Health Business Blog

Health care business consultant and policy expert David E. Williams share his views

High tech approach to medication compliance

Informedix and McKesson Bioservices are testing the Med-eMonitor, which reminds patients to take their medicine, and can be programmed to ask for patient-specific information. The device communicates automatically with a web server.

According to CIO Insight:

The device is about the size of a videocassette and can be carried in a fanny pack. Multiple drawers each hold about a month’s supply of medicine. It alerts the patients when to take medicine, records the date and time when a medicine drawer is opened, and prompts patients to answer questions and complete other tasks.

The CEO of Informedix, Bruce Kehr says he thought up the Med-eMonitor after seeing his elderly grandmother struggle to manage her multiple drug therapy. Doctors often don’t know what to do when they see patients who aren’t responding to treatment –are the medications not working or are patients just not taking them as directed?

The device is being used now in a schizophrenia trial, where it is helping patients remember to take their schizophrenia medications. This has a big impact on the patients’ ability to function.

The Med-eMonitor and once a month osteoporosis pill (Boniva) I posted about on Monday are contrasting approaches to the challenges of adherence and compliance. The Med-eMonitor attempts to manage complex regimens, while Boniva attempts to reduce the complexity.

How community health networks can help solve ER problems

There’s another article on emergency room overcrowding and quality problems, this time in the Wall Street Journal (Is it a Heart Attack –or Indigestion? Helping the ER Doctors Get it Right). As we’ve read elsewhere, ERs are getting more crowded, triage is difficult, and information sharing and analysis isn’t as good as it should be.

The article focuses on what patients can do to improve the chance of a correct heart attack diagnosis, such as volunteering information on their risk factors, medical and family history, and carrying a copy of a previous ECG in their wallet. In an unconnected, paper-based system, that’s the best we can do. But there are clear limitations –starting with the fact that it’s hard to recall the key information when you are having a heart attack (or are unconscious).

A better solution is a communitywide electronic infrastructure –such as those being piloted by the Massachusetts eHealth Collaborative that I posted on yesterday— which would allow the ER to quickly retrieve all the information mentioned above and more. Such a system would improve the accuracy and comprehensiveness of the information, and reduce the amount of time required to gather it. And that’s just the start. A truly connected, coordinated care system would reduce the number of cases that end up in the emergency room by enabling earlier diagnosis and prevention before a crisis strikes.

Massachusetts eHealth Collaborative Selects Three Pilot Communities

The Massachusetts eHealth Collaborative (MAeHC) announced that it has selected Greater Brockton, Greater Newburyport, and Northern Berkshire to participate in a 2-3 year demonstration project to test the effectiveness and practicality of implementing electronic health records (EHRs) on a communitywide basis. The communities were chosen from a field of 35 applicants, which was narrowed to six finalists last month.

The ambitious program is backed by a $50 million funding commitment from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts. The collaborative has 34 member organizations, including physicians’ and nurses’ groups, hospitals, health plans, the state government, provider and technology associations, and business, purchaser and public interest groups.

The Collaborative’s CEO, Micky Tripathi was hired from the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), where he and I were colleagues. While at BCG, Micky was on loan to the Indiana Health Information Exchange where he led the launch of a similar community-wide effort in Indianapolis.

Community-based initiatives are a good way to go:

  • With strong local leadership, a community can bring together disparate providers into a real care system, enabling patients to benefit from coordinated care
  • Having an intensive, local effort enables participants to gain critical mass and thereby enjoy benefits faster than in a less intensive rollout over a broader geographic area (e.g., statewide)
  • Once communities are wired up individually, it will be reasonably straightforward to link them into a wider network

It’s extremely encouraging that the Collaborative received strong applications from so many communities. The downside is that with only three winners there will be a lot of disappointed communities that won’t want to wait until the demonstration projects are done. The Collaborative will try to help other communities, but it may be stretched too thin.

Implementing EHRs across the whole state could cost $1 billion, according to the Collaborative. In the near term, it might make more sense for communities that haven’t been selected to take initial steps that fall short of a full-blown EHR. Enabling electronic prescribing, online communication of lab results, and doctor/patient messaging are relatively low cost, high impact examples that can begin to connect a community to itself.

New once a month pill for osteoporosis

Boniva, a once a month pill for osteoporosis, has won Food and Drug Administration approval, according to the Wall Street Journal. Existing products must be taken at least weekly.

Introducing more convenient dosing is a popular strategy. It provides real benefits to consumers by making it easier to stay on the medication. This is especially true for bisphosphonates such as Boniva and Merck’s Fosamax, because the patient needs to remain upright for 30-60 minutes following administration. It’s also good for drug companies, because it often enables them to extend an existing, proven compound and charge the same amount per patient per year despite selling fewer pills. This is less risky and costly than developing a new compound and helps stave off generic competition.

Boniva breaks new ground by being the first oral treatment for any chronic condition that is taken as infrequently as once a month. Usually, achieving such a dosing interval has required injection. In fact, Novartis is working on a once a year injection for osteoporosis.

Roche Holding developed the drug and it will be marketed by GlaxoSmithKline.

More attention for prostate cancer

Prostate cancer is more common and has a higher mortality rate than breast cancer, but relatively little money is spent on it and not much is understood about its causes, according to an Associated Press story in the Boston Globe.

”The prostate cancer community is 10 years behind the breast groups in terms of being acknowledged and coming forward,” according to Dr. Ernie Brodie, a surgeon who got a breast cancer stamp approved that has raised $50 million. Dr. Brodie apparently has prostate cancer, and has become aware of the stark funding and attention gap between breast and prostate cancer.

The breast cancer community is well organized, and prostate is trying to follow that example. The prostrate group recently held a meeting in Orlando, modeled on the annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, which has been held for 27 years.

As I wrote last week, strong patient advocacy can be the most powerful force in driving innovation in biomedical research. HIV and breast cancer are the best examples. So compared with those, how well suited is prostate cancer as a cause to rally around?

On the plus side:

  • It tends to strike late middle aged or older men, who have the ability to give money for research or allocate corporate resources. The most notable example is Michael Milken’s Prostate Cancer Foundation

On the negative side

  • It doesn’t usually strike young people in the prime of life, like breast cancer or HIV
  • Widespread PSA testing isn’t necessarily a good idea –it leads to false positives and inconclusive results, which lead to damage from misdiagnosis and unneeded treatments. Even when there clearly is disease, it doesn’t always make sense to treat aggressively
  • The behavioral and genetic risk factors aren’t clear cut. Better diet, stopping smoking, and losing weight may all help –but that’s the same advice as for other conditions such as hypertension
  • Older men are less apt to rally around a cause (or wear a ribbon) than other groups

So overall I don’t expect prostate cancer awareness and advocacy to be the next big thing.