Health Highlights: Jan. 29, 2015

Doctors Dropping Patients Who Refuse Vaccinations Obama to Launch Research Program Focused on Personalized Medicine Surge in Medicare Payments for Procedure That Unblocks Vessels in Limbs

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

Doctors Dropping Patients Who Refuse Vaccinations

Some doctors are dropping patients who refuse to get their children vaccinated.

This tough approach to patients who still believe discredited research linking vaccines to autism is meant to get them to change their minds, or at least keep other patients safe, the Associated Press reported.

One of those doctors is Dr. Charles Goodman, a pediatrician in Los Angeles. A notice in his waiting room says he will no longer see children whose parents won't get them vaccinated.

"Parents who choose not to give measles shots, they're not just putting their kids at risk, but they're also putting other kids at risk -- especially kids in my waiting room," he told the AP.

With at least 98 cases reported since last month, the United States is in the midst of its second-largest measles outbreak in the last 15 years.

Doctors should emphasize the importance of vaccinations but should respect a parent's wishes unless there is a significant risk to the child, the American Academy of Pediatrics says.

"In general, pediatricians should avoid discharging patients from their practices solely because a parent refuses to immunize his or her child," the group's guidelines say, the AP reported.


Obama to Launch Research Program Focused on Personalized Medicine

Personalized medicine is the focus of a major research program to be announced Friday by President Barack Obama.

Administration officials said it will include the collection of genetic data on one million Americans in order to help scientists develop drugs and other treatments tailored to individual patients' characteristics, The New York Times reported.

The initiative will help doctors determine which treatments work best for which patients, according to Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health.

The research program would begin with an initial $215 million included in the president's budget request for the fiscal year that starts on Oct. 1, The Times reported.

"Many details about how this initiative is going to be designed and operated are still in the process of being worked out," Collins said. The government will create a panel of advisers to "help us put real specifics into what is now an exciting but somewhat general plan."

Since the 1990s, scientists have been collecting and storing human tissue and other biological specimens in what are called biobanks.

"We do not envision this as being a biobank, which would suggest a single repository for all the data or all the samples," Jo Handelsman, associate director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, told The Times.

"There are existing cohorts around the country that have already been started and have rich sources of data. The challenge in this initiative is to link them together and fill in the gaps," Handelsman explained.

The data collected in the new initiative would include laboratory test results, medical records, information about people's diet, lifestyle, environment and tobacco use, and profiles of patients' genes, The Times reported.

Patients will help shape the research program and their "privacy will be rigorously protected," according to Handelsman.

She noted that "patients with breast, lung and colorectal cancers routinely undergo molecular testing as part of their care," and doctors use the results of these tests to help them select treatments most likely to benefit patients.

The initiative was praised by Mark Fleury, a policy analyst at the American Cancer Society's Cancer Action Network.

"Cancer is a disease of faulty genes. The goal of personalized medicine is to understand the unique characteristics of individual patients so therapies can be tailored to genetic mutations that underlie their disease," he told The Times.


Surge in Medicare Payments for Procedure That Unblocks Vessels in Limbs

Some cardiologists are making millions of dollars from Medicare by performing controversial techniques to open blocked veins and blood vessels in the arms and legs.

This has occurred as procedures to open blocked heart arteries have come under increasing scrutiny, The New York Times reported.

While procedures to unblock heart arteries must be done in a hospital or outpatient facility, treating blood vessel and vein blockages in the arms and legs can be done in a doctor's office.

However, many experts believe such blockages are more safely treated with drugs and exercise, The Times reported.

Between 2005 and 2013, the number of procedures to open blocked heart vessels in Medicare patients fell about 30 percent to 323,000, while the number of procedures to open blocked vessels outside the heart rose 70 percent to 853,000, according to the Advisory Board Company, a research firm that analyzed Medicare payment data.

An analysis of 2012 billing records from the nation's 10 top-billing cardiologists showed that eight of them made about half of their Medicare reimbursements by performing procedures to open narrowed arteries or veins in patients' arms or legs, The Times reported.

Other specialists who are among the top billers for such procedures include some radiologists and vascular surgeons.

The procedures are financially rewarding. In 2012, Medicare paid nearly $12,000 for one type of these operations, The Times reported.

Consumer News