Saturday, November 15, 2014

Why Are So Few Blockbuster Drugs Invented Today? -

In the fall of 1999, a young chemical engineer named Todd Zion left his job at Eastman Kodak to enroll in the Ph.D. program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. While looking for a subject to research, Zion noticed a grant proposal, never funded, that another graduate student had written on the subject of drug delivery. One possibility mentioned in the proposal was the development of a kind of insulin that would automatically respond to changes in blood-sugar levels, becoming active only when needed to maintain healthy levels around the clock. If it worked, the sugar-sensitive version could transform the lives of the six million people with diabetes in the United States who use insulin. No longer would they have to test their blood-sugar levels multiple times per day and try to calculate how much insulin to take. The self-regulating insulin would curtail high sugar levels, which raise the risk of long-term complications, and eradicate, or at least reduce, the most dangerous short-term complication: hypoglycemia, when sugar levels fall so low that they can cause confusion, unconsciousness, seizures and even death.

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Monday, November 10, 2014

Medical Records: Top Secret -

MANY readers were shocked by my recent article about Peter Drier, who received a surprise bill of $117,000 from an out-of-network assistant surgeon who helped out during his back operation. But almost as surprising was how difficult it was during my reporting for Mr. Drier to extract his own records from the hospital.

He wanted a copy because he enjoys adventurous travel and he needed a record of the surgery in case of injury; I wanted to see the chart to make sure nothing unusual had occurred in the operating room that might justify the enormous bill. Hospitals are computerized, and patients have a right to their own records, so I assumed getting the chart would be easy.

I was wrong. The six-week ordeal included requests that needed to be made via regular mail, numerous phone calls, consent forms and an estimate for copying fees that totaled $100. This was topped off by an actual visit to the hospital by Mr. Drier, who sat in an office until he had paper documents in hand.

In a digital age when we can transfer money to purchase a house online or view a college transcript by logging on to a secure website, why is it so often difficult for patients to gain access to their medical data? And who controls our health information?

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