Spending to save

Public servants spending money to save money? Where have we heard this before? The Australian Healthcare & Hospitals Association is seeking an urgent deployment of a $200m electronic medication management system in all public hospitals. The theory is that this expense could produce real savings, as drug errors result in 80,000 hospital admissions a year and cost about $350 million. The AHHA has also called for online clinical practice guideline systems, and capital funding for replacement of ageing information infrastructure.

Cancer home truths

If you listen to the panic merchants, everything is carcinogenic these days. UNSW Prof Bernard Stewart has busted some old wives tales about cancer causes. Breast implants, deodorant, and coffee are extremely unlikely to cause cancer, his report found, while smoking, drinking alcohol, and deliberate exposure to sunlight were the highest risk factors. “Likely” risks included smoking marijuana, solarium use, eating a lot of processed meats, and living near a waste dump (but why would you?). Less risky endeavours were using hair dye and living near powerlines. The jury was still out on mobile phones, cosmetics, and food additives.

Merck coughs up

Merck & Co. in the US has agreed to pay more than US$650m to settle allegations that it did not pay proper rebates to Medicaid and other health care programs, and that it provided incentives to doctors to prescribe its products. The settlements relate to four of Merck’s drugs: Vioxx (withdrawn in 2004), Zocor, Mevacor, and Pepcid. This is hot on the heels of other recent legal costs for the pharma giant, including a US$4.85b settlement of product liability suits tied to Vioxx. This will undoubtedly rattle the local pharma market, which is already undergoing a shakeup.

Real cure, fake disease?

Still in the States, Pfizer is crowing that fibromyalgia is a real disease in a campaign for its recently FDA-approved drug Lyrica. Eli Lilly and Forest Laboratories have also sought approval for similar drugs. So, a government approved treatment for a disease whose very existence is still questioned by some doctors, including the one who wrote the 1990 paper that defined fibromyalgia (Dr Frederick Wolfe). Only in America!

Icky sticky fingers

What’s hanging around your neck? According to research published in the MJA by Kotsanas et al, it’s probably a cocktail of bacteria that could kill your patients. The researchers found 27 lanyards with pathogenic bacteria, compared with 18 badges, from a total of 71 staff sampled. Analysing lanyards and badges as a combined group, seven had methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), 29 had methicillin-sensitive S. aureus (MSSA), four had Enterococcus spp, and five had aerobic gram-negative bacilli. Next time you’re fiddling with that lanyard, remember to disinfect!

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