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The Importance Of Increasing Our Knowledge Of Placebo Neurophysiology

There has been an ongoing debate about placebos on SBM, both in the articles and in the comments. What does it mean that a treatment has been shown to be “no better than placebo?”  If our goal is for patients to feel better and they feel better with placebos, why not prescribe them? Do placebos actually do anything useful? What can science tell us about why a patient might report diminished pain after taking an inert sugar pill? The subject is complex and prone to misconceptions. A recent podcast interview offers a breakthrough in understanding.

On her Brain Science Podcast Dr. Ginger Campbell interviewed Dr. Fabrizio Benedetti, a physician and clinical neurophysiologist who is one of the world’s leading researchers on the neurobiology of placebos. A transcript of the interview [PDF] is available on her website for those who prefer reading to listening. The information Dr. Benedetti presents and the expanded remarks by Dr. Campbell after the interview go a long way towards explaining the placebo phenomenon and its consequences for clinical medicine. Dr. Campbell also includes a handy list of references. I’ll try to provide a summary of the main points, but I recommend reading or listening to the original.

A common misconception is that Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Science-Based Medicine*

Is The FDA Too Lenient When Reviewing Medical Devices?

I speak to people in the pharmaceutical industry much more than folks who develop medical devices. I know how pharma researchers spend years and hundreds of millions of dollars trying to develop a useful, safe new drug that the FDA will approve for marketing. Certainly there are big payoffs, but the road is filled with potholes and trapdoors and the analysis by the FDA is rigorous.

But for years we’ve been hearing that it is much less rigorous when it comes to medical devices. Artificial hip joints and stents to open blocked arteries fall into this category. And recently, the less stringent review process has been highlighted in the news. Metal-on-metal hip joints are being removed from patients who had them implanted. They thought Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Andrew's Blog*

Device Delivers A Still-Beating Heart To Transplant Patients

Packing hearts on ice destined for transplantation may eventually become a thing of the past. The Organ Care System from TransMedics, which delivers a still-beating heart to a transplant patient, continues to show promise in clinical trials. UCLA recently reported that Rob Evans, a 61-year-old patient suffering from cardiomyopathy, is the most recent recipient of a heart delivered by the device.

We’ve actually covered the Organ Care System (OCS) several times before (we first caught wind of it in 2006). The device, however, is still classified as an investigational device by the FDA; it is undergoing phase II clinical trials in the United States at three sites: the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, the Cleveland Clinic, and New York-Presbyterian, Columbia University Medical Center.

Check out the UCLA press release explaining the technology and its use in the university’s Heart Transplant Program: Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Medgadget*

Conflicts Of Interest Within Clinical Trials Can Jeopardize The Participants

Follow the money.

Earlier this week, I blogged about the growing economic relationships and even mutual dependency between medical device manufactures and physicians, citing a pre-emptive strike against an Institute of Medicine report that recommended closer regulation of medical devices before and after they enter the market. Such ties, though, are only one part of a broader medical-industrial complex that has enormous impact on public policy in the United States.

A 2009 White Paper by the Seton Hall’s Center for Health & Pharmaceutical Law & Policy reported that “ drug and medical device companies fund up to 80% to 90% of all clinical trials; in 2005, and that by 2004, three-quarters of all of the clinical trials paid for by industry were in private physician practices or for-profit research centers.” The paper’s authors argue that such trials “create potential conflicts of interest that possibly jeopardize the rights and well-being of research participants as well as the integrity of research results” and that “the goal for public policy should be to structure physician-investigator payment to achieve financial neutrality between treatment and research.”

A recent web posting by a medical billing company unabashedly crows about the extra income doctors can make from clinical trials. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at The ACP Advocate Blog by Bob Doherty*

The Perspective Of The Clinical Trial That You Need To Know

There are big companies like Quintiles that run clinical trials around the world. There are local clinics that specialize in clinical trials and make a lot of money at it. There are, of course, pharmaceutical companies and device manufacturers who depend upon the results to gain marketing approval for new products. People in all those groups know a lot about trials.

But the perspective that counts is the view from you and me – patients. Most of us do not enroll in clinical trials. We don’t want to get too up close and personal with anything “experimental.” And often our doctors never tell us about available trials anyway since it can be a lot of paperwork for them. Given that most people don’t enroll in trials and new science is delayed because of it and also because most people in trials are not journalists, I thought I’d put hunt and peck to the computer keyboard and speak out about trials. I am especially motivated because I have participated twice. The first one, a leukemia trial in 2000, I believe, saved my life. And I enrolled in a second one, studying a new drug for clots in the legs (deep vein thrombosis or DVT) just a week and a half ago.

I enrolled in the DVT trial because 1) the first one worked for me and 2) I crow all the time about how patients should always consider being in a trial as a treatment option. I had to put up or shut up. So I signed on the dotted line.

This particular trial, Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Andrew's Blog*

Latest Interviews

How To Make Inpatient Medical Practice Fun Again: Try Locum Tenens Work

It s no secret that most physicians are unhappy with the way things are going in healthcare. Surveys report high levels of job dissatisfaction burn out and even suicide. In fact some believe that up to a third of the US physician work force is planning to leave the profession…

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Caring For Winter Olympians In Sochi: An Interview With Team USA’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Gloria Beim

I am a huge fan of the winter Olympics partly because I grew up in Canada where most kids can ski and skate before they can run and partly because I used to participate in Downhill ski racing. Now that I m a rehab physician with a reconstructed knee I…

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Latest Cartoon

Richmond, VA – In an effort to simplify inpatient medical billing, one area hospitalist group has determined that “altered mental status” (ICD-9 780.97) is the most efficient code for use in any patient work up.

“When you enter a hospital, you’re bound to have some kind of mental status change,” said Dr. Fishbinder, co-partner of Area Hospitalists, PLLC. “Whether it’s confusion about where your room is located in relationship to the visitor’s parking structure, frustration with being woken up every hour or two to check your vital signs, or just plain old fatigue from being sick, you are not thinking as clearly as before you were admitted. And that’s all the justification we need to order anything from drug and toxin screens, to blood cultures, brain MRIs, tagged red blood cell nuclear scans, or cardiac Holter monitoring. There really is no limit to what we can pursue with our tests.”

Common causes of mental status changes in the elderly include medicine-induced cognitive side effects, disorientation due to disruption in daily routines, age-related memory impairment, and urinary tract infections.

“The urinalysis is not a very exciting medical test,” stated Dr. Fishbinder. “It doesn’t matter that it’s cheap, fast, and most likely to provide an explanation for strange behavior in hospitalized patients. It’s really not as elegant as the testing involved in a chronic anemia or metabolic encephalopathy work up. I keep it in my back pocket in case all other tests are negative, including brain MRIs and PET scans.”

Nursing staff at Richmond Medical Hospital report that efforts to inform hospitalists about foul smelling urine have generally fallen on deaf ears. “I have tried to tell the hospitalists about cloudy or bloody urine that I see in patients who are undergoing extensive work ups for mental status changes,” reports nurse Sandy Anderson. “But they insist that ‘all urine smells bad’ and it’s really more of a red herring.”

Another nurse reports that delay in diagnosing urinary tract infections (while patients are scheduled for brain MRIs, nuclear scans, and biopsies) can lead to worsening symptoms which accelerate and expand testing. “Some of my patients are transferred to the ICU during the altered mental status work up,” states nurse Anita Misra. “The doctors seem to be very excited about the additional technology available to them in the intensive care setting. Between the central line placement, arterial blood gasses, and vast array of IV fluid and medication options, urosepsis is really an excellent entré into a whole new level of care.”

“As far as medicine-induced mental status changes are concerned,” added Dr. Fishbinder, “We’ve never seen a single case in the past 10 years. Today’s patients are incredibly resilient and can tolerate mixes of opioids, anti-depressants, anti-histamines, and benzodiazepines without any difficulty. We know this because most patients have been prescribed these cocktails and have been taking them for years.”

Patient family members have expressed gratitude for Dr. Fishbinder’s diagnostic process, and report that they are very pleased that he is doing everything in his power to “get to the bottom” of why their loved one isn’t as sharp as they used to be.

“I thought my mom was acting strange ever since she started taking stronger pain medicine for her arthritis,” says Nelly Hurtong, the daughter of one of Dr. Fishbinder’s inpatients. “But now I see that there are deeper reasons for her ‘altered mental status’ thanks to the brain MRI that showed some mild generalized atrophy.”

Hospital administrators praise Dr. Fishbinder as one of their top physicians. “He will do whatever it takes to figure out the true cause of patients’ cognitive impairments.” Says CEO, Daniel Griffiths. “And not only is that good medicine, it is great for our Press Ganey scores and our bottom line.”

As for the nursing staff, Griffiths offered a less glowing review. “It’s unfortunate that our nurses seem preoccupied with urine testing and medication reconciliation. I think it might be time for us to mandate further training to help them appreciate more of the medical nuances inherent in quality patient care.”

Dr. Fishbinder is in the process of creating a half-day seminar on ‘altered mental status in the inpatient setting,’ offering CME credits to physicians who enroll. Richmond Medical Hospital intends to sponsor Dr. Fishbinder’s course, and franchise it to other hospitals in the state, and ultimately nationally.

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Click here for a musical take on over-testing.

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Latest Book Reviews

The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

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Unaccountable: A Book About The Underbelly Of Hospital Care

I met Dr. Marty Makary over lunch at Founding Farmers restaurant in DC about three years ago. We had an animated conversation about hospital safety the potential contribution of checklists to reducing medical errors and his upcoming book about the need for more transparency in the healthcare system. Marty was…

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