R.I.P PAGERS. It was the height of the '90s, floppy disks were cool and everyone, especially doctors, carried pagers on their hips like an electronic fanny pack (which was also cool, kind of). Flash forward to 2016, and about 85 percent of hospitals still rely on them, according to a Boston Globe report. But, more and more hospitals are turning to what scientists are calling a "smartphone." Firms such as Imprivata are designing patient privacy law-friendly apps that encrypt messages, allowing for secure texting of patient information. South Shore Hospital in South Weymouth, Mass., launched a pilot program giving a secure texting smartphone app to 40 people with plans to extend the program to 1,800 users. Steward Health Care System is also rolling out a test program to 2,000 pager users across its nine hospitals. Partners HealthCare, the largest network of doctors and hospitals in Massachusetts, still uses around 20,000 pagers, which is 3,000 less than a year ago. Jason Tracy, chief of emergency medicine at South Shore Hospital, may have perfectly captured the change from pager to smartphone with one word: ‘freeing.’
YOU’VE GOT MAIL. Empathy is hard to come by these days, and it’s especially difficult for hospitals that have limited resources and overextended physicians to follow up with patients each day after they’ve left the hospital. According to a Kaiser Health News article, startups such as HealthLoop are offering “automated empathy,” in the form of personalized but automated emails that doctors can send to patients each day. In one case, David Larson responded “yes” to an email he received asking if he had calf pain after knee surgery. His answer promoted a call from his doctor’s office telling him to come in. Lo and behold, an ultrasound confirmed a blood clot that could have threatened his life, but with treatment it was dissolved and David recovered. Many top medical centers are trying out this technology, such as Cleveland Clinic, Kaiser Permanente–Southern California and the University of California, San Francisco to name a few.
CANCER ‘MOONSHOT’ TASK FORCE MEETS. The newly established White House task force on cancer met for the first time on Monday, National Public Radio reported. The task force is made up of representatives from the National Institutes of Health, Health & Human Services, the Defense Department, the Food and Drug Administration and other federal agencies. This comes after President Obama’s request for $755 million from Congress to try to eliminate cancer in his 2017 budget. Congress already has approved $195 million in research funding for 2016, and if the additional $755 million were to be approved it would amount to an increase of around 15 percent of what the federal government is already spending to fight cancer. Fun fact: It cost about $1 billion to launch a space shuttle toward the end of the shuttle program.
MEDICARE HAS ITS HANDS TIED. A few candidates in this year’s race for the presidency (Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders) are calling for a federal government program to negotiate drug prices paid by the Medicare’s program, but a New York Times article reports the reason drug prices continue to soar is that “Medicare can very rarely say ‘No way’ to a drug company.” The reasoning behind the switch to government negotiation is that if Medicare bargained on behalf of the nearly 37 million beneficiaries covered instead of dividing them into smaller groups, better deals may come about. However, Medicare beneficiaries want coverage on most drugs older people need so Congress put rules into effect that give drug companies the upper hand. For example, Medicare is required to cover nearly every cancer treatment approved by the Food and Drug Administration. “If you say, ‘We need to get lower prices,’ and they just say, ‘No,’ what are you going to do?” said Walid Gellad, associate professor of medicine and co-director of the Center for Pharmaceutical Policy and Prescribing at the University of Pittsburgh. Without other major policy changes, the trade-off between price and access to drugs is likely to continue.