESDAY, July 6 (HealthDay News) — The heart failure drug Natrecor (nesiritide) is ineffective and linked to increased rates of potentially dangerous low blood pressure, a new study finds.

Summary: The Most Dangerous Game

So, back to my original question: Has medicine become dysfunctional or dangerous? I would contend dangerous. There is nothing magical about the above listed articles or posts. I am not a professional medical person, nor an academic, only someone concerned by the continued decline of medicine and medical care due to a corporate culture that promotes profit above all else.

When I meet doctors socially they all speak of being small businessmen. Time and time again we see hospital administrators of all types speaking about being the CEO’s of multi-billion dollar organizations.

Drug companies speak of blockbuster drugs as being those with sales of over one billion dollars and fines become the cost of doing business.

Today we have a small, but vocal group of people who feel all drugs should be offered to the public and it is up to them to decide if they are appropriate. They also want the government and insurance companies to pay for this return to the pre-FDA days.

How will the FDA itself withstand the onslaught of new technologies given out current Federal budget concerns? Tweets and Facebook represent only the beginning of a whole new wave of ways to communicate.

My personal opinion is this is a very dangerous time for doctors and patients. Doctors are being pushed into corporate practices where financial gain is the main driver, not health care. Information given to doctors can be so tainted by commercial interest as to be of no value.

Patients have no way of knowing where the doctor’s loyalty lies, with them or the practice? DTC ads are full of half truths and fear mongering. Patients need to bring even more information and skepticism to the doctor/patient relationship.

I fear we do live in dangerous times. The word “good” has left much of medicine.

Steven Lucas MBA


InformaticsMD said...

An excellent but sobering assessment.

Not to mention, Steve, an already volatile environment made even more flammable by health IT dangers, another domain where the word "good" has left much of medicine.

-- SS

Judy B said...

Don't forget the panels who set guide lines. The most recent panel that set the recommended lipid levels was dominated (8 out of 9) by people with financial ties to the drug companies. The acceptable level keeps going down so that now virtually all adults are considered candidates for statin "therapy". Should you mention this to your doctor, you will get a bristly respons and if you decline, you will be shown the door!

Judy B said...

Meant to also say, congratulations on a well written post. Keep it up! (that includes you, too, Dr. Brody)

Anonymous said...

I am shocked, literally shocked, that such things could happen in the noble profession.

How naive of me. I only thought that the serious corruption involved the vendors of healthcare information technology, their HIM$$, C$HITs, and AHIMAs, having read how these incestuous goups have achieved greenback heaven at the expense of the taxpayers and patients with their deception of the Congre$$ and zero oversight.

Judy B said...

Obviously, I meant Dr. Poses. Sorry about that!

Afriad said...

Thanks Steve!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for mentioning me in your post. My main concern with this kind of thing is that the news coverage could be slanted to serve the interest of the drug company. In this instance, Genzyme's drug mipomersen would not be used as first line therapy for FH, but as add-on therapy for people whose cholesterol is not controlled with a statin. These would generally be people with the most severe forms of FH. Presumably, these are the kind of patients Genzyme would like to see tell their story. They would not be looking for people whose cholesterol is brought down to normal levels with a statin. Those people have no need of an additional drug.

And, just in general, I don't like the idea of corporations working behind the scenes to generate news coverage to serve their interests. They have a right to do that but I personally have no interest in being part of that. In addition, such behind-the-scenes maneuvers are not always disclosed.

Medicare News said...

It is disappointing that the corruption and fraud is so widespread that even some of our most trusted medical practitioners takes a part on it. I guess nobility in profession has already been a thing of the past.