Week in review: 14 biggest healthcare stories this week


Stay in the know with Becker's Hospital Review's weekly roundup of the nation's biggest healthcare news. Here's what you need to know this week.

1. High court divided over PPACA case
The U.S. Supreme Court began hearing arguments Wednesday in King v. Burwell, and a decision is expected in June. However, justices' concerns and opinions on the case became clearer as both sides presented their arguments. Justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg "all seemed like solid votes for the federal government, defending the subsidies," while challengers "could clearly count on votes" from Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito, according to live coverage of the arguments from SCOTUSblog. Justice Anthony Kennedy's questions made it seem he could be leaning more toward the government, and Chief Justice John Roberts did not give a clear indication of which way he was leaning. However, even without the Chief Justice's vote, the court could still end up ruling in favor of the government if Justice Kennedy supports the subsidies in his vote.

2. Nurse who contracted Ebola sues Texas Health Resources
Nina Pham, the 26-year-old nurse who contracted Ebola in October 2014 at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, filed a lawsuit alleging the hospital violated her privacy and failed to properly train staff to care for patients with Ebola. She tested positive for Ebola after caring for Thomas Duncan, the first person diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S. Ms. Pham claims her privacy was violated when a physician at the hospital released a video of her to the public while she was a patient. Ms. Pham's attorney also claims the chief clinical officer of the hospital's parent company, Texas Health Resources, misrepresented information about the protective gear Ms. Pham and other employees wore at the hospital.

3. New shortage estimate: US will need up to 90,000 physicians by 2025
The nation will need between 46,100 and 90,400 physicians in the next decade, with the greatest shortages in surgical specialties, according to an AAMC study released this week. This projection is down from the 2010 estimate, which predicted a shortage of 130,600 physicians by 2025. The new estimate is less severe than 2010's due to a number of factors, but primarily because the U.S. Census Bureau adjusted the 2025 projected population downward and an increasing number of physicians are completing their graduate medical education. Nonetheless, a shortage of 90,000 physicians still means the nation would need to train at least 3,000 more physicians a year to meet healthcare demand in the next decade, according to AAMC President and CEO Darrell G. Kirch, MD.

4. DoD aims to have EHR operable by end of 2015
The Department of Defense plans to have its EHR up and running by the end of calendar year 2015. The DoD $11 billion contract, currently still in limbo between three major health IT industry teams, is expected to be awarded in summer or fall 2015. The Defense Health Agency will work with the department to manage the EHR and have it up and running by the end of the year, according to ExecutiveGov. The system will also be designed to operate on the U.S. military's Joint Information Environment, a set of IT standards instituted across the DoD.

5. Cedars-Sinai reports 'superbug' infections tied to hard-to-clean scopes
Los Angeles-based Cedars-Sinai Medical Center reported four patients contracted "superbug" carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae infections from the same type of endoscope that caused similar problems at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, also located in Los Angeles. The same duodenoscope was used on all four patients between August 2014 and January 2015. The scope, made by Olympus, has since been removed from use. Cedars-Sinai sent letters to 71 other patients who had a procedure with that particular scope between August 2014 and February 2015 out of "an abundance of caution." The hospital offered free home testing kits for CRE that can be sent to Cedars-Sinai for analysis.

6. Scopes tied to infections sold without FDA approval
Olympus — one of three companies that manufacturers duodenoscopes linked to infection outbreaks — sold a specific model of the scope without obtaining clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, according to the FDA. Olympus started selling the TJF-Q180V duodenoscope in 2010, but the FDA was not aware of it until late in 2013 or early in 2014, according to a CNN report. Currently, the FDA is not taking any action against Olympus.

7. Cardinal Health agrees to buy J&J's cardiology business for nearly $2B
Dublin, Ohio-based Cardinal Health will buy Johnson & Johnson's cardiology business, Fremont, Calif.-based Cordis Corp., for $1.94 billion in cash. The purchase price is adjusted to $1.56 billion when factoring in tax benefits. Cordis' medical device offerings include stents and catheters for less-invasive treatments for vascular disease. In 2014, Cordis' sales reached approximately $780 million, and 70 percent of that revenue came from overseas, according to a Cardinal news release. The transaction is expected to close toward the end of calendar year 2015.

8. Cerner awarded $170M contract to expand in Australia
In its first contract since acquiring Siemens, Kansas City, Mo.-based Cerner won a $170 million, 10-year contract to provide medications management solutions to government-owned hospitals throughout New South Wales, Australia, according to Pulse+IT, an Australian health IT publication. According to the report, the value of the contract was not disclosed, but the government allocated $170 million for the implementation. Local health districts in New South Wales have selected 28 "priority sites" to initially implement the new system, according to the report.

9. McDonald's to avoid using chickens treated with antibiotics
McDonald's Corp. announced plans to curb the use of chickens that have been treated with antibiotics deemed important to human health and medicine over the next two years in U.S. restaurants. Chickens that are treated with antibiotics are not used for humans or are considered important to human health, such as ionophores, will still be used. The initiative is the latest in a series of efforts McDonald's has taken to reduce the use of antibiotics in its poultry supply, according to Marion Gross, senior vice president of McDonald's North America Supply Chain.

10. FTC fails to speed up St. Luke's divestiture of Saltzer
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the Federal Trade Commission's attempt to expedite Boise, Idaho-based St. Luke's Health System's divestiture of Saltzer Medical Group in Nampa, Idaho, despite an earlier ruling that the 2010 acquisition of the medical group violated antitrust laws. Chief U.S. Judge B. Lynn Winmill ordered St. Luke's to divest Saltzer in January 2014. However, St. Luke's appealed this decision in June 2014 and the court ruled St. Luke's could maintain ties with the medical group while the case was on appeal. In February, the appeals court upheld the federal judge's ruling that St. Luke's acquisition of Saltzer was anti-competitive, but it is allowing St. Luke's to keep Saltzer for now, as the system could still request a rehearing of the case.

11. NuVasive, Medtronic patent saga continues
The Federal Circuit overturned a previous court's decision in patent litigation between NuVasive and Medtronic. The original jury verdict in the first phase of the litigation awarded NuVasive $660,000 in monetary damages and $102 million to Medtronic, which included lost profits, ancillary sale products and royalties. Now NuVasive has won an appeal. The decision was based on ongoing patent lawsuits with Medtronic Sofamor Danek and Warsaw Orthopedic. The jury originally ruled three patents at issue in the appeal were infringed upon. The most recent ruling, on March 2, 2015, unanimously upheld the first jury's finding of liability as to all patents, but overturned the damage award against NuvVasive as "improper." The case is now headed back to the District Court for further proceedings to determine the proper damage award based on reasonable royalty only.

12. National Cancer Institute Director steps down
Harold Varmus, MD, director of the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health, announced his is stepping down, effective March 31. Dr. Varmus served as director of the NCI for five years. During his tenure, he created NCI's new Center for Global Health, re-energized the cooperative clinical trials system, launched an initiative to find cell-targeting drugs, led the cancer component of the Precision Medicine Initiative and contributed countless valuable ideas to biomedical research. NCI Deputy Director Douglas Lowy, MD will become acting director for NCI beginning April 1.

13. Physician assistant imposter treated 137 patients before being caught
A woman in Maryland was sentenced to three years in prison for impersonating a physician assistant and treating and diagnosing 137 infants and children. Shawna Gunter worked for the Maryland pediatrician since August 2013, after providing the office with a forged PA certificate, an altered and fraudulent DEA controlled substance registration certificate and a fabricated diploma. She issued more than 400 prescriptions for controlled substances and her lack of license led the pediatrician's office to submit hundreds of false claims to Medicaid.

14. Are 'macho' orthopedic surgeons a hazard to patients?
The Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research journal recently published a study examining how surgeon attitudes influence reoperation and readmission rates. The study measured how certain hazardous attitudes might impact orthopedic surgery. These attitudes include macho, impulsive, worry, resignation, self-confidence and authority. The study analyzed 41 surgeons. The study found macho attitude prevailed among surgeons with 24 percent reporting “macho thought.” Surgeons reported impulsivity and authority at much lower rates, while none reported resignation. The researchers concluded, "High levels of hazardous attitudes may not be consistent with the routine delivery of safe surgical care in a teamwork setting where human factors and safe systems are the key to success."

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