Category Archives: Patient safety

Expert insight and resources for covering Paxlovid and other COVID-19  treatments

Professor Jason Gallagher, Pharm.D., F.C.C.P., F.I.D.P., F.I.D.S.A., B.C.P.S.

In December 2021, Pfizer announced the significantly positive study results of its COVID-19 antiviral Paxlovid. The study enrolled unvaccinated people at high-risk for serious illness, and it was hailed by infectious disease specialists and President Biden’s administration as a tool for accelerating the end of the pandemic. 

 “I think it is the beginning of a ‘game-changer,’” said Yale Medicine infectious disease specialist Scott Roberts, M.D. “It’s really our first efficacious oral antiviral pill for this virus. It shows clear benefit, and it really can prevent hospitalization and death in people who are at high risk.” 

But there is currently public confusion about who should get a prescription for Paxlovid if they test positive for COVID-19.

To help our colleagues with coverage, we gathered a few resources and experts to call [see Q&A at bottom of this post] and spoke with Professor Jason Gallagher, Pharm.D., F.C.C.P., F.I.D.P., F.I.D.S.A., B.C.P.S., a pharmacist who specializes in infectious diseases and the director of Temple University’s post-graduate infectious disease pharmacy training program.

We wanted to begin by clarifying what Pfizer is studying and what experts understand about the results so far.

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Some communities may be unprepared for July launch of 988 hotline

Photo courtesy of SAMHSA.

A new report from RAND Corp. suggests many communities may not be prepared to fully implement the vision of the 988 hotline. RAND recently released the results of its survey of 180 behavioral health professionals. The survey, conducted from Feb. 8 to March 17, was intended to assess how well communities have prepared for the 988 implementation. 

Only 16% of survey participants reported that their agency had established a budget for the transition and long-term support of the 988 hotline. More than half —51% — of survey participants said they had not been involved in the development of a strategic plan related to the launch.

“Our findings have confirmed what many advocates and experts feared: communities throughout the U.S. have not had the time or resources to adequately prepare for the debut of the 988 hotline number,” said Ryan McBain, co-lead of the research project and a policy researcher at RAND, a nonprofit research organization, in a statement.

Journalists can find interesting stories by investigating how well their states and local agencies have prepared for the official July 16 launch date for the new three-digit mental health emergency hotline (988).

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How an investigation gave voice to people whose bionic eye implants went obsolete

Eliza Strickland                                        Mark Harris

What happens to users of cutting-edge implants when the only company that makes the technology runs out of money? That’s the question we set out to answer during a year-long investigation of the Argus II retinal implant, manufactured by a California company called Second Sight Medical Products. The investigation was published by IEEE Spectrum in February and covered in a recent Science Friday broadcast. 

Strickland had first written for Spectrum about the company back in 2011, lauding the development of a revolutionary eye implant that restored a crude kind of artificial vision to blind people involved in Second Sight’s clinical trials. That article featured a New Yorker named Barbara Campbell, who had been completely blind since her 30s because of a genetic condition called retinitis pigmentosa, but who could then make out rough shapes, figures and lights. The retinal implant connected wirelessly to a pair of sunglasses housing a low-resolution video camera. In 2013, the Argus II system was the first visual prosthesis to be approved by the FDA.

As the Argus II rolled out in the United States and around the world, many more such stories were written, typically showing users delighted to regain some vision — even if it was only flashes of light and shades of gray. Globally, over 350 people would ultimately have an Argus II implanted.

Late in 2020, Strickland revisited Second Sight to write a blog post about its latest project: a brain implant that stimulates the user’s visual cortex directly, potentially opening up its prosthetic system to a much wider group of people with vision challenges. Tucked away in that post were a few lines noting that the company had suspended production of the Argus II device and had recently suffered financial difficulties, nearly going out of business in early 2020. Strickland tried to contact the company for a status update, but didn’t get a response to her emails and phone calls. 

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Gaps in medical, legal systems may allow other ‘Dr. Deaths’ to practice, panelists say

Panelists of “Dr. Death” session (from left to right): Matt Grant of KXAN, Kay Van Wey, an attorney of medical malpractice at Van Wey Law PLLC; Laura Beil, an independent journalist and award-winning host and reporter of “Dr. Death” podcast; Lisa B. Robin of the Federation of State Medical Boards and Ware Wendell of Texas Watch (Photo courtesy of KXAN and Chris Nelson.)

Journalists must draw attention to the failures in the U.S. medical and legal systems that allowed Christopher Duntsch, the subject of journalist Laura Beil’s well-regarded “Dr. Death” podcast series, to injure dozens of patients, members of an expert panel said at the “10 years after ‘Dr. Death’: Are patients any safer from bad doctors?” panel at Health Journalism 2022 in Austin.

Despite the publicity generated by Beil’s work and that of other journalists about this case, there’s still too little protection for patients against doctors who already have been proven incompetent, said speakers at the April 30 session. Doctors may change hospitals or even states and continue to practice after harming patients, due in large part to a reluctance among physicians and hospital administrators to report harms, they said.

Matt Grant of KXAN Austin presented highlights from his “Still Practicing” series, which looked at how doctors with problematic histories have been able to transfer to new hospitals.

In the website that houses the videos from the series, Grant and colleagues note that February 2022 marked the fifth anniversary of the conviction of Duntsch for injury to an elderly person, which resulted in a life sentence.

Grant and KXAN colleagues pulled thousands of physician disciplinary records from medical boards across the United States. The records were then checked against the Texas Medical Board’s physician portal one name at a time. The KXAN team said they found at least 49 doctors who had disciplinary actions in other states — including having their medical licenses suspended, revoked or surrendered — who were still practicing or able to in Texas. Some of the physicians were repeat offenders with actions in multiple states. Criminal charges previously filed against doctors included ones for driving drunk, domestic violence, possession of a controlled substance and operating a firearm while intoxicated.

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How to cover opioid lawsuits and settlement money

Taylor Knopf, a North Carolina health news reporter and moderator of the “Following the opioid settle money” panel session at Health Journalism 2022 in Austin.

Billions of dollars are soon to be rolling out in the states to settle thousands of lawsuits filed against opioid manufacturers, distributors and retailers.

Journalists will play an essential role in shedding light on whether the dollars will actually go towards addressing the opioid crisis, which killed an estimated 80,816 Americans in 2021, and more than 500,000 since 1999, according to CDC data. Overall drug overdose deaths were 107,622 in 2021, up 15% from 2020.

To help reporters cover this topic, Taylor Knopf, a North Carolina health news reporter, Shelly Weizman, a lawyer at the Georgetown University O’Neill Institute for National and Global Law center and Albie Park, an addiction counselor, offered resources and tips during a May 1 session at Health Journalism 2022 in Austin.

“If we are going to get this right with these opioid settlements, it’s going to take a great deal of accountability and transparency and staying on top of this,” said Weizman, who is also associate director of addiction and public policy initiative at the O’Neill Institute.

Earlier this year, the nation’s three largest drug distributors and a drug manufacturer agreed to pay $26 billion to settle thousands of state and local lawsuits, while Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, agreed to pay as much as $6 billion to settle lawsuits and emerge from bankruptcy protection. Other lawsuits are still pending, but money from the cases settled are expected to begin flowing in 2022.

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