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Managing The Drug Shortage: Many Hospitals Are Buying “Gray Market” Drugs

Severe shortages for life-saving medications have driven a “gray market” in the wholesale drug supply industry, a watchdog group reports.

And the mark-up on gray market drugs is a budget-buster, reports the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit organization devoted entirely to medication error prevention and safe medication use. Purchasing agents and pharmacists at 549 hospitals responded to a survey on gray market activities associated with drug shortages.

The report includes chilling anecdotes from the respondents about pressure from physicians and administrators to ensure drugs are available, and drastic price gouging from the gray market suppliers. Price mark-ups of 10 times or more than the contract price were reported by about a third of respondents from critical access hospitals and community hospitals, and more than half of university hospitals. Examples include a box of calcium gluconate that cost $750 instead of the contract price of $50 (1,400% mark-up), and a supply of propofol that cost $25,000 instead of $1,500 (1,567% mark-up). Oh, and there’s exorbitant shipping and handling fees, too. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Hospitalist*

New Jersey Attempts To Outlaw Cosmetic Botox For Minors: Will The Legislation Work?

TRENTON — Minors in New Jersey wouldn’t be able to get Botox injections unless a doctor says it’s medically necessary and documents the reason, under a bill moving through the Assembly. The Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee approved legislation Thursday to clamp down on doctors injecting people under 18 with botulinum toxin for cosmetic purposes. The Federal Drug Administration already bars anyone under 18 from getting Botox for cosmetic reasons. The new state legislation would go further by requiring doctors to document in a patient’s chart the noncosmetic medical reason for performing the procedure on a minor. Botox is used widely to smooth out facial wrinkles, but also can be used to treat headaches and spasms.

This prospective law in New Jersey would make Botox injections illegal in minors without a doctor’s statement that it is medically necessary. Unfortunately this is not to say such a law would have the desired effect. There are docs who will write those “permit slips.” Watch how many of these Botox-using minors get headaches.

I am not really a fan of laws restricting the flow of medicines. I do not believe they work well. Then again Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Truth in Cosmetic Surgery*

Creative Semantics Used By Health Insurance Companies To Avoid Payments

Insurance companies are supposed to pay for health care, although they do everything they can think of to avoid doing so. One company in particular (a small player here though a much bigger gorilla in other markets) does so by playing with words, even when another behemoth lost a lawsuit over the same issue.

The topic involves paying for preventive services while a patient is in the office for care of an acute illness or management of a chronic condition. The way we communicate with insurance companies about what we do in the office is by way of codes; CPT codes, to be precise. There are separate codes to differentiate between preventive services and the so-called Evaluation and Management (E/M) services. The latter are your basic office visit codes covering all the “cognitive” services I offer — as opposed to procedural codes, where I actually do something to you other than talk with and examine you. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Musings of a Dinosaur*

Homeopathy: Why is Fraud Legal?

Imagine hearing a commercial on the radio:

Send us money, and we won’t send you anything in return.

No one would do that, right? How about this:

Send us your money and we’ll send you an empty box.

Better? Not much. Now how is that different from:

Send us money and we’ll send you stuff we’ll call medicine that we claim will help you, but there’s no actual active ingredients in it at all.

I don’t think there’s one bit of difference. Wouldn’t you agree that that commercial is fraud, pure and simple? The problem is that the general public doesn’t understand that the word “homeopathic” means “diluted beyond the point where it contains any active ingredients.”

I’ve recently heard commercials for homeopathic vertigo treatments, eye drops for allergies, irritable bowel, and spider veins on legs. I’m tempted to contact the radio station and complain, but stopped short realizing that their first question is going to be, “But is it legal?”

That’s the problem: it is. So what I want to know is, why? Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Musings of a Dinosaur*

Is It A Crime To Help Illegal Immigrants Get Healthcare?

According to some state legislators, the answer is yes. Lawmakers in South Carolina are pushing legislation that would “make it illegal to transport immigrants anywhere, including a hospital” reports the New York Times. Fox News Phoenix reports that in Arizona, a bill has been introduced to “require hospitals, when admitting nonemergency cases, to confirm that a person seeking care is a U.S. citizen or in the country legally. In emergency cases where the patient isn’t here legally, the hospital would be required to call immigration authorities after the treatment is done. Hospitals in non-emergency situations would also be required to contact federal immigration authorities, but they would have more apparent discretion about whether to treat illegal immigrants.”

Such ill-advised efforts by states to criminalize health care for undocumented persons has led the American College of Physicians, the nation’s second largest physician organization, to speak out against “Any law that might require physicians to share confidential information, such as citizenship status to the authorities, that was gained through the patient–physician relationship conflicts with the ethical and professional duties of physicians.” ACP made this statement in a new position paper on immigrants’ access to health care released yesterday at its annual scientific meeting in San Diego, California. Read more »

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

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

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How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

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Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

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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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