Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Good morning, everyone! I'm here to get you ahead of Tuesday's biggest stories in science and medicine. 

Theranos under new investigation

Silicon Valley's Theranos is under investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of California, according to a memo sent to the company's partner organizations. Theranos, which claimed it could revolutionize diagnostics by testing tiny blood samples, has already been investigated by the FDA and CMS, along with local health officials. 

Drug marketing conference gets underway 

The direct-to-consumer advertising industry is kicking off its big conference in Boston today, at a time when the practice of marketing drugs right to consumers is under increased scrutiny. Presidential candidates and Congress have their eyes on the practice. In September, Hillary Clinton announced a proposal to require FDA pre-approval for the ads to make sure they're clear and accurate, and also suggested she'd deny tax breaks currently given for that marketing. The American Medical Association has pushed for a ban on the practice, too. 

How to handle the looming public health threat of climate change

Climate change is a looming threat to public and individual health, and doctors need to step up and do something about it, says the American College of Physicians. “Climate change could pose a ‘catastrophic risk’ to human health and undermine the global health gains achieved during the past half century,” say authors writing in a new position paper in the Annals of Internal Medicine. They say that climate change could increase rates of asthma and other respiratory conditions, as well as prevalence of food and water insecurity and malnutrition. In response, the authors say, doctors should become educated about the challenge, incorporate climate change education into doctors' training, and push for more energy-efficient practices in hospitals and offices. 

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NIH launches effort to reduce surgical disparities

The NIH is launching a new initiative to address the significant disparities in surgical care seen across racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic lines. The initiative will focus on improving care at surgical facilities that serve a high proportion of minority patients, among other efforts. And for more on how one California surgeon is trying to narrow the surgical care gap, read this

Inside STAT: The political weight behind cancer research

Dom Smith / STAT
The announcement of Vice President Joe Biden’s cancer “moonshot” back in January raised a red flag for some public health advocates — it had virtually no mention of cancer prevention. Advocates took those concerns to Biden, and when the moonshot website was launched, cancer vaccines and early detection topped the list of research goals. It may have been a sign of how the moonshot was to take shape: with cancer advocacy vying for attention and clout. Those groups see a window of opportunity to gain additional funding and attention for their respective causes. STAT’s David Nather and Sheila Kaplan have the story here.

Financial incentives may increase use of unnecessary procedures 

Docs at physician-owned practices are less likely to heed advice that a medical procedure is unnecessary. That comes from an analysis of doctors in Florida performing a commonly-used knee procedure to help osteoarthritis, which a clinical trial later showed didn’t work to improve patient outcomes. The publication of that finding led to the procedure being performed less often, but the decline was much less pronounced in physician-owned surgical centers, where doctors might have financial incentives for continuing to perform the procedure.

New HPV vaccine could make a bigger dent in cervical cancer cases

Full series HPV vaccination varies widely from one state to the next. (David Durham)
The newest version of the HPV vaccine could lower the number of cervical cancer cases in the US — but only if states encourage adolescents to get vaccinated. The Gardasil vaccine series protects against some types of human papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted disease that can cause cervical cancer. Gardasil 9, the newest version of the vaccine, was released last year and includes protection against five additional strains of HPV. The new analysis, published in PNAS, finds that switching from the old vaccine to Gardasil 9 would reduce the number of cervical cancer cases by 73 percent. The switch is projected to save billions of dollars, too  — more on that from Ed Silverman here

Non-urgent cases in the ER might be overtreated

Patients who show up in the ER with non-urgent ailments sometimes have a full gamut of medical procedures performed and often are even admitted — and that signals a problem, according to a new analysis published in JAMA Internal Medicine. Researchers looked at data of 240 million adult visits to the ER and found that half of non-urgent patients received diagnostic services and procedures like IVs, EKGs, and blood tests in the ER. The authors say physicians are overusing services for non-urgent patients that might not be necessary, or at the very least, aren’t confident in their classifications during triage.

What to read around the web today

  • Why medical devices aren't safer. New York Times
  • More people seek genetic counseling, but there aren't enough counselors. NPR
  • Doctors struggling with their mental health share their stories. The Guardian

More reads from STAT

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