News in Brief: Week of Dec. 12-16

December 14, 2011 05:30 pm News Staff

This roundup includes the following news briefs:

CDC Releases Key Findings on Physician EHR Use

Nearly 60 percent of office-based physicians used either an electronic health record, or EHR, or an electronic medical record, or EMR, in 2011, compared with 51 percent who reported using an EHR or EMR in 2010. That's according to a report(www.cdc.gov) published by the CDC that is based on data from the National Ambulatory Medicare Care Survey Electronic Medical Records Supplement 2011(www.cdc.gov).

The report found that about 57 percent of office-based physicians used EHRs or EMRs in 2011 and that prevalence of use of the systems ranged from 40 percent in Louisiana to 84 percent in North Dakota. About one-third of physicians -- 34 percent -- said they had a system that met the criteria for a basic system. A basic system was defined as a system with the following functionalities:

  • patient history and demographics,
  • patient problem list,
  • physician clinical notes,
  • comprehensive list of patient's medications and allergies,
  • computerized orders for prescriptions, and
  • ability to view laboratory and imaging results electronically.

In 2011, 52 percent of physicians said they intended to apply for Medicare and Medicaid meaningful use incentives, an increase of 11 percent from 2010, according to the report.

Cell-based Flu Vaccine Plant Could Expedite Pandemic Response

Expedited vaccine production took another step forward on Dec. 12, when the first cell-based influenza vaccine manufacturing plant in the United States was dedicated in Holly Springs, N.C.

Funded through a partnership between HHS and Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics Inc., the Holly Springs plant can "create vaccine using cultured animal cells instead of the conventional process of using fertilized eggs" according to an HHS news release(www.hhs.gov).

In the event of a pandemic, vaccine supplies could potentially become available sooner because the new process does not require the use of embryonated chicken eggs to produce the vaccine. Because growing vaccine from chicken eggs is so slow and costly, HHS invested $1 billion(archive.hhs.gov) in 2006 to develop a more efficient and efficacious method. The new plant might be able to make as much as 25 percent of the vaccine necessary to treat such a pandemic in the United States, according to HHS.

"Today, we're marking the first change in influenza vaccine manufacturing in the United States in 50 years,” said Robin Robinson, Ph.D., director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority in HHS' Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response. "The pandemic readiness of this facility is a major milestone in national preparedness for pandemic influenza and other diseases."

FDA Issues Warning Letters for Misleading Lap-Band Ads

The FDA is threatening action(www.fda.gov) against eight California surgery centers and a marketing entity, charging them with producing and disseminating misleading advertising about Lap-Band surgery.

Although the Lap-Band procedure itself has FDA approval, the billboards and advertising inserts used by the companies in question "fail to provide required risk information, including warnings, precautions, possible side effects and contraindications," the FDA said in a Dec. 13 news release(www.fda.gov).

If the targeted firms do not make the specified changes, the FDA may take further action, including seizing product or leveling financial penalties.

"The FDA takes seriously its responsibility to protect consumers from products promoted without adequate warnings," said Steve Silverman, director of the Office of Compliance in the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health, in the release. "It's particularly troublesome when advertisements don't communicate the serious risks associated with medical devices."

New Report Shows State Support for CHCs to Drop in 2012

Nearly 20 states plan to decrease funding for community health centers, or CHCs, during the states' 2012 fiscal year, and six of these states will decrease funding for CHCs by more than 30 percent in the 2012 fiscal year. That's according to a new study(www.nachc.org) released by the National Association of Community Health Centers(www.nachc.org).

The report, Community Health Centers Face Growing Demand From Newly Uninsured Patients, found that 35 states will provide funding to health centers in the current fiscal year, appropriating a total of $335 million for the CHCs in 2012. That amount is nearly $60 million less than the 2011 fiscal year, and represents a seven-year low "at a time of significantly rising needs," according to the report, which was based on a questionnaire sent to all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico in June.

"The number of uninsured patients at health centers has steadily increased since 2009, as many people lose their jobs along with their health insurance and increasingly turn to community health centers for care," says the report.

Insurance Coverage Among Young Adults Grows

The percentage of adults between the ages of 19 and 25 with health insurance has jumped by more than 2 million since October of 2010 thanks, in large part, to a provision in the health care reform act that allows young adults to remain on their parents' insurance plans through the age of 26. That's according to HHS, which based its findings on data from the National Health Interview Survey(aspe.hhs.gov).

The health insurance provision in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act went into effect in October of 2010, and, since then, about 2.5 million more adults between the ages of 19 and 25 now have health insurance coverage compared to this time last year, HHS says. That figure is consistent with data from the first three months of 2011, which showed that 1 million more young adults had insurance coverage compared to the same time in 2010.

Facebook Launches Tool to Help Prevent Suicides

The world's largest social network is lending a hand in the fight against suicide.

Facebook's newly launched "Report Suicidal Content" link(www.facebook.com) uses social networking in conjunction with crisis support in an attempt to reduce the number of suicides throughout North America. Users can use the tool to report suicidal comments from friends, either to the Facebook link or other content reporting links on the site.

"The person who posted the suicidal comment will then immediately receive an e-mail from Facebook encouraging them to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800)273-TALK [273-8255] or to click on a link to begin a confidential chat session with a crisis worker," says a news release(www.samhsa.gov) from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which, along with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, collaborated with Facebook on the new tool.

According to the CDC, 35,045(www.cdc.gov) suicide deaths were reported among people ages 18 and older in the United States in 2008, placing suicide among the top 10 leading causes of death for the first time since 1998.


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