Should patients be able to limit doctor access to medical records?

by Vadim Shteyler 

The growing accessibility of Electronic Health Records (EHRs) across hospitals and practitioners raises new concerns about patient privacy. Before EHRs, patients had control over how much information they shared with each healthcare provider. Receiving patient information from other practitioners has required a signed consent form specifying the information patients are comfortable sharing (e.g., radiological studies, mental health history, sexual history, etc.). And hospitalists have been expected to request the minimal necessary information to provide good care. With growing networks and increasing compatibility across EHRs, more providers now have access to information without the patients’ express permission or even awareness.

Recent works published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine reported the results of a study that designed and recorded patient and provider experiences with a patient-controlled EHR (in which patients chose which providers could access which data in their medical records). A preliminary survey showed that, before the study, only 10 percent of patients had access to their medical records. Half of surveyed patients did not know what information their EHR contained. However, all patients wanted access to their EHRs. Meanwhile, another study reported that only one-third of physicians thought patients should have EHR access. Continue reading

Recommended Reading: New Empirical Analysis of False Claims Act Whistleblower Litigation

By Kate Greenwood
[Cross-posted at Health Reform Watch]

Late last year, the Columbia Law Review published David Freeman Engstrom’s Private Enforcement’s Pathways: Lessons from Qui Tam Litigation, the fourth in a series of articles Professor Engstrom has written on the growth and evolution of qui tam litigation. (My colleague Associate Dean Kathleen Boozang wrote about the first three at Jotwell, here.) Private Enforcement’s Pathways, like the articles that precede it, brings a welcome dose of data and empirical analysis to a controversial area of the law, the debate over which has at times generated more heat than light.

Professor Engstrom’s analysis rests on a database he built containing information on the roughly 6,000 unsealed FCA cases that have concluded in a litigated judgments or settlement since 1986. In response to Freedom of Information Act requests, the Department of Justice provided information on the judicial district in which each case was filed, the date that DOJ decided whether or not to join each case, and the outcome of each case (including the amount, if any, that the government recovered and the whistleblower’s share of that recovery). DOJ also provided the date of filing for the 3,000 cases filed since 1986 that remain under seal, as well as for the 6,000 unsealed cases. From PACER, Professor Engstrom retrieved information on the parties, law firms, and individual lawyers involved in each unsealed case.

Based on his analysis of the data, Professor Engstrom “largely rejects widespread claims that qui tam litigation is in the midst of an inefficient ‘explosion’ of enforcement effort, or … that qui tam enforcement activity has ‘lurched’ from one extreme to the other in response to a changing litigation environment.” Instead, he notes, “the data suggest a steady maturation of the regime.” Professor Engstrom also concludes that although “mean recoveries have roughly doubled since 2000 (and nearly quadrupled since 1990) … a substantial portion of this growth is attributable to a handful of especially large settlements of $500 million or more … most of them against pharmaceutical companies[.]” This, of course, is small comfort for pharmaceutical companies. Pharmaceutical and medical device companies complain that the size of the recoveries, combined with the threat of exclusion from participation in federal healthcare programs, mean that, in FCA cases brought against them, the whistleblower and the government hold all of the cards.

In addition to the size of False Claims Act recoveries, Professor Engstrom explains, critics contend that the FCA’s qui tam regime has led to companies being targeted for “arguable, gray-area misconduct” and for “relatively minor regulatory infractions,” the implication being that these are suits that the government would not otherwise bring. Professor Engstrom’s addresses these contentions, about the nature of the cases being brought, in the second half of his article. Because they prove more difficult to evaluate empirically, he augments his number crunching with three case studies, two of which—the Medicare drug pricing cases and the healthcare kickback and self-referral cases—involve life sciences companies as defendants. While acknowledging that his analysis “plainly falls short of a definitive showing that qui tam litigation has or has not evaded meaningful public control,” Professor Engstrom finds some evidence of a tendency among qui tam enforcers to take advantage of legislative inertia and the DOJ’s increasingly hands-off approach to “push legal mandates down interpretive pathways they would not travel with purely public enforcement.”

Professor Engstrom’s discussion of the potentially changing nature of FCA cases was particularly interesting to me, because I have followed with interest the debate over constitutional and other issues raised by the ban on off-label drug and device promotion and its enforcement via the False Claims Act. Life sciences companies contend that the ban off-label promotion is an example of a gray area that has been exploited by qui tam relators, with sub-optimal results. While the DOJ’s heavy involvement in these cases makes it hard to complain about a lack of public control, companies argue that the way that the ban has been defined through FCA litigation fails to comport with congressional intent. The industry has repeatedly asked the Food and Drug Administration to weigh in, via regulation or guidance, on the contours of the ban, perhaps in the belief that the FDA will track what they believe the intent of Congress to have been more closely than the DOJ has. The FDA has responded by issuing a number of new and newly-revised draft guidances, with further action promised.

Professor Engstrom’s article provides a very helpful frame for understanding the complex interplay between the life sciences industry and its private and public enforcers. Its value goes well beyond that, though, and I recommend it to anyone interested in the “longstanding debate about the merits and demerits of private enforcement of public law and the complex relationship between litigation and democracy.”

Worth Reading This Week

By Nicolas Terry

Caps, Settlements, and Chutzpah under California’s Medical Malpractice Law

By Alex Stein

A recent California Supreme Court decision, Rashidi v. Moser, — P.3d —- (Cal. 2014), must be read by anyone interested in medical malpractice and in torts generally.

This decision involved a very serious incident of medical malpractice. A patient underwent surgery to stop severe nosebleed. His doctor ran a catheter through an artery in his leg up into his nose. Tiny particles were injected through the catheter to irreversibly block certain blood vessels. The particles, however, traveled to places other than the intended sites. As a result, when the patient awoke after the surgery he was permanently blind in one eye. He sued the doctor and the hospital for medical malpractice and the particles’ manufacturer for products liability. Subsequently, the patient settled with the particles’ manufacturer for $2,000,000 and with the hospital for another $350,000. The case went to trial against the doctor alone. Continue reading

Last Year Was A Wild One For Health Law — What’s On The Docket For 2015?

A new blog post by Greg Curfman, Holly Fernandez Lynch and I. Glenn Cohen on the Health Affairs Blog:

Everywhere we look, we see the tremendous impact of new legal developments—whether regulatory or statutory, federal or state—on health and health care. These topics range from insurance to intellectual property to religion to professionalism to civil rights. They remain among the most important questions facing Americans today.

This post is the first in a series that will stem from the Third Annual Health Law Year in P/Review event to be held at Harvard Law School on Friday, January 30, 2015. The conference, which is free and open to the public, brings together leading experts to review major developments in health law over the previous year, and preview what is to come.

Read the full post here, and register for the Third Annual Health Law Year in P/Review for free here.

Neuroimaging and the Law: Pitfalls

by Zachary Shapiro

While there is considerable enthusiasm for incorporating neuroimaging technologies in the courtroom, it must be balanced with an understanding of the very real limitations of available neuroimaging data at present. I will focus on the use and study of one such technology, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), to explore some of these limitations.

Many fMRI studies have small participant groups, which means that the data may lack the statistical power needed to allow generalization of results. There are several reasons for this. Even though fMRI machines have decreased in price, they are still expensive, and since the fMRI machine is very large, it requires specialized space in order to function. Conducting a scan is also quite time consuming. For these reasons many neuroimaging experiments utilize subject groups that were not selected due to concerns related to statistical power, but rather due to practical concerns such as how much scanning time, space, and money has been allocated to the experiment.

Furthermore, the size and technology of fMRI machines necessitates running experiments in a very particular way that could affect the outcomes. Because participants are required to lie still in a small space, there is a limit to what tasks and activities they can be expected to perform. It is impossible to assess the effects that lying still in a giant scanner may have on normal behavior, meaning that fMRI machines may not accurately tell us about the human brain under normal conditions. Experimental design is especially problematic if we want to bring fMRI experiments into a criminal legal context, as it is currently impossible to design an experiment that accurately recreates the dynamic conditions of stress that are likely to occur during the undertaking of a criminal action.

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Federal Newborn Screening Law Emphasizes Informed Consent

Allison M. Whelan, J.D.
Senior Fellow, Center for Bioethics and Global Health Policy, University of Minnesota 
Guest Blogger

On December 18, 2014, President Obama signed into law the Newborn Screening Saves Lives Reauthorization Act of 2014. The Act includes new timeliness and tracking measures to ensure newborn babies with deadly yet treatable disorders are diagnosed quickly. These changes responded to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel investigation that found thousands of hospitals delayed sending babies’ blood samples to state labs.  A primary purpose of newborn screening is to detect disorders quickly, so any delays increase the risk of illness, disability, and even death.

Although a major reason for the Act’s amendments is to address these problematic delays, another important addition to the Act establishes a parental consent requirement before residual newborn blood spots (NBS) are used in federally-funded research. The Act directs the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to update the Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects (the “Common Rule”) to recognize federally-funded research on NBS as “human subjects” research. It also eliminates the ability of an institutional review board to waive informed consent requirements for NBS research.

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A “Money Blind” for Research into Maternal-Fetal Medication Risk?

By Kate Greenwood
[Cross-posted at Health Reform Watch]

A week ago, the Food and Drug Administration announced the results of a review of the medical literature it conducted in response to “recent reports questioning the safety of prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) pain medicines when used during pregnancy.” The literature, FDA determined, is inconclusive. FDA found that all of the studies had “potential limitations in their designs” and that “sometimes the accumulated studies on a topic contained conflicting results that prevented us from drawing reliable conclusions.” As a result, the FDA chose not to update its current recommendations. The agency emphasized, though, that the use of pain medication should be “carefully considered” by pregnant women and their physicians.

One of the reports that triggered the FDA’s review was no doubt this study, published in JAMA in April 2014, which found an association between prenatal exposure to acetaminophen and a higher risk of developing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The study led to headlines like Acetaminophen Use While Pregnant Leads to ADHD, Study Says and Mom’s Tylenol Use, Dad’s Age Are Latest Suspects on ADHD Front. At the New York Times’ Motherlode, KJ Dell’Antonia wrote: “If there is a pregnant woman out there willing to take Tylenol after reading this research — or just the associated headlines — I’d be surprised.” But there are serious risks associated with other pain medications, too. Tylenol has long been considered a relatively safe option. Even white-knuckling it is not risk free. As the FDA pointed out in its announcement, untreated severe and persistent pain increases the change that a pregnant woman will develop anxiety, depression, and high blood pressure.

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Pregnancy in the Ebola Epidemic – An update

By Kelsey Berry

A few weeks ago, I posted on this blog a discussion of an ethical dilemma in the treatment of Ebola-infected pregnant women in West Africa. I wanted to follow-up with two brief updates concerning Ebola and pregnancy in West Africa.

First, Medecins Sans Frontieres has opened the first care center specializing in treatment for Ebola-infected pregnant women in Sierra Leone. The care center will have 80 beds once it is fully operational and at present has one patient under care. In my last post I called for greater investigation into the reasons underlying higher mortality rates among Ebola-infected pregnant women, claiming that the causes of disparate outcomes in various population groups may be important to determine the justifiability of outcome-driven resource allocation. The new care center is ideally positioned to investigate and perhaps parse out biological, practice based, and institutional factors contributing to the disparity. There are some remaining questions – for instance, will capacity be reserved solely for pregnant women or other infected individuals seeking care? Further, we have already seen that MSF is investing resources in caring for a population for whom survival rates are nearly zero in the current Ebola epidemic; will continued commitment to treating this population depend upon observed changes in survival rates or other outcomes; or will the mere provision of care continue to justify the center if outcomes don’t improve measurably? This is a development I will continue to follow.

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Worth Reading This Week

By Nicolas Terry

A Chief Privacy Officer’s Take on the Chanko Case

Earlier this month, Charles Ornstein explored a New York City family’s charge that their privacy was violated by a local hospital and a reality television show in ProPublica. More specifically, he details how the death of one Mr. Mark Chanko was filmed at NY Presbyterian Hospital without the family’s consent, and then nationally aired on ABC’s NY MED over a year later. Mr. Chanko’s face was blurred for viewers but he remained recognizable to family and friends who watched the show. Since the broadcast, the family has pursued legal action through several New York courts with little success thus far.

The piece has already been commented upon by several smart people, most recently Kay Lazar of the Boston Globe. Just one day after Ornstein’s piece went to press, the Dean of Harvard Medical School Jeffrey Flier (@jflier) tweeted “How could this be allowed to happen?” only to be informed by the Chair of Surgery at Boston Medical Center, Gerard Doherty, (@GerardDoherty4) that three Harvard-affiliated hospitals are in fact currently hosting camera crews for a similar series. The ensuing conversation reminded me just how limited a platform Twitter is for tricky conversations about health care law and ethics. So I did what any self-respecting millennial would do – I went home for the holidays and asked my mom to help me understand what the internet couldn’t.

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Two new publications on “European patent strategies under the UPCA” and on “Synthetic Biology & Intellectual Property Rights”

I am pleased to announce two new publications on (1) “European patent strategies under the UPCA” and (2)  “Synthetic Biology & Intellectual Property Rights”:

1) Minssen, T & Lundqvist, B 2014, ‘The ”opt out” and “opt-in” provisions in the Unified Patent Court Agreement – Impact and strategies for European patent portfolios‘ , published  in N I R (Nordic IP Review), vol 2014, nr. 4, s. 340-357.

Abstract: Many questions concerning the UPC’s jurisdiction during the transitional period for European Patents under Article 83 UPCA remain unsolved. Focusing on the “opt in” and “opt out” choices under Article 83 (3) & (4), this paper discusses the legal nature and prerequisites of these provisions, as well as the options and strategic choices that patent proprietors and applicants are facing. Considering the pros and cons of the emerging unitary system in light of a persisting uncertainty of how to interpret relevant stipulations, it is emphasized that there will be no clear-cut solutions. Rather the suitability of each approach will have to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, taking into account all circumstances surrounding an invention, its patent-claims and the underlying business strategy. Recognizing that the worst thing to do is to do nothing at all, we conclude with a summary and some general remarks.

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Art Caplan: A Minor Can’t Refuse Chemotherapy

A new piece by Art Caplan on why he believes a minor can’t say no to chemotherapy, on NBC News:

A 17-year-old girl, listed in court papers only as Cassandra C., is in protective custody at a Connecticut hospital where she is being forced to undergo chemotherapy treatment that she says she does not want. Americans strongly value the right to refuse medical care.

We are all familiar with situations in which Jehovah’s Witnesses say no to life-saving blood transfusions, patients refuse any more surgery or artificial ventilation, and ill people forgo proven medical interventions to follow alternative care.

But those cases involve competent adults.

Cassandra is 17 — still a minor. Should she have the right to say no? I don’t think so.

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Concussion laws lead to increase in health care utilization

By Christine Baugh

Between 2009 and 2014 all U.S. States and the District of Columbia implemented concussion legislation. Generally modeled after Washington State’s Zachery Lystedt Law, most of these statutes require that youth and adolescent athletes are provided with information about concussions prior to sports participation, that they are removed from play if they are suspected of having sustained a concussion, and that they receive clearance from a medical professional prior to returning to sports participation. One of the main purposes of the Zachery Lystedt Law, and presumably those laws modeled after it, is to prevent the catastrophic neurological injury that can occur when a youth athlete returns to play too quickly following a concussion.

Gibson and colleagues recently published their study “Analyzing the effect of state legislation on health care utilization for children with concussion,” in JAMA Pediatrics. This study compared concussion care utilization for adolescents age 12 to 18 in states with and without concussion legislation using an insurance claims database. After controlling for potentially confounding factors such as median income and number of insured individuals per state, Gibson et al. found that states that had implemented concussion legislation had increased concussion care utilization (92% increase) compared to those without legislation (75% increase). The increases in care utilization were driven primarily by increases in visits to the doctor’s office and to a neurologist, not through increases in emergency department care, which the authors described as encouraging.

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Call for Postdoctoral Fellowship Applications: The Harvard Medical School/Brigham and Women’s Hospital Program On Regulation, Therapeutics, And Law (PORTAL)

By Ameet Sarpatwari and Aaron S. Kesselheim

The Division of Pharmacoepidemiology and Pharmacoeconomics at Brigham and Women’s Hospital Department of Medicine and Harvard Medical School invites its 2015 round of applications for postdoctoral fellows in pharmaceutical law and health services research.  Current fellows have studied FDA regulation, patents and drug access and costs, and competition in the therapeutic marketplace.  Other areas of focus include intellectual property, ethics, and comparative effectiveness, as well as the development, approval, and evidence-based use of drugs, devices, vaccines, procedures, and diagnostics.

Applications are invited from researchers with doctoral degrees (J.D., M.D., Ph.D., Pharm.D., or equivalent) or who will complete such training by July 2015.  Fellows will have an appointment at Harvard Medical School, receive close mentorship from faculty members in the Division, and engage in one or more projects intended to start their careers in law and public health research.  Fellowship length will vary depending on the candidate (min: 1 year).

The deadline is February 20, 2015.  To apply, please send to akesselheim@partners.org: (1) a CV, (2) a writing sample, and (3) a cover letter describing your past work, ideas for the kind of research you’d like to do in the fellowship, and career goals.

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FDA Holds Public Workshop on Regulatory Oversight of Laboratory-Developed Tests (Part II)

The FDA’s public workshop on their draft guidance framework for the regulation of laboratory-developed tests (LDTs) continued yesterday, featuring sessions on three additional issues: 1) notification and adverse event reporting, 2) public procedures for classification and prioritization, and 3) quality system regulation.

Many issues that had been raised during Thursday’s sessions reappeared in the context of these new subjects.  Commenters considered whether and when laboratories should be able to submit one (rather than many) LDT notifications and/or registrations, the relationship between clinical use and risk classification, and the need to be sensitive to the diversity of LDTs and their providers in formulating the final guidelines.  Other, more legal aspects were also raised again, including concerns about redundancy between FDA regulations and those already promulgated by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services under the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments, whether the FDA possesses the legal authority to regulate most LDTs, and whether the FDA is required to proceed by notice-and-comment rulemaking rather than acting through the guidance process.  (Litigation is almost certain to arise on these last two topics, about which I’ll have more to say in future posts.)

But I want to briefly highlight one theme that cropped up on both days more frequently than I had anticipated: the role of insurers and insurance reimbursement.  Panelists considered whether insurers or other payers should have a seat at the table when advisory committees are convened to classify and prioritize LDTs for review.  They discussed the effect of FDA approval on insurance coverage, debating whether the proposed regulations would increase or decrease access to FDA-approved LDTs.  But most importantly (at least in my view), they explicitly considered the way in which increased FDA regulation would combine with decreasing insurance reimbursement to decrease incentives for innovation in diagnostic testing.

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FDA Holds Public Workshop on Regulatory Oversight of Laboratory-Developed Tests (Part I)

Over the past several months, I’ve been blogging (here, here, and here) about the FDA’s recent forays into regulating laboratory-developed tests (LDTs).  Since the release of the draft guidance framework in October, serious arguments have been made on opposing sides of the issue, and industry groups have made additional moves in opposition to the proposed regulation.  And now, today (and tomorrow), the FDA is holding a public workshop on their draft guidance framework, focusing on a wide range of issues.

Today’s workshop featured sessions on three main issues: 1) labeling considerations, 2) clinical validity and intended use, and 3) categories for continued enforcement discretion.  Many commenters simply presented the unique concerns of their organization and urged the FDA to consider them in finalizing the guidelines, which was helpful when it did seem as if the draft guidance may have insufficiently considered the needs of a particular set of laboratories, such as public health laboratories that focus on testing for infectious diseases like Ebola and chikungunya (about which I’ve also blogged, here and here).

More helpful, though (at least in my view), were the comments of those who sought to provide concrete recommendations for the FDA on the basis of 1) the policy concerns they saw underlying the guidance and 2) the practical effects of implementation that they foresaw.  I’ll illustrate with an example, which hopefully will display the complexity inherent in even the simplest questions that the FDA must answer here.

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Caffeine and the Law

By Emily Largent

Generally speaking, law school goes more smoothly when the law student is caffeinated.  Consider that Justice Elena Kagan was known at Harvard Law School as the “coffee dean” for instituting free coffee for students (and, as an aside, expects to be known as the “frozen yogurt justice” for bringing frozen yogurt to the SCOTUS cafeteria).

Last year, the deaths of Logan Stiner and James Wade Sweatt drew attention to another place where caffeine intersects with the law: the regulation (or lack thereof) of powdered caffeine by the FDA.  Both men died after ingesting powdered caffeine.  One teaspoon of powdered pure caffeine is roughly equivalent to 25 cups of coffee.  Manufacturers encourage consumers to take between 1/16 and 1/64 teaspoon (see, e.g., here), though measuring such minute amounts with common kitchen tools may be impossible.  On it’s blog, FDA observes that the people most drawn to powdered pure caffeine are “children, teenagers, and young adults.”  It is not clear how common it is for individuals to overdose on caffeine powder, as the cause of death may be listed as “heart attack” in many cases.

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