AAMC News and Leadership Announcements, 2013 Dec. 31

The current issue of AAMC News and Leadership Announcements is now available:

Dr. Francis Collins, director of the NIH, authored an op-ed in last Wednesday’s issue of the Washington Post.  He wrote, “Biomedical research is at a critical juncture — a moment of exceptional opportunities that demand exceptional attention if their promise is to be fully realized.”  Dr. Collins noted, “The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is responsible for turning scientific discoveries into better health, but a combination of sequestration-mandated spending cuts and budgets that have not kept pace with biomedical research inflation over the past 10 years has weakened NIH’s ability to carry out its mission.”  He concluded, “…for the millions of sick people awaiting treatments and cures, the investment in NIH’s mission is priceless. If an investment in hope is not worth supporting, I don’t know what is.”

The Chicago Tribune on Friday reported, “Medical residency program officials soon will be required to tell the state disciplinary board when residents fail to complete their training, according to legislation that will go into effect Monday. The change to state law comes after the Tribune reported this year how Dr. Anthony Garcia, charged with killing four people, was able to hold a medical license in Illinois for a decade despite troubles in various residency programs.”

Michelle Snyder, the Chief Operating Officer at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), is retiring.  The announcement was made in an email sent on Monday by Administrator Marilyn Tavenner to CMS staff.

Sunday’s Washington Post featured an article on five areas that Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC, thinks deserve special attention.  The areas are:  increasing human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccinations; fighting the growing problem of antibiotic resistance; reducing deaths attributable to prescription painkiller abuse and overdose; ending polio once and for all; and, defending against health threats that originate elsewhere in the world.

Saturday’s Wall Street Journal reported, “Merck & Co. is working on a plan to radically reshape its once-storied research-and-development unit that would create international innovation hubs tapping into drug research outside of its labs. Merck would create these hubs in or near Boston, the San Francisco Bay area, London and Shanghai, according to people familiar with the matter—regions with a critical mass of academic and commercial R&D. The company would use the bases to scout for promising biotechnology and pharmaceutical research that Merck could license or acquire in deals, according to these people. Meantime, the company is pruning its own research pipeline.”
http://tinyurl.com/kw9qthf (subscription required)

A page one investigative article published in Friday’s Washington Post asserted, “…over the past decade, the number of ‘hospice survivors’ in the United States has risen dramatically, in part because hospice companies earn more by recruiting patients who aren’t actually dying, a Washington Post investigation has found. Healthier patients are more profitable because they require fewer visits and stay enrolled longer. The proportion of patients who were discharged alive from hospice care rose about 50 percent between 2002 and 2012, according to a Post analysis of more than 1 million hospice patients’ records over 11 years in California, a state that makes public detailed descriptions and that, by virtue of its size, offers a portrait of the industry.”  According to the Post, “This vast growth took place as the hospice ‘movement,’ once led by religious and community organizations, was evolving into a $17 billion industry dominated by for-profit companies. Much of that is paid for by the U.S. government — roughly $15 billion of industry revenue came from Medicare last year.”

An op-ed column in Wednesday’s New York Times discussed advances in regenerative medicine and “the buzz about radical life extension.”  Public opinion surveys show some “resistance to the super-centenarian dream…”  The author, Roger Cohen, discussed some of the public policy consequences of “an age of longevity.”

The Cincinnati Enquirer on Friday reported that the University of Cincinnati and UC Health are “planning investments of at least $64 million over the next four years” in the UC Neuroscience Institute.

The Kansas City Star this weekend ran a number of articles on the business of medicine, titled, “Doctors, Inc.”  Among the articles, “‘Facility fees’ add billions to medical bills,” “Medicine goes corporate as more physicians join hospital payrolls,” and “Heart test costs rise as cardiologists flock to hospitals.”  Other articles focus on the opening of “posh outposts” in affluent suburbs and whether the Mayo Clinic model “can save US health care.”

In late November, participants in the International Conference on Children’s Health and Environment issued a statement committing “to work jointly towards the protection of children’s health and safety from environmental risks. These risks may result from exposures that occur before conception, in the womb, during birth and thereafter in the cradle, the home, the school, the wider community, and for millions, from child labor.”

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a part of the World Health Organization, recently released “the latest data on cancer incidence, mortality, and prevalence worldwide. The new version of IARC’s online database, GLOBOCAN 2012, provides the most recent estimates for 28 types of cancer in 184 countries worldwide and offers a comprehensive overview of the global cancer burden.”  According to the agency, “GLOBOCAN 2012 reveals striking patterns of cancer in women and highlights that priority should be given to cancer prevention and control measures for breast and cervical cancers globally.”

An op-ed column in Monday’s New York Times, by Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, discussed the unknowns about breast cancer screening.  The essay is related to a study published in the new issue of JAMA Internal Medicine on the same topic.

A recording of the December 17th AAMC webinar, “Innovative Institutional Partnerships in Research and Research-focused Training: Peer Learning Opportunities,” is now available.  Representatives from each of the four awarded projects described their initiatives. The webinar also announced an opportunity to meet and learn from the innovations of the 2013 AAMC Innovative Institutional Partnerships in Research and Research-Focused Training awardees.  In a separate competition, two winners will be selected to each receive up to $1,500 in travel support to visit one of the awardee institutions. The application deadline is January 31, 2014.

Thursday’s New York Times featured a page one article on efforts by hospitals to reduce visits to emergency rooms by patients with mental health issues.  According to the article, “While there is evidence that other types of health care costs might be declining slightly, the cost of emergency room care for the mentally ill shows no sign of ebbing. Nationally, more than 6.4 million visits to emergency rooms in 2010, or about 5 percent of total visits, involved patients whose primary diagnosis was a mental health condition or substance abuse. That is up 28 percent from just four years earlier,” according to data from AHRQ. The article discussed pilot programs seeking to direct such patients to appropriate facilities and providers and away from the ER.

Nine additional stem cell lines have been added to the NIH Human Embryonic Stem Cell registry.  A total of 243 lines are now available on the registry and available for use by NIH-funded researchers.  The latest additions come from Dusko Ilic of King’s College London and Christoph Hansis of the New York University School of Medicine.  During the previous administration a total of 21 lines were available to federally-funded researchers. In addition to the 243 lines approved under the Obama Administration’s policy and the related NIH guidelines, NIH reports that 66 lines that were submitted have not been approved for listing on the Registry.

The December issue of the HHS Office of Research Integrity’s quarterly newsletter features commentaries from seven researchers “on the future directions for developing relevant research on the responsible conduct of research.”  ORI states, “They each describe their perspectives on future research questions, and collectively they have provided a wealth of ideas that we hope will guide future research efforts.”

A lengthy article in Monday’s New York Times discussed the implementation of I.C.D.-10, which the paper calls “ultra-specific.”  The article begins, “Know someone who drowned from jumping off burning water skis? Well, there’s a new medical billing code for that. Been injured in a spacecraft? There’s a new code for that, too. Roughed up by an Orca whale? It’s on the list.” The new coding scheme is scheduled to begin on October 1.  According to the Times, “I.C.D.-10, with codes containing up to seven digits or letters, will have about 68,000 for diagnoses and 87,000 for procedures.”  I.C.D.-9 “allows codes of up to five characters, has about 14,000 codes to specify diagnoses and 3,000 to specify inpatient procedures.”

Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA) has named Assaad Sayah, MD, as its chief medical officer. Dr. Sayah, CHA’s senior vice president of primary and emergency care, succeeds Gerald Steinberg, MD, who announced his retirement last month. CHA is a Harvard Medical School teaching affiliate and is also affiliated with Harvard School of Public Health, Harvard School of Dental Medicine, and Tufts University School of Medicine.

The San Francisco Chronicle on Thursday reported that Dr. Eric Goosby has rejoined the faculty of UCSF, taking a “faculty position on UCSF’s Global Health Sciences team… starting a program focused on the scientific study of improving health care efficiency.”  Dr. Goosby formerly was the United States Global AIDS Coordinator and led the implementation of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.  Earlier he served in both the White House and HHS.

Clifton A. Poodry, Ph.D., the long-time director of the Division of Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity within the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, has announced he will retire in January.

Terrence Steyer, MD, is the new Chair of the Department of Family Medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina School of Medicine. Most recently Dr. Steyer was Chair of Clinical Sciences at the Medical College of Georgia-University of Georgia Medical Partnership in Athens.  Dr. Barry Hainer has been serving as interim chair of the department.

Also at MUSC, John E. Vena, PhD, has been named the Founding Chair of the Department of Public Health Sciences, effective January 1, 2014. He joins MUSC from the University of Georgia College of Public Health where he has served as GA Foundation Professor in Public Health, Georgia Cancer Coalition Distinguished Scholar, and Head of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics.

Kim E. LeBlanc, MD, Ph.D., joined the NBME staff earlier this year as Executive Director of the Clinical Skills Evaluation Collaboration, which administers the Step 2 exam.  Dr. LeBlanc is the former chair of the Department of Family Medicine at the LSU School of Medicine in New Orleans.

Steven C. George, MD, PhD, has been named chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis, effective July 1, 2014. Dr. George is currently a professor of biomedical engineering and of chemical engineering & materials science at the University of California, Irvine. He succeeds Mark Anastasio, PhD, who has been interim chair since July 2013, when Frank Yin, MD, PhD, stepped down as chair.

And finally…Timothy Egan, a regular columnist for the New York Times, on Sunday suggested several words and phrases that should be relegated to the dumpster.  The words include: artisan, brand, gluten-free, 24/7, whatever, end of the day, world-class, and best practices. Concerning “gluten-free,” Mr. Egan wrote, “It’s a public service to warn the less than 1 percent of the population who suffer from celiac disease that bakery products might contain something that could make them sick. But putting this label on things that have no connection is a cynical corporate play for clueless consumers who buy something simply because they think it’s healthy. Red Bull boasts of being gluten-free. So is paint thinner.”

Happy New Year!

Tony Mazzaschi


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