News in Brief: Week of Dec. 10-14

December 12, 2012 04:10 pm News Staff

This roundup includes the following news briefs:

[News in Brief]

ONC Creates Meaningful Use Dashboard to Keep Physicians Updated

In an effort to offer physicians transparent and up-to-date information about CMS' Medicare and Medicaid Electronic Health Record Incentive Programs, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) has added a meaningful use dashboard( to its website.

The information displayed on the ONC site includes a scroll-over map that shows the number of incentive payments made to eligible providers in each state and Puerto Rico; the total number of payments and amounts paid to physicians, other health care professionals and hospitals; and graphs that show the cumulative increase in payouts from the programs to all payees.

FDA Issues Updated Safety Review on Chantix

The FDA has issued an updated safety review( on the risk of cardiovascular events associated with the tobacco cessation drug varenicline (Chantix).

According to the FDA, a meta-analysis comparing patients who took Chantix to patients who received a placebo showed an increased, although not statistically significant, occurrence of major adverse cardiovascular events in those taking the drug. Consequently, the FDA is advising physicians to weigh the risks and benefits of the drug before prescribing it to patients, noting that Chantix is effective in helping patients quit smoking and abstain from smoking for as long as one year.

"Patients taking Chantix should contact their health care professional if they experience new or worsening symptoms of cardiovascular disease, such as chest pain; shortness of breath; calf pain when walking; or sudden onset of weakness, numbness or difficulty speaking. Patients should also contact their health care professional if they have any questions or concerns about Chantix," says the safety review.

Physicians and patients are encouraged to report adverse events associated with varenicline use to the FDA's MedWatch program(

Updated Disaster Preparedness Manual Available

An updated edition of the AAFP Preparedness Manual for Disasters and Public Health Emergencies (Members Only) now is available to all members.

The manual is intended to help members prepare to meet their personal, practice and community responsibilities in a disaster situation, and it helps ensure both physicians and their staff members are taking appropriate advance measures to provide safety for both patients and the practice as a whole in disaster management situations.

AAFP members can download and customize each section of the manual. Sections include personal preparedness(1 MB PDF), practice preparedness(1 MB PDF) and community preparedness(707 KB PDF).

CDC Documents Increased EMR/EHR Use in Office-based Settings

More than 70 percent of the nation's office-based physicians used either electronic medical records (EMRs) or electronic health records (EHRs) in 2012, an increase of 24 percent from 2009, according to a new CDC data brief( on the use and characteristics of EMR/EHR system use among office-based physicians between 2001 and 2012.

The brief, based on a National Ambulatory Medicare Care Survey, also found that EMR/EHR use among office-based physicians varies widely among states, ranging from 54 percent in New Jersey to 89 percent in Massachusetts. Four states -- Connecticut, Illinois, Louisiana and New Jersey -- have the lowest rates of EMR/EHR use among office-based physicians, while Arizona, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wisconsin have the highest rates, according to the brief.

The brief also found that

  • the percentage of office-based physicians using an EHR or EMR increased from 18 percent in 2001 to 72 percent in 2012;
  • roughly 40 percent of office-based physicians said they had a system that meets the criteria for a basic system, an increase of 18 percent from 2009; and
  • 64 percent of office-based physicians said in 2012 that they had applied or planned to apply for meaningful use incentives provided through Medicaid/Medicare programs.

Cost of Temporary Physician Payment Patch Provokes 'Sticker Shock'

The cost of a one-year Medicare payment patch now stands at $25 billion, an increase of $7 billion from a previous score made by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) in July.

The CBO issued the new score( in late November. Unlike the previous estimate, the new score incorporates policy from the final 2013 physician fee schedule, which could explain the $7 billion difference in the two scores.

Physicians face a 26.5 percent reduction in the Medicare physician payment rate on Jan. 1 as a result of the sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula unless Congress acts to block the cut. The SGR has called for steep reductions in the Medicare payment rate for the past several years -- reductions only averted by last-minute congressional action. Each time Congress provides a temporary payment patch, the cost of a short-term payment fix and an outright SGR repeal increases.

Commonwealth Fund Video Advocates U.S. Health Care Solutions

The Commonwealth Fund has released a third video( in its Health Reform and You video series. The latest offering is titled "Improving the Quality and Efficiency of U.S. Health Care" and is narrated by Commonwealth Fund President Karen Davis, Ph.D.

In the short video, Davis discusses finding win-win solutions to America's quest to provide better care health care at a lower cost. For example, Davis says the U.S. health care system needs to reward primary care, pay hospitals and physicians for good patient outcomes, encourage care coordination, pursue a global payment system for the care patients receive when hospitalized for certain conditions, and support the creation of accountable care organizations.

Lastly, Davis advocates for testing a variety of health care payment and delivery options.

House Bills Would Boost FDA's Regulation of Compounding Pharmacies

Democratic lawmakers have introduced two separate but related bills to strengthen federal regulations for compounding pharmacies following a deadly outbreak of fungal meningitis that occurred as a result of tainted steroid injections from a compounding pharmacy in Massachusetts.

The meningitis outbreak caused illness in 541 people, killing 36 of them. In response, Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass, introduced a bill( in early November that would give the FDA greater authority to oversee compounding pharmacy practices throughout the country.

The bill, known as the Verifying Authority and Legality in Drug (VALID) Compounding Act, contains several provisions to strengthen the FDA's authority regarding compounding pharmacies, including a measure to give the FDA the authority to regulate pharmacies as drug manufacturers if the pharmacies are operating as drug manufacturers. The legislation also would require compounded drugs are labeled as such to ensure recipients know the drugs have not been tested for safety or effectiveness, according to a press release issued by Markey's office. The compounding pharmacy blamed for producing the tainted steroids is located in Markey's district.

Another bill(, introduced by two Democratic lawmakers in December, would require compounding pharmacies to register with the FDA and allow the agency to impose new labeling restrictions on compounded drugs. The bill, known as the Safe Compounding Drugs Act and introduced by Reps. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., also would give the FDA the authority to set minimum production standards.