News in Brief: Week of Sept. 17-21

September 19, 2012 09:15 pm News Staff

This roundup includes the following news briefs:

[News in Brief]

FDA Warns of Possible Heart Failure Risk Associated with Pramipexole

The FDA has issued a drug safety communication( regarding a possible increased risk of heart failure associated with the dopamine agonist pramipexole (Mirapex).

According to the release, recent studies suggest an increased heart failure risk, but because of study limitations, the FDA is not able to determine definitively whether the drug increases the risk of heart failure. Further review of available data is necessary, said the agency, which added that it is working with the manufacturer to clarify any further the risk and will issue an update when more information is available.

Pramipexole is used to treat the signs and symptoms of Parkinson's disease, as well as moderate to severe symptoms of primary restless legs syndrome.

The FDA is recommending that physicians and other health care professionals continue to follow the recommendations in the drug label when prescribing the drug. Adverse events that may be related to use of this drug may be reported to MedWatch, the FDA's Safety Information and Adverse Event Reporting Program.

Grant Funding Aims to Improve Rural Veterans' Access to Health Care

HHS and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) have joined forces to expand health care services to veterans living in rural areas of the country.

According to a Sept. 12 press release(, more than $980,000 in new grant money will be devoted to implementing and upgrading telehealth equipment and services in rural America, coordinating care through the use of health information exchanges, and developing electronic health records (EHRs) that are compatible with the VA's EHR system, known as VISTA.

The three states with the highest number of veteran residents -- Virginia, Montana and Alaska -- each will receive about $300,000 to move the work forward.

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki called the effort an "outstanding example" of how to expand access to care and improve the quality of life for rural veterans who need medical, mental and behavioral health care services. "Working with partners like HHS, the VA will continue to increase the reach of our services beyond our 152 major medical centers to ensure veterans receive the care they have earned and deserve," said Shinseki.

Waste in U.S. Health Care System Spotlighted in PBS Film

A new made-for-television film offered by the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and titled Money & Medicine( is set to premier nationwide on Sept. 25.

The program is being promoted as a closer look at America's runaway health care spending, which is fueled, in part, by the provision of sometimes unnecessary medical tests and treatments to uninformed patients.

The film was shot at the University of California-Los Angeles Medical Center and the Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, Utah. It focuses on the stories of real physicians and their patients and includes footage of the often difficult end-of-life decision-making process.

Film producers illuminate strategies that have been proven to reduce unnecessary medical spending, improve patient care coordination and facilitate shared decision-making in an overall effort to prompt viewers to alter some of their own health care behaviors.

Single Application Form Facilitates Access to Drug Assistance Programs

Low-income and uninsured people with HIV and AIDS now can use one form, instead of multiple forms, to apply for HIV medication assistance programs provided by some of the nation's leading pharmaceutical companies, according to a recent HHS announcement(

The single application( is a result of a public and private partnership between HHS and seven major pharmaceutical companies. It is designed to facilitate access to patient assistance programs that provide free or discounted medications to qualifying individuals with HIV disease who cannot afford the medications themselves. The patient assistance programs provide medication assistance to at least 30,000 patients throughout the United States every year, according to HHS.