News in Brief: Week of April 8-12

April 10, 2013 05:30 pm News Staff

This roundup includes the following news briefs:

[News in Brief]

CMS Releases Report on 2011 PQRS, e-Rx Programs

CMS recently issued a summary report( that presents data on the agency's 2011 Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS) and electronic prescribing (e-Rx) programs.

According to the report, 280,229 physicians and other eligible health care professionals participated in the 2011 PQRS program, and nearly $262 million was paid out in incentives. In addition, CMS reported that more than 282,382 eligible health care professionals participated in the agency's 2011 e-Rx incentive program, and bonuses totaling more than $285 million were distributed to successful participants in that program.

Unfortunately, 135,931 eligible professionals paid an e-Rx penalty in 2012 because they did not

  • qualify for an exemption from the program,
  • meet criteria that would exclude them from incurring a penalty or
  • fulfill e-Rx reporting requirements during the first half of 2011.

Valley Fever Cases Surge in Southwestern United States, Says CDC

The number of so-called valley fever cases jumped dramatically in five Southwestern states from 1988 through 2011, according to a March 29 article in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report( Specifically, the number of cases in Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah increased from 2,265 in 1998 to well more 22,000 in 2011.

According to the CDC, valley fever, or coccidioidomycosis, is caused by inhaling Coccidioides spp. spores that are commonly found in the soil of the desert Southwest. The fungus also is endemic in many parts of Mexico and Central and South America.

More than 40 percent of cases require hospitalization, at an average cost of nearly $50,000 per hospital visit, according to the CDC. Of those who contract the illness, nearly 75 percent miss work or school for about two weeks.

"Because fungus particles spread through the air, it is nearly impossible to completely avoid exposure to this fungus in these hardest-hit states," said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., in a prepared statement( "It is important that people be aware of valley fever if they live in or have travelled to the Southwest United States."

Study Documents Average Physician Wait Times

The average shortest time patients sit in a waiting room before seeing a physician increased by more than a minute from 2011 to 2012, according to a new report issued by Vitals.

The annual report, based on patient-reported wait times from Vitals' database of more than 870,000 physicians, found that in 2012, Alaska had the shortest average wait time at 16 minutes, 28 seconds, followed by Wisconsin with an average wait time of 16 minutes, 29 seconds. In 2011, Wisconsin had the shortest average physician wait time at 15 minutes, 26 seconds.

Rounding out the top five states -- those with the shortest average physician wait times -- were Minnesota, New Hampshire and North Dakota. For the second year in a row, Mississippi had the longest average wait time at 24 minutes, 25 seconds. Other states in the bottom five were Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Nevada.

"As the supply of qualified doctors remains unchanged, the new health care law requires 30 million more Americans to have insurance," said Vitals CEO Mitch Rothschild in a release about the report. "The flood of new demand is causing a major disruption to the system. For the unchanging supply of doctors, it will mean less time to spend with patients in examination rooms."

Wait times also influence whether patients choose certain physicians, Rothschild added.

Reported Cases of Avian Influenza A (H7N9) Reach 28, With Nine Deaths

According to the World Health Organization(, (WHO) public health officials in China have reported 28 confirmed cases of human infection with a novel avian influenza A (H7N9) virus as of April 10, 2013. Of the 28 cases reported, 14 are considered severe, and nine patients have died.

At this time, there is no evidence of ongoing human-to-human transmission.

The Chinese government is actively investigating this event and has heightened disease surveillance, said WHO officials. Preliminary test results provided by the WHO Collaborating Centre in China suggest that the virus is susceptible to oseltamivir and zanamivir.

A CDC health advisory( said that as of April 4, no cases of human H7N9 infection have been detected in the United States, but the CDC suggests that family physicians and other health care professionals consider the possibility of H7N9 virus infection in people with respiratory illness and an appropriate travel or exposure history. Any suspected infections should be reported to the CDC within 24 hours of initial detection.