Category Archives: Rheumatology

Counties Pursue Safer Drug Disposal

New programs to make it easier and safer for San Francisco Bay Area residents to get rid of unused medications are some of the first to try this on a large scale, and may serve as models for other cities and counties.

Since May 2012, a pilot program in San Francisco has allowed residents to drop off old medications at 13 pharmacies and 10 police stations (where controlled substances must be brought). San Francisco supervisors initially considered forcing drug companies to fund the program, and instead agreed to accept $110,000 from Genentech and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America to fund the program.

(Photo by J. Troha, courtesy of National Cancer Institute)

On July 24, supervisors in Alameda County (which includes East Bay cities such as Oakland and Berkeley) are likely to approve a Safe Drug Disposal Ordinance that would require drug companies to pay for disposal of their products or face fines of up to $1,000 per day, The Bay Citizen reports. Public agencies currently fund 25 drug disposal sites there, and the cash-strapped county wants the comparatively wealthy pharmaceutical industry to take more financial responsibility for the lifecycle of its products in order to reduce overdoses, accidental poisonings, and water pollution.

As we reported earlier this year, making prescription-drug “recycling” a cultural norm is one of five emerging public policies that could help the medical system keep opioids available while reducing the risk of addiction, abuse and accidental overdose, according to Keith N. Humphreys, Ph.D. Smaller versions have met with success, such as a drug take-back day organized by sheriffs in a small town in Arkansas (population 20,000) that brought in 25,000 pills, said Dr. Humphreys, acting director of the Center for Health Care Evaluation, Veterans Health Administration, Menlo Park, Calif., and a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University. He reports having no financial conflicts of interest on this issue.

Not everyone is happy with the idea. Trade associations for the pharmaceutical industry and biomedical companies argue that there’s no evidence that these programs will reduce poisonings, and they haven’t ruled out the possibility of suing to block the Alameda County ordinance, The Bay Citizen reports. The compromise that San Francisco reached for voluntary instead of mandatory funding from the pharmaceutical industry may be a middle ground.

In an era when government agencies have less and less money for public programs, it’s probably inevitable that they’ll pursue alternative financing for programs like this.

If your community has a drug disposal program, let us know how it’s working. Will these programs succeed, and will they reduce abuse, addiction, and accidental overdoses? We’ll keep an eye on this topic, and keep you posted.

–Sherry Boschert (@sherryboschert on Twitter)

1 Comment

Filed under Cardiovascular Medicine, Dermatology, Drug And Device Safety, Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism, Family Medicine, Gastroenterology, Health Policy, Hematology, Hospice and Palliative Care, IMNG, Infectious Diseases, Internal Medicine, Nephrology, Neurology and Neurological Surgery, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Oncology, Pediatrics, Primary care, Psychiatry, Rheumatology, Uncategorized

VA Adopts Innovative Project Nationwide

An innovative medical project that we reported in April has made the big time — a nationwide pilot program in the immense Department of Veterans Affairs system, the nation’s largest integrated health care system.

Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes) has been working wonders in New Mexico, Washington State, and a few other locations to bring specialty care to thousands of people who previously had little access to this care. Created by Dr. Sanjeev Arora of the University of New Mexico, Project ECHO connects primary care physicians with specialists in weekly case-management and educational teleconferences to give primary care physicians the support they need to manage complex patients with hepatitis C, asthma, chronic pain, rheumatic or cardiac disease, HIV, substance abuse, mental illness, high-risk pregnancy, childhood obesity, and more.

Dr. Arora (center, back turned) leads a Project ECHO videoconference. (Courtesy Project ECHO)

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded Project ECHO an $8.5 million Health Care Innovation grant in May 2012 to expand its operations in two states.

Impressed, the Department of Veterans Affairs cloned Project ECHO and tomorrow will launch a nationwide pilot program in the VA system that could help veterans get care in the local communities instead of traveling to specialists for treatment of heart failure, chronic pain, hepatitis C, etc. In our April 2012 video interview with Dr. Rollin M. Gallagher, deputy national program director for pain management in the Veterans Health Administration, he explains why Project ECHO is so appealing to the VA

The VA’s version, called Specialty Care Access Network-ECHO (or SCAN-ECHO), will kick off officially with a briefing by a panel of experts in Washington, D.C., that also can be viewed by Webcast (how appropriate) on Wednesday, July 11, 2012 from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Eastern time. Register here to view the Webcast.

The panel will feature Dr. Arora with Dr. Robert A. Pretzel, under-secretary for health in the V.A. system, Dr. John R. Lumpkin, director of the Health Care Group for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which has funded much of Project ECHO’s work, and both specialty and primary care providers from the Cleveland VA Medical Center.

With any luck, the success of Project ECHO will echo across the country as this model of care expands.

–Sherry Boschert (@sherryboschert on Twitter)

Leave a comment

Filed under Cardiovascular Medicine, Dermatology, Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism, Family Medicine, Geriatric Medicine, IMNG, Infectious Diseases, Nephrology, Rheumatology, Uncategorized

New Anti-Inflammatory Drugs Will End Anti-TNF Dominance

Tumor necrosis factor inhibitor drugs began to dominate treatment of inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, and the inflammatory bowel diseases ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease a little over a decade again. Now, the time when the importance of the anti-TNFs will wane and newer drugs will take their place is clearly visible on the horizon. It hasn’t happened yet, but the era of anti-TNF dominance for treating inflammatory diseases that persisted throughout the 2000s will end in the next 5 years.

The anti-TNF era began in 1998 with the approval of etanercept (Enbrel) for rheumatoid arthritis and infliximab (Remicade) to treat Crohn’s disease. In subsequent years, the list of approved anti-TNFs expanded to include adalimumab (Humira), golimumab (Simponi), and certolizumab (Cimzia), and the approved indications grew to include many inflammatory disease of joints, the GI tract, and skin. The anti-TNFs revolutionized inflammatory disease treatment and made treatment to remission possible for many patients.

tumor necrosis factor (green, purple, black) and TNF receptors (blue)/courtesy Bassil Dahiyat; Science

But reports from just the past month show that new agents are overtaking the anti-TNFs.

In May, I reported from Digestive Disease Week on phase III trial results with vedolizumab, which was compared against placebo for patients with ulcerative colitis. One of the study investigators noted that vedolizumab beat the placebo arm for steroid-free clinical remission by 30 percentage points. “Nothing else is that good,” Dr. William Sandborn, professor of medicine and chief of gastroenterology at the University of California, San Diego, told me, and the benchmark he had in mind was the performance of the anti-TNFs in similar patients.

More recently, at the European Congress of Rheumatology earlier this month I heard a report on a head-to-head comparison of the anti-IL-6 drug tocilizumab (Actemra) and the anti-TNF adalimumab in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. After 24 weeks of monotherapy, patients on tocilizumab had nearly a fourfold higher remission rate than patients on adalimumab. Though the monotherapy trial design did not mimic the way most rheumatoid arthritis patients get treated, the new drug tocilizumab absolutely blew adalimumab out of the water in a rare head-to-head comparison among different classes of anti-inflammatory drugs.

And at the same meeting several talks highlighted another new anti-inflammatory class of agents coming soon to the U.S. market, the Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors, such as tofacitinib, which is expected to received FDA approval later this summer. Phase III results show that tofacitinib has safety and efficacy that seems at least comparable to anti-TNF drugs, with the advantage of oral dosing.

Vedolizumab, tocilizumab, and tofacitinib are just the tip of new waves of anti-inflammatory drugs that will soon substantially alter a landscape that the anti-TNFs have mostly had to themselves for the past 14 years. For the moment, the anti-TNFs have the advantage of a longer track record for safety, but changing that is only a matter of time.

—Mitchel Zoler (on Twitter “mitchelzoler)

Leave a comment

Filed under Allergy and Immunology, Dermatology, Drug And Device Safety, Family Medicine, Gastroenterology, Health Policy, IMNG, Internal Medicine, Practice Trends, Primary care, Rheumatology, The Mole

Should Physicians Prescribe Positivity?

Scott Jordan Harris  is a U.K.-based blogger, editor, book author, movie critic, and sports writer. Remarkable, considering that he spends most of his time in bed. His primary diagnosis is myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), also known as chronic fatigue syndrome.

In a piece he wrote last week for the BBC’s website, Mr. Harris said that keeping a diary in which he focuses on the positive aspects of his life — at the suggestion of a doctor – keeps him “sane.”

©froglegs/Fotolia.com

“My depression told me my existence was filthy and barren…. After a few months of storing up the previously unrecorded richness of my life, my diary simply disproved that. I knew from re-reading the pages I’d written that I was doing interesting things — and I began to ensure I kept doing them simply to have something to write about. The diary was better than therapy; it pushed me forward through mental pain that had been holding me back.”

He added, “Doctors unaware of the realities of the lives of the chronically ill often suggest we waste what little energy we have noting down exactly how unwell we feel each day, how much we sleep and how little we do, so that they may study the results. These doctors are to be smiled at, and nodded to, and instantly ignored.”

So should physicians advise patients with chronic conditions to keep positive diaries?  I asked two experts.  Dr. Daniel Clauw, a rheumatologist who directs the University of Michigan’s Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center, referred me to his associate, Afton Hassett, Psy.D.

“That was a compelling story in the BBC and it actually does reflect my clinical and research experience as a pain psychologist,” Dr. Hassett told me.

Negative and positive affect (emotions) have been well-studied  in health in general and chronic and acute pain states in particular. There are numerous studies suggesting that positive affect plays an important role in pain outcomes. While few formal studies have evaluated the effectiveness of the exact intervention Mr. Harris described, there are studies   supporting the efficacy of similar positive psychology interventions for depression, Dr. Hassett said.

“Enhancing positive affect is likely a good thing for one’s mental and physical health. Sometimes just keeping a gratitude journal like the BBC article writer noted is all it takes. I always tell people to write down three different things each day for which you are grateful. After the first week or so you really start looking for the small wonders in your life: a great cup of coffee, a kind gesture from a complete stranger, the first tiny yellow flowers of spring.”

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons/4028mdk09/Creative Commons License

But Dr. David Spiegel, a psychiatrist who heads the Stanford University Center on Stress and Health, urges caution regarding positive psychology.   “I think the drumbeat for upbeat can be a little overwhelming… I agree with [Mr. Harris] that just focusing on how bad you feel you can dig yourself into a pit, but at the same time you can’t deny your feelings. The worst thing you can do to a depressed person is to tell them to cheer up.”

However, Dr. Spiegel, who works with breast cancer patients, noted that “you can help them by saying let’s give dimension to what’s bothering you, but also put that in perspective, and see other things that are good, that are positive. So it’s not one or the other…Happiness is not the absence of sadness.”

Dr. Spiegel said that advising patients with chronic conditions to keep a diary in general is an “interesting idea,” and that there is a literature base  for the medical benefits of journaling.

He advised that physicians suggest to their patients, “See if it helps you to have a daily journal of your journey through this illness, what your problems were and what your little victories were, and what you did that helped you deal with it and get beyond it.”

—Miriam E. Tucker (@MiriamETucker on Twitter)

Leave a comment

Filed under Allergy and Immunology, Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Cardiovascular Medicine, Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism, Family Medicine, Gastroenterology, Geriatric Medicine, Hematology, Hospice and Palliative Care, IMNG, Internal Medicine, Nephrology, Neurology and Neurological Surgery, Oncology, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Primary care, Psychiatry, Pulmonary Diseases and Sleep Medicine, Rheumatology

Review Not Favorable to Herbs for Osteoarthritis

Patients with osteoarthritis who routinely turn to devil’s claw, Indian frankincense, ginger, and other herbal medicines for symptom relief may want to think twice about this practice.

Image via Flickr user anolobb by Creative Commons License

According to a review of these products that appears in the January 2012 issue of Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin, a publication of the London-based BMJ Group, there is little conclusive evidence to justify their widespread use by patients with the disease (DTB 2012: 50:8-12). A press release about the review points out that few robust studies on the use of herbal medicines for osteoarthritis have been carried out. “And those that have frequently contain design flaws and limitations, such as variations in the chemical make-up of the same herb, all of which comprise the validity of the findings.”

Herbal medicines commonly used to treat osteoarthritis includes vegetable extracts of avocado or soybean oils (ASUs), cat’s claw, devil’s claw, Indian frankincense, ginger, rosehip, turmeric and willow bark. According to the review, the best available clinical evidence suggests that ASUs, Indian frankincense, and rosehip may work, “but more robust data are needed.”

Some herbal medicines may cause adverse reactions in patients taking other medicines and prescription drugs. For example, chronic use of nettle can interfere with drugs used to treat diabetes, lower blood pressure, and depress the central nervous system while willow bark can cause digestive symptoms and renal problems.

The review characterized the use of herbal medicines for osteoarthritis as “generally under-researched, and information on potentially significant herb-drug interactions is limited.”

Although the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency has approved Traditional Herbal Registrations for several herbal medicinal products containing devil’s claw for rheumatic symptoms, “the trial results for this herb are equivocal,” the review states. “There is little conclusive evidence of benefit from other herbs commonly used for symptoms of osteoarthritis, such as cat’s claw, ginger, nettle, turmeric and willow bark. Healthcare professionals should routinely ask patients with osteoarthritis if they are taking any herbal products.”

The review did not include data on glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate.

— Doug Brunk (on Twitter@dougbrunk)

Photo courtesy anolobb’s photostream

Leave a comment

Filed under Family Medicine, IMNG, Internal Medicine, Primary care, Rheumatology

Rheumatology Rewards Innovative Imaging

Rheumatology has a been a tad slower than other specialties to adopt more advanced imaging modalities, preferring to stick with ultrasound and venturing into MRI. Based on this year’s still image winner in the “Image of the Year” contest at this year’s American College of Rheumatology meeting though, the specialty appears to be embracing innovative new ways of imaging rheumatic diseases.

Image courtesy of the American College of Rheumatology and Dr. Chaudhari

This year’s winner is a combined PET-CT image of the finger joints in patients with psoriatic arthritis. The image was submitted Abhijit Chaudhari, Ph.D. of the UC Davis School of Medicine in Sacramento.

 According to Dr. Chaudhari’s poster from the meeting, his group has built an extremity scanner that is capable of sequentially performing 3D positron emission tomography (PET) and fusing the image with a 3D anatomical CT image. In the poster, they reported their initial experience in using this system for assessing metabolic activity in RA, PsA and OA of the hand. Regions of enhancement on PET (F18-FDG) are markers of increased metabolic activity and, in turn, inflammation.
 
While the technique is still in early trials, the researchers hope that one day they will be able to not only identify the disease but also monitor early response to anti-TNF-alpha therapy in RA and characterize bone remodeling (osteoblastic) activity in early OA. 
 
The best overall submission and category winning submissions from this year’s contest will be published in a future issue of Arthritis & Rheumatism and will be featured in the online Rheumatology Image Bank.
 
You can read more about this year’s ACR meeting and watch video interviews with key presenters at Rheumatology News.com.
 
Kerri Wachter (On Twitter @knwachter)

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized, Radiology, Rheumatology, IMNG

How Vitamin D Supplements May Help Lupus Patients

It seems like every week brings a new study about the benefits of vitamin D: It builds bones, tames psychotic symptoms in bipolar teens, and strengthens the immune system. It is the immune system benefit that attracted the interest of Dr. Benjamin Terrier and colleagues at the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris, France.

Courtesy of Mikael Häggström, via Wikimedia Commons

The researchers studied 24 people with lupus to determine the possible benefit of vitamin D supplementation on their immune systems. They presented their findings at this year’s annual meeting of the American College of Rheumatology.

So, did it help? Yes, to some extent. The patients received 100,000 IU of vitamin D weekly for 4 weeks, and then the same amount monthly for 6 months. Serum 25(OH)D levels, which had been below normal in all patients at baseline, were normal when measured after 2 months and 6 months.

Most importantly, the number of regulatory T cells increased and the number of T helper lymphocytes decreased after 2 months and also after 6 months of vitamin D supplementation. In addition, antibody-producing memory B cells decreased after 2 months, and activated CD8+ T cells (thought to be associated with lupus in particular) decreased after 6 months.

An added bonus: None of the patients reported adverse events associated with vitamin D, including hypercalcemia or lithiasis.

The findings are preliminary, Dr. Terrier said, and large, randomized controlled trials are needed to confirm the results.

Currently, no one is advocating that lupus patients increase their vitamin D with heavy supplementation, said Dr. Sam Lim of Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. Dr. Lim served as moderator at the press conference in which the findings were presented.

However, “the study is very important because it is a link to take [the research] to the next step,” Dr. Lim said.

–Heidi Splete (On Twitter @hsplete)

Image courtesy of Mikael Häggström, via Wikimedia Commons

1 Comment

Filed under IMNG, Rheumatology

Medical Errors Hurt Doctors, Too

Doctors and nurses make mistakes, some of which hurt patients. To err is human. In fact, that’s the name of a 2000 Institute of Medicine report aiming to decrease errors in health care.

Calcium chloride photo by Markus Brunner (Wikimedia Commons)

The Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP), a non-profit that focuses the bulk of its work on improving patient safety, also recognizes that a patient injured by a medication error isn’t the only one hurting after the mistake. A recent newsletter and press release draw attention to the so-called “second victims” of medication errors — the healthcare workers who are involved in the error.

Healthcare workers may react with feelings of sadness, fear, anger, and shame, and be haunted by the incident. They may lose confidence, become depressed, and even develop PTSD-like symptoms.

A case in point: Kimberly Hiatt, a pediatric critical care nurse with 27 years of experience, made a mathematical error that resulted in an overdose of calcium chloride in a fragile infant. The baby died. Hiatt’s life went into a tailspin. She felt consumed by guilt. She lost her job and, despite obtaining extra training, she was unable to find work. Seven months later, she committed suicide in April 2011.

The ISMP says a culture of silence and lack of support surrounds medication errors in healthcare, and it points healthcare workers to resources to change that culture. For example, you can watch a free webinar about the second victims of medical error, produced by the Texas Medical Institute of Technology. A toolkit for building a support program for clinicians and staff is available from the Medically Induced Trauma Support Services.

If you’re a healthcare worker, what’s it like at your institution when medication errors happen? Does anyone ever hear about them? Are there mechanisms in place to learn from mistakes? Is there any structural support for healthcare workers who make a mistake?

Have you ever had to deal with a medication error or other medical error of your own? How did you cope?

Leave a comment and let us know.

—Sherry Boschert (on Twitter @sherryboschert)

1 Comment

Filed under Allergy and Immunology, Anesthesia and Analgesia, Cardiovascular Medicine, Dermatology, Drug And Device Safety, Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism, Family Medicine, Gastroenterology, Hospital and Critical Care Medicine, IMNG, Infectious Diseases, Internal Medicine, Nephrology, Neurology and Neurological Surgery, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Oncology, Orthopedic Surgery, Pediatrics, Primary care, Psychiatry, Rheumatology, Uncategorized

Reflections of a Centenarian Physician

If there were ever a model for aging well as a physician, it may well be Dr. Ephraim P. Engleman, a rheumatologist who still sees patients after 75 years of practice.

Dr. Ephraim P. Engleman. Photo courtesy UCSF

Dr. Engleman, who turned 100 years old in March of 2011, is the longest tenured professor at the University of California, San Francisco, where he directs the Rosalind Russell Medical Research Center for Arthritis. In an interview with Robert Bazell of NBC News, which aired on that network’s evening newscast on July 26, he reflected on the major advances in rheumatology since he earned a medical degree from Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, in 1937.

“The treatment of arthritis was aspirin,” Dr. Engleman recalled. “People would come in on wheelchairs and gurneys. We don’t see that anymore. People walk in. They’re not necessarily cured, but they’re much better.”

Some of his tips for living a long life run counter to conventional medicine. For example, he describes exercise as “totally unnecessary” and “mostly overrated.” He also frowns on the use of vitamins, “and I don’t encourage going to a lot of doctors, either.”

Dr. Engleman does recommend falling in love and getting married (he recently marked 70 years of marriage to his wife, Jean). “Sex is to be encouraged,” he said, and having children “is a priority.”

His two sons are both physicians and his daughter is married to one.

The web version of the NBC profile can be viewed here

— Doug Brunk (on Twitter@dougbrunk)

Leave a comment

Filed under IMNG, Primary care, Rheumatology, Uncategorized

At 25 Years, NIAMS Celebrates Progress, But Has a Long Way to Go

It’s been 25 years since the establishment of the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, and great strides have been made in diagnosis, treatment, and management of numerous conditions, “but you ain’t seen nothing yet,” said Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health.

Opportunities for medical research have never been as great as they are today, said Dr. Collins, who gave the welcome address for NIAMS’ 25th anniversary at the NIH campus in Bethesda, Md.

Although prominent researchers in the field agreed that research has come a long way in the past 25 years, they stressed that there is still a long way to go. Currently, the molecular basis for 4,000 diseases is known, said Dr. Collins. “But we have effective treatment for only 200.”

In broad strokes, the day-long event touched on the past, present, and future of major diseases of bones, joints, muscles, and skin – including muscular dystrophies, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus – through panels and discussion involving prominent researchers, physicians, and patient advocates.

“These diseases are chronic, crippling, and common,” said Dr. Stephen Katz, director of NIAMS, in his opening address. “They affect every family in the United States.”

Among the attendees were many researchers and clinicians who said they felt loyalty and appreciation for receiving funding from NIAMS at some point in their career. For some, the progress in the past 2 decades was quite tangible.

“Public investment in osteoporosis research has really changed how we take care of the patients,” said Dr. Sundeep Khosla, president of the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research. Dr. Khosla, professor at the Mayo Medical School, Rochester, Minn., recalled a time more than 2 decades ago when calcium, vitamin D, and estrogen were the only options he could offer to patients with osteoporosis.

A few years later, bisphosphonates became available, then came anabolic drugs, and now more drugs are in the pipeline. Patient diagnosis also has advanced, he said. Although he agreed that the field still has a long way to go, he was optimistic about more progress. “Who knows what will happen in the next 25 years?” he asked.

There was talk of individualized therapy, balancing research and treatment, and a closer collaboration among scientists, all in the spirit of bringing better diagnosis and treatment to patients.

“We’re in a different world from when all we had was aspirin,” said Dr. Daniel Kastner, a scientific director at the National Human Genome Research Institute. “But what we really want is a cure. And we’re not there yet.”

Naseem S. Miller (@ReportingBack)

Leave a comment

Filed under Allergy and Immunology, Dermatology, Family Medicine, Genomic medicine, IMNG, Internal Medicine, Primary care, Rheumatology, Video