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Industry Insight

Electronic Pharmacy May Protect War Veterans From Medication Errors

Thousands of men and women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan sustained life-threatening injuries but were fortunate enough to return home alive. But some may have suffered accidental harm or even died from the incorrect use of potent prescription medications for their pain and injuries.

A robotic device that dispenses the proper dose of oral prescription medications to soldiers suffering from traumatic brain injuries, posttraumatic stress disorder, and other conditions requiring risky medications is under study by researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s (UIC) Center for Pharmacoeconomic Research and Milwaukee’s Columbia College of Nursing.

“The military has an increasing number of patients with combat-related injuries that may not allow them to strictly adhere to their medication regimens,” says Daniel Touchette, a UIC assistant professor of pharmacy practice, who serves as coprincipal investigator on the project. Some, he says, “are in transitional care outpatient settings that do not have nurses or pharmacists to manage their medications daily.”

The study involves the use of an electronic medication management assistant (EMMA) delivery unit, which is designed to remotely deliver, manage, and monitor a patient’s drug therapy and adherence in the outpatient setting under the guidance of a physician, nurse case manager, and pharmacist.

The hope is that the system “will help ensure that these errors are minimized while eliminating the need for labor-intensive and inherently inaccurate practices of manually filling and reorganizing pill boxes,” Touchette says. “It also eliminates the need for patients to try to remember whether they have taken their medications as prescribed, as the system will remind them when a medication has been missed or already taken.”

— Source: University of Illinois at Chicago

Former HHS Executive Kerry Weems Joins Vangent

Vangent, Inc, a global provider of information management and strategic business process outsourcing solutions, announced that former Health and Human Services (HHS) official Kerry Weems will join its leadership team and serve as senior vice president of health strategy. In this role, Weems will lead Vangent’s strategy development in the health and HIT markets.

In January, Weems ended a 28-year career with the federal government in which he held the position of administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and was also vice chairman of the American Health Information Community. In those capacities, he implemented the Medicare e-prescribing program, began pilot projects for EHRs and PHRs, and instituted a number of payment reforms, including nonpayment for certain medical errors.

Prior to that, he served in a number of senior positions at HHS, including deputy chief of staff, chief financial officer, and chief budget officer.

— Source: Vangent, Inc

How Accurate are Hospital Report Cards?

A key statistic that consumer groups and the media often use when compiling hospital report cards and national rankings can be misleading, researchers report in a new study. The statistic is called the mortality index, where a number above 1 indicates a hospital had more deaths than expected within a given specialty. Lower than 1 means there were fewer than the expected number of deaths.

The study by Loyola University Health System researchers and published in the Journal of Neurosurgery illustrates how the mortality index can be misleading in at least two major specialties: neurology and neurosurgery. The index fails to take into account such factors as whether a hospital treats complex cases transferred from other hospitals or whether a hospital treats lower risk elective cases or higher risk nonelective cases.

“A hospital with a lower mortality index may not be a better hospital for patient care but rather a place where the patient mix has been refined or limited,” says senior author Thomas Origitano, MD, PhD, chairman of the department of neurological surgery at Loyola University Stritch School of Medicine. There is no “definitive or reliable source for rating the quality of overall neurosurgical care,” Origitano and colleagues wrote in the journal article.

Researchers examined neurosurgical mortality data from 103 academic medical centers in the University HealthSystem Consortium. Hospitals with the worst mortality index tended to be level 1 trauma centers with busy emergency departments (EDs) and a high percentage of Medicaid patients.

A level 1 trauma center with a busy ED is more likely to treat severe and complex cases such as head and spinal injuries from car accidents, injuries from falls, or gunshot wounds. And the reason a high percentage of Medicaid patients is associated with a high mortality index is likely because Medicaid patients are more likely to have “poor access to medical care, are poorly educated in health and hygiene, are uninsured and present only once their symptoms have become severe,” the researchers wrote.

The study also found that in hospitals with the lowest mortality index, at least 87% of the neurosurgical cases were elective in nature. Elective surgery includes cases such as back surgery or decompression of a pinched nerve. Patients deemed to be at too high a risk do not undergo the surgery. By contrast, nonelective surgery for such conditions as head injuries and spine infections generally has to be done even when the risks are high.

Researchers cited several other problems with rating systems. For example, report cards typically lump neurology and neurosurgery into one category: neurosciences. “Although both services treat many of the same pathological processes, their performance at any given institution is by no means shared,” the researchers wrote. “This can be misleading if the neurology aspects of the rating system misrepresent the neurosurgical service or vice versa.”

Another common practice is using reputation as one of the main ranking criteria. This practice “is at best subjective,” the researchers wrote, also noting that misleading information in report cards and rakings “may falsely direct patients and their families to hospitals providing a lower level of neurosurgical care, or direct them away from hospitals providing a high level of neurosurgical care.”

— Source: Loyola University Health System

A-Life Medical Exec Named CFO of the Year by San Diego Business Journal

A-Life Medical, Inc, a provider of computer-assisted coding products and services to the healthcare industry, recently announced that Jaye Connolly, who serves as chief financial officer (CFO) and chief operating officer (COO), has been named CFO of the Year in the private company category of the 2009 San Diego Business Journal CFO of the Year awards program.

Winners of the third annual CFO of the Year awards were selected according to company size and span each of the following categories: nonprofit, government agency, private company, and public company. Nominees were judged on criteria that included contribution to financial growth, positive impact on other areas of the organization, career achievement, personal character, and community involvement.

Connolly joined A-Life in 2005 as CFO and was promoted to the additional post of COO this year, managing all day-to-day activities of A-Life Medical.

— Source: A-Life Medical