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Health Highlights: April 12, 2008

40,000 Patient Records Reported Stolen From NYC Hospital Nine States Chosen for Health Care Quality Improvement Recalled Dietary Supplements May Pose Serious Health Hazard Michaels Recalls 310,000 Writing Pens Scientists Say EPA's New Smog Standard Fails to Protect Public Drug, Device Makers Pledge Disclosure About Promotional Spending

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:

40,000 Patient Records Reported Stolen From NYC Hospital

The hospital records of as many as 40,000 patients may have been stolen from a major New York City hospital, the Associated Press reports.

The the thief is most likely an employee, the wire service says, and the discovery of the missing records came as the result of an internal audit and a federal investigation.

The records in question did not contain health information, the A.P. quotes New York-Presbyterian Hospital Weill Cornell spokeswoman Myrna Manners as saying, but they did contain a lot of personal information -- names, addresses, phone numbers, and possibly Social Security numbers.

While saying that there had been as yet no reports of a patient falling prey to a financial scam or fraud, Manners told the A.P. that the missing information was possibly part of a "larger criminal enterprise." She would not name the employee in question.

Officials from the U.S. Attorney's office acknowledged to the wire service there was an investigation into the missing hospital patient records but declined to elaborate. Manners said the 40,000 patients -- all of whom had been treated in the past two years -- had been notified, and that a hotline had been established for them to use as more information became available.


Nine States Chosen for Health Care Quality Improvement

Nine states have been selected to take part in the State Quality Improvement Institute, a program to help states devise and implement action plans to improve performance in a number of health care quality indicators. The institute is a collaboration of the Commonwealth Fund and AcademyHealth.

"Our State Scorecard on Health System Performance found that we could save thousands of lives and billions of dollars if all states could achieve the level of the top performers on key indicators of health outcomes, quality, access, efficiency, and equity," Karen Davis, Commonwealth Fund president, said in a prepared statement.

"The State Quality Institute will allow states to learn best practices to improve health care quality, and is an important step toward achieving a high performing health care system in the U.S.," she said.

Each state will appoint a team to take part in an interactive process for developing policy and program strategies. The nine states selected for participation are: Colorado, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.


Recalled Dietary Supplements May Pose Serious Health Hazard

Twelve dietary supplements containing ephedra, aristolochic acid or human placenta that may pose a serious health hazard to consumers are being recalled by Herbal Science International, Inc.

The recalled products are: Wu Yao Shun Qi San; Qing Bi Tang (nasal cleanser); Zhong Fong Huo Luo Wan (stroke revito formula); Xiao Qing Long Tang (Little Green Dragon); Ding Chuan Tang; Xiao Xu Ming Tang; Feng Shi Zhi Tong Wan (joint relief); Guo Min Bi Yan Wan; Fang Feng Tong Sheng San; Tou Tong San (headache formula); Du Huo Ji Sheng Tang (Du Huo joint relief); and Seng Jong Tzu Tong Tan.

Ephedrine alkaloids can have potentially dangerous effects on the heart, while aristolochic acid is potent carcinogen and can cause serious kidney damage. Human placenta can transmit disease, and dietary supplements that contain it are not allowed to be sold in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration said.

All 12 products were distributed in white plastic bottles of 100 capsules and sold nationwide in herbal stores, by acupuncturists and on the Internet. Consumers who bought these products should immediately stop using them and return them to the place of purchase for a full refund.

People who have taken these products and have had adverse reactions should consult a doctor, the FDA said.

For more information, call Herbal Science International, Inc. at 626-333-9998.


Michaels Recalls 310,000 Seasonal Writing Pens

About 310,000 Flower Writers, Christmas Writers, Easter Writers and Spooky Writers Seasonal Writing Pens with high levels of lead are being recalled by Michaels Stores Inc., of Irving, Texas.

Lead levels in the surface coating on the Chinese-made pens violate the federal lead paint standard, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said. The pens, with decorations including flowers, Christmas, Easter and Halloween ornamentation, were sold individually at Michaels stores from August 2007 through March 2008.

pens recalled

Consumers should stop using these pens and return them to any Michaels to receive a refund, the CPSC said.

For more information, contact Michaels at 800-642-4235.


Scientists Say EPA's New Smog Standard Fails to Protect Public

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's new air quality standard for smog doesn't protect public health as required by law and needs to be strengthened, an advisory panel of scientists wrote in a letter to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson.

In the letter, sent earlier this week, the 25 scientists expressed frustration that their unanimous recommendation for a stricter standard was ignored, the Associated Press reported.

The Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, created by Congress to advise the EPA, recommended the ozone (smog) limit be lowered from 80 parts per billion to between 60 parts per billion and 70 parts per billion. The EPA's new standard is 75 parts per billion.

In the letter, the scientists also criticized the EPA for not further strengthening a separate smog standard meant to protect forests, agricultural land and the ecosystem, the AP reported.


Drug, Device Makers Pledge Disclosure About Promotional Spending

Facing the threat of legislation from Congress, drug and medical device manufacturers say they're going to be more open about the consulting fees and free trips they give to doctors, as well as their sponsorship of educational conferences attended by physicians.

In most cases, these financial ties don't have to be disclosed and critics say they can improperly influence patient care, the Associated Press reported.

With Congress considering legislation to force disclosure, a dozen drug and medical device makers have told Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, that they're developing plans to publicly disclose grants to outside groups. The companies will provide details on their Web sites.

The companies are just trying to head off the legislation, said Dr. Peter Lurie of the consumer group Public Citizen. "If they were doing this out of the goodness of their heart, they would have done so decades ago," he told the AP.


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