Monday, April 30, 2012

Off Label heads to San Francisco

The astonishing documentary film, Off Label, moves on to the west coast tonight for the San Francisco International Film Festival.  It will be showing on Monday, April 30, Tuesday, May 1 and Wednesday May 2.  The schedule can be found here.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

How to motivate bill collectors and intimidate patients

More from Maura Lerner in the Star Tribune, on the bill collecting tactics deployed by Accretive Health at Fairview Hospital:

"In October 2010, an Accretive manager named Sam Moen, the son of a prominent Fairview physician, offered to dress up as KFC mascot Colonel Sanders or Waldo, the popular children's book character, if employees on one unit surpassed a collections goal of $8,000 for the week. When they succeeded, he allowed the staff to vote on which costume he would wear."

And also this internal e-mail from a collector at Accretive's Kalamazoo office, on his tactics:

 "I make the deadbeats feel like s---, talk nicely to women who sound education/have money, and am firm with dumb f----. If they say something stupid, I make sure they know they've said something stupid."

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Get yourself in the mood. Ride the Mood Elevator.

Medical ghostwriter "David Bronstein" recalls an innovative Seroquel marketing scheme.  Read it on the Chronicle "Brainstorm" blog.

Fairview sinks deeper

What's worse than a teaching hospital hiring a unsavory bill collecting agency to hound patients in the hospital?  Well, what if the CEO and chief physician both had sons working for the bill collecting agency?  And what if the chief physician had stock in the agency?

Not a problem, says the Fairview Board of Directors, which includes University of Minnesota officials Aaron Friedman and Mark Paller.  The board met on Thursday evening and the Fairview CEO "emerged with full support," according to the Star Tribune.  Fairview has cut its ties with the bill collector, Accretive Health, but Fairview "must still contend with questions from the federal agency that runs Medicare and Medicaid, a major source of hospital funding, and which enforces federal patient-access laws."

Read the rest of the article by Tony Kennedy and Maura Lerner here.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Off Label is an "intimate look at a massive problem"

Lauren Damen of Media Mikes reviews Off Label:

"For me, the film’s most powerful figure is Mary Weiss. Weiss committed her 26-year-old son, Dan Markingson, for psychiatric help. Though he was committed, his personal consent to be put into a closed clinical study for anti-psychotics was irreversible by Weiss as he was not a minor. What resulted was Weiss being incapable of pulling her son from the drug study even though she could tell he was much worse off and eventually he committed a grisly suicide. Weiss became dedicated to fighting corruption within the drug testing system and in the film she is a striking and passionate interviewee. When she speaks to the filmmakers she is composed but the rage she has felt since losing Dan is palpable. Her account of her son’s death is haunting and I suspect will have many viewers rally to her cause. She is truly remarkable."

Off Label is being shown at Hot Docs, the Canadian International Documentary Festival, on April 28, 29 and May 5.  

"Mistakes were made" at Fairview, says the CEO

Well, that's one way of putting it, I suppose.  Read about it here.

Seroquel's patent expires; AstraZeneca's profits plunge; CEO exits the building

Read about it here.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Prison Inc. takes the money and runs

Florida-based prison profiteer, GEO Group, is getting out of Mississippi.  It leaves in its wake what one one federal judge called "a cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts and conditions"at a youth correctional facility.  GEO Group reported profits of $284 million last year.  Full story from NPR.

The bill collector at your bedside

Patients in Fairview Hospital cancer wards and emergency rooms have been subjected to such heavy-handed, high-pressure bill collecting tactics that they may have been discouraged from seeking care, according to Lori Swanson, the Minnesota attorney general.

Fairview employed a bill collecting company named Accretive Health, which "employed collection quotas, cash inducements and in-house competitions using National Football League team names to motivate staff members to squeeze upfront payments from patients," according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.  "In one case, a child who sought treatment at the University of Minnesota Amplatz Emergency Room reportedly was kept waiting while the parents, who were uninsured, met with an Accretive 'financial counselor.' The incident prompted the hospital's own employees to question whether Accretive was violating federal law, which requires emergency rooms to see patients without such delays."

Read about it in the Strib, or in the New York Times.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The U.N calls it torture. The school calls it "therapy."

Maia Szalavitz writes at

"The video is brutal: a young man, pinned face down in four-point restraints, receiving 31 electric shocks over the course of several hours that convulse his body with pain. But this is not Guantánamo or Syria. The electric shocks were delivered in Massachusetts, at the Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC) for autistic, emotionally disturbed and developmentally disabled youth. JRC is currently the only place in the U.S. that is legally permitted to provide this so-called aversive therapy."

Monday, April 23, 2012

Why is the University of Minnesota investing in a patent troll?

Read about it, thanks to Jeff Hargarten of the Minnesota Daily.

More soldiers are getting PTSD. Are stimulants to blame?

The use of stimulants in the military has increased dramatically since 2001.  So has the rate of post-traumatic stress disorder.  There may be a link, says Richard Friedman, the director of the neuropsychiatry unit at Weill Cornell Medical College.  Stimulants play a role in memory formation, including the formation of emotionally charged memories.  Read his editorial in the New York Times.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Cultivating radiance on the Bataan Death March

This just might be my favorite half-hour of radio ever: Tom Mischke's interview with life coach Tamara Gerlach.  Listen here.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Pop Matters: The first review of Off Label

"Off Label brilliantly exposes how the many routes from faith and trust to desperation and despair are varied and sometimes hard to trace. It’s a fitting juxtaposition that the film conveys such intimate and difficult stories in images that are at once gorgeous and fleeting: trees dappled by sunlight, snowflakes whirling around gravestones, revolving doors reflecting hurrying forms and library microfiche machines whirring. Another set of machines—shiny and huge—pump and churn out hundreds of pills at a time, these nearly abstract images set alongside DEA agents dumping plastic sacks of medication into bins. As pills spill onto the camera like so many pink-and-yellow-and-blue promises, you see how this fiction of faith persists."

Read the review here.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Coal industry deploys campaign money in preemptive strike on EPA regs

The House's top recipient of coal money has passed an amendment to preempt EPA regulation of coal ash.    The EPA has been moving towards increased regulation of coal ash in the wake of the 2008 Kingston coal ash spill.

Monday, April 16, 2012

From the archives: "Medical School's woes linked to ethics"

Here's an interesting headline from the Los Angeles Times: "Medical School's Woes Linked to Ethics : Minnesota: Accusations fly amid talk of fraud, embezzlement, conflicts of interest and the lure of profits arising from medical research and treatment."  The date?  June 13, 1993. 

How much has changed over the past 19 years?  Have a look at the article and judge for yourself.

Friday, April 13, 2012

If Texas wants to be a leader in this area, there are other ways to do this. You want to add a layer of protection? Put a moratorium on the use of these agents until they’re proven.”

So says surgeon William Smythe, a Texas Medical Board member who voted against the new stem cell rules.  The Texas Tribune reports.

Texas Medical Board approves rules governing experimental stem cell therapies

Read about it here.

Adopted Russian Boy Rejected by U.S. Mother Adjusts in Foster Care

This seems interesting considering we were discussing the Red Market in class on Wednesday. Apparently, you can even return some merchandise. Although this adoption was legal in the first place, the seemingly objectification of adopted children still seems completely outrageous.

Hush and hear

Donal Mosher, on Mary Weiss, the mother of Dan Markingson:

"On the screen in front of me is a scene from Off Label – a scene with Mary Weiss talking about the death of her son.  I will never forget having the headphones on, the microphone delivering each word, each breath between as she told us of her son’s delusions of satanic cults and demons after him; of how he was coerced by his doctors into a drug marketing study; and the grisly details of his final moments. She sat across the table but her anger, her horror, and her terrible sadness might as well have been whispered into my ear. I can’t say that I’ve ever had a more intimate experience with a human voice. And I can’t imagine Mike ever had a more intimate experience of a human face through a lens.  The last sounds on that audio clip are long, shaky sighs from her, from me, from Mike, as the story finished. Not a word, only breath.  It’s fitting that this scene begins and end with the wind – a thick sound that brings us to her, hides beneath her story, and then takes us away of over the water. "

Read the rest hereOff Label premiers at the Tribeca Film Festival next week.


Is the HIPAA Patient Privacy Law Being Abused to Bury Government Secrets?

The answer is yes, writes Bill Heisel.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

"Approval of these guidelines in their current form risks compromising the safety of patients and research subjects in Texas"

The Texas Medical Board is poised to act on its proposed stem cell rule.  Leigh Turner is worried.  Read about it here.

Meet the Directors of Off Label

"Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher don't see filmmaking as a choice as much as it is an incurable addiction; fitting for two directors who made a film about pharmaceutical drugs."  Read the rest on Indiewire.

Arkansas orders J&J to pay $1.2 billion for concealing the dangers of Risperdal

Read about it in the New York Times.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Why is prescription drug data a secret?

Good question.

Gift Ideas from Kilgore International

"A great way to show your appreciation!" says Kilgore, available for only $395.  See more gift items here.

Scott veto keeps corporate prison donors happy, stoners in jail

Florida governor, Rick Scott, has used the power of his office to keep non-violent drug offenders in private prisons.  Scott has vetoed a popular bipartisan bill that would have allowed non-violent drug offenders to receive treatment after serving half of their sentences.  Scott has attempted to privatize Florida's prisons while he and other Florida Republicans receive large donations from private prison corporations.

Europe's largest stem cell clinic, shut down after the death of a child, is back in business

From The Telegraph:

"The XCell-Center was ordered to close following an investigation by The Sunday Telegraph into its controversial therapies. The clinic was accused of preying on thousands of vulnerable patients — many of them British — who traveled to its hospital in Dusseldorf in Germany for treatment that cost tens of thousands of pounds but was clinically unproven."

"But after an undercover investigation by The Sunday Telegraph, which revealed how one child died and another was seriously injured after stem cells were injected into their brains, German authorities forced the clinic’s closure."

Its chief executive and founder, Cornelis Kleinbloesem, has now relocated his business to Lebanon, using a London company to process patients’ stem cells. His company, Cells4health, is offering brain surgery for £23,000 and spinal cord operations for £32,000."

Read about it here.  

Monday, April 9, 2012

"As for Celltex’s reaction, I wasn’t expecting a thank-you card from company executives"

Part 3 of Bill Heisel's interview with Leigh Turner about Celltex, stem cell clinics, Glenn McGee and the American Journal of Bioethics is online at Reporting on Health.  A highlight:

"Lest anyone think that I’ve forgotten about The American Journal of Bioethics, I hope that the current editors of the journal resign or are dismissed from their positions. If this step is not taken, I hope scholars in bioethics and other fields boycott AJOB and find other journals for their research."

"Having the editor of AJOB go to work for Celltex is a massive embarrassment for the field of bioethics. Replacing Glenn McGee with his spouse and having this move not result in the resignation of every member of the editorial board indicates that this journal suffers from a crisis of governance and legitimacy. Time will pass, but if the leadership of AJOB remains unchanged the stench of this debacle will remain."

Friday, April 6, 2012

Spiro Agnew was not a knee-crawling thug

A tribute to the patriotic American orator, on the Chronicle's Brainstorm blog.

"I’m surprised that every member of AJOB’s Editorial Board didn’t resign when they learned that McGee was working at Celltex"

Bill Heisel has posted Part 2 of  his interview with Leigh Turner about Celltex, medical tourism and the American Journal of Bioethics.  An excerpt:

"I cannot fathom why a bioethicist would accept employment at a company like this. And while working there, at least initially, McGee continued in his role as editor-in-chief of The American Journal of Bioethics, as if there were no conflict. Such conduct has rightly brought McGee considerable notoriety among his colleagues in bioethics. It is far better to toil in obscurity than to be “well known” for the wrong reasons. In short, I don’t see the reaction to Glenn McGee’s employment at Celltex as being driven by professional jealousy. Anger, yes. A widespread sense that someone claiming to be a bioethicist betrayed his field, yes. Those reactions seem appropriate given the circumstances."

Read the rest of the interview at Reporting on Health.


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A pharmaceutical road trip

Off Label, a remarkable new documentary about our country's unhealthy reliance on pharmaceuticals, premiers at the Tribeca Film Festival this month.  The makers of Off Label, Donal Mosher and Mike Palmieri, are interviewed here.

"I regret that, in these times, we have not been able to maintain our focus on the incredibly positive trajectory that we have been on as a school, but have needed to stop to look backwards,''

More news from that "incredibly positive trajectory":

"University of Minnesota Nursing Dean Connie Delaney, who is already under university reprimand for a hiring infraction, now faces a state human rights finding of discrimination and retaliation for firing an employee who filed an internal workplace complaint."  Tony Kennedy reports in the Strib.