News Briefs: Week of April 18-22

April 20, 2011 05:15 pm News Staff

This roundup includes the following news briefs:

CMS Launches Online Tools for Meaningful Use Incentive Programs

CMS has created a new set of online tools to help physicians and other providers navigate Medicare's electronic health record, or EHR, meaningful use incentive program.

The new tools include an attestation page( where participants in the Medicare EHR incentive program can find important information on how and when to attest for the program; a meaningful use attestation calculator( that allows eligible providers and hospitals to check whether they have met meaningful use guidelines; an eligible professional attestation user guide(; and an eligible hospital and critical access hospital attestation user guide(

Obama Signs Bill Eliminating 1099 Tax Provision

President Obama has signed into law a bill that eliminates an unpopular tax provision in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. H.R. 4( repeals the 1099 provision that would have required businesses, including family physician practices, to report all purchases of goods or services worth $600 or more to the Internal Revenue Service.

NHSC Loan Repayment Program Still Open

The National Health Service Corps is reaching out to primary care clinicians to apply for its loan repayment program before the current application cycle ends.

Family physicians can receive as much as $170,000 in medical education loan repayments in exchange for a five-year, full-time service commitment to provide care in a medically underserved area. The program starts with an initial award of $60,000 for two years.

Application information is available online( The present application cycle for loan repayment closes May 26.

Major Health Systems Create Care Connectivity Consortium

Five of the nation's leading health systems have launched an interoperability consortium to securely exchange electronic health data.

Geisinger Health System, Kaiser Permanente, Mayo Clinic, Intermountain Healthcare and Group Health Cooperative have jointly created the Care Connectivity Consortium, which is designed to provide connectivity of electronic patient information in a way that protects patient confidentiality. The consortium will rely on standards-based health information technology to share data about patients electronically, and it plans to initiate the first data exchange within the next year.

In a joint press release(, the health systems noted that the connectivity provided by the consortium should enhance patient care. "If a patient from one system gets sick far from home and must receive health care in another system -- or if any system sends patients to another -- doctors and nurses at each of the consortium systems will be able to easily and quickly access invaluable information about the patient's medications, allergies and health conditions, allowing them to provide the right kind of treatment at the right time and avoid unintended consequences like adverse medication interactions," said the groups.

Abstracts Invited for 2011 AAFP Family Medicine Global Health Workshop

Practicing physicians, faculty, residents and students with an interest or experience in international activities or global health are encouraged to submit abstracts for peer sessions or posters at the 2011 AAFP Family Medicine Global Health Workshop.

The workshop will be held Oct. 13-15 in San Diego. Its theme, "Improving Health Systems: The Contribution of Family Medicine," will focus on strengthening the effect of family medicine in health systems; global clinical issues in resource-poor countries; and student-resident international health interests.

Particular interest will be given to abstract submissions on the following topics:

  • ways to improve and strengthen health care systems through the development of family medicine;
  • international family medicine consultations on health care delivery and human resources for health issues in low- and middle-income countries;
  • the impact of international rotations and experiences on students' and residents' development as medical doctors;
  • global clinical issues in resource-poor countries;
  • sustainability implications for short-term international projects or partnerships; and
  • the global impact of family medicine development.

Submission information is available online. The deadline for submissions is June 17.

AAFP Foundation Offers Physicians With Heart Resident Scholarship

Resident members of the AAFP with an interest and experience in international family medicine or humanitarian efforts are invited to apply for the AAFP Foundation Physicians With Heart Resident Scholarship.

The scholarship will allow a family medicine resident to accompany the Physicians With Heart delegation on its Sept. 30-Oct. 9 airlift to Kyrgyzstan, a former republic of the Soviet Union. The scholarship will cover all expenses from the departure city to Kyrgyzstan, as well as housing, transportation and food.

The resident delegate will tour recipient hospitals, share medical knowledge in an in-country symposium, provide pharmaceutical update training on medicine delivered to the country, meet government officials and business leaders, and participate in a special children's project at local orphanages.

The scholarship recipient will be asked to make a presentation about his or her experiences during the AAFP's 2012 National Conference of Family Medicine Residents and Medical Students.

Application details are available online. Applications are due Aug. 5.

Health Disparities Focus of New HHS Plan

A new HHS report outlines goals for the department to reduce health disparities among racial and ethnic minorities and strategies to meet those goals.

According to HHS Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities(, goals include reducing disparities in health insurance coverage, addressing the critical shortage of primary care physicians, increasing the availability of community-based programs, increasing data reported on racial and ethnic minorities, and streamlining grant administration for health disparities funding.

HHS also has released the National Stakeholder Strategy for Achieving Health Equity(, which presents a community-driven set of goals and objectives for public and private sector initiatives.

Topiramate Recalled Because of Odor

Ortho-McNeil Neurologics is recalling two lots of topiramate, the anticonvulsant medication marketed as Topamax, because of consumer reports of an uncharacteristic odor thought to be caused by trace amounts of 2,4,6 tribromoanisole, or TBA.

TBA is a byproduct of a chemical preservative applied to wooden pallets. Ortho-McNeil Neurologics, a division of Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc., said in an April 14 news release that it instituted procedures in January to reduce the potential of TBA contamination, including requiring suppliers to verify that they do not use pallets made from chemically treated wood. The two recalled lots of 100-mg tablets -- 0KG110 and 0LG222 -- were shipped in the fourth quarter of 2010, before those changes were implemented.

The manufacturer said no serious adverse events caused by the presence of TBA have been reported. Patients taking topiramate who experience an uncharacteristic odor associated with their medication should return the tablets to their pharmacist. Patients and physicians with questions may contact Ortho McNeil Neurologics at (866) 536-4398.

FDA Updates Information Linking Rare Cancer, TNF Blockers

The FDA continues to receive reports of hepatosplenic T-cell lymphoma, or HSTCL, primarily in adolescents and young adults being treated for Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis with tumor necrosis factor, or TNF, blockers, as well as with azathioprine and/or mercaptopurine.

In a safety announcement( released April 14, the FDA said the majority of HSTCL cases reported were in patients being treated for Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis, but also included a patient being treated for psoriasis and two patients being treated for rheumatoid arthritis.

In 2009, the FDA required manufacturers of TNF blockers to update boxed warnings in the drugs' prescribing information because of an increased cancer risk in children and adolescents who use the drugs to treat immune system diseases. The agency also required manufacturers to strengthen their products' package label warnings in 2008 to highlight potential risks for opportunistic fungal infections.

The FDA said in its safety announcement that the risks and benefits of using TNF blockers, azathioprine, and/or mercaptopurine should be carefully weighed and discussed with patients and caregivers when prescribing the drugs to children and young adults, especially for the treatment of Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. The agency also issued the following advice for physicians:

  • Educate patients and caregivers about the signs and symptoms of malignancies, such as HSTCL, so that they are aware of and can seek evaluation and treatment of symptoms, including splenomegaly, hepatomegaly, abdominal pain, persistent fever, night sweats, and weight loss.
  • Monitor for the emergence of malignancies when a patient has been treated with TNF blockers, azathioprine, and/or mercaptopurine.
  • Know that people with rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's disease, ankylosing spondylitis, psoriatic arthritis and plaque psoriasis may be more likely to develop lymphoma than the general population. Therefore, it may be difficult to measure the added risk of TNF blockers, azathioprine, and/or mercaptopurine.
  • Report adverse events involving TNF blockers, azathioprine and/or mercaptopurine to the FDA's MedWatch program(