Friday, June 16, 2017

The value of lab testing in precision medicine

Before Jevons, economists were unable to think on marginal terms. If price should be related to marginal utility, then cost pricing nowadays is outdated. However, when someone suggests value pricing, you must ask immediately about what is value for him, and maybe it is not the same than for me. A paper on lab testing and its value suggests the following:
The value of a diagnostic arises not because of its direct effect on a patient’s health but because of the information it provides on a patient’s likely response to a particular therapy. Personalized diagnostic testing reduces – though does not eliminate – the trial-and-error associated with empirical medicine, where physicians and their patients try an initial set of therapies and decide to continue or discontinue them on the basis of realized efficacy and side effects. In this manner, personalized diagnostic tests transform medical care from what economists call “experience goods,” whose quality can only be determined through consumption, to “search goods,” whose quality can be learned before  consumption
Personalized diagnostic testing offers several advantages over an empirical, trial-and-error approach to medicine. These benefits include the avoidance of side effects, potentially reduced financial costs of therapy (e.g., if a patient is identified as a likely nonresponder to an expensive therapy and the alternative is cheaper), potentially reduced opportunity costs of time – not just in terms of physician visits but also time lost on an ineffective or even harmful treatment, and improved or earlier access to effective care. Not only do patients receive value from personalized testing and treatment, but providers and health care systems benefit by avoiding ineffective, or wasteful, health care that accompanies less targeted, traditional treatment approaches. Specifically, a diagnostic test will be most valuable when the therapy being evaluated is expensive relative to alternatives, when side effects are frequent and severe (thereby making the empirical approach relatively less safe), and when delay from an alternate therapy can severely harm an individual’s health (e.g., metastatic cancer)
The concept is clear, its measurement is still uncertain.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Is there any justification for interventions that aren't cost-effective?

Ethics, priorities and cancer

This is one of the most challenging questions nowadays. Anthony Culyer sheds light n this difficult issue in a recent article applied for cancer care. These are his nine  arguments:
Argument 1: the whole health maximisation assumption underlying the approach is misconceived. health care is about more than just promoting health. Other objectives commonly include financial protection (e.g. from the out-of-pocket expenseof costly interventions), innovation, and all those listed earlier
Argument 2: innovation is stifled by the strict application acost-effectiveness threshold that is too low
Argument 3: the use of standard outcome measures, like theEQ-5D QALY or averted DALYs, underestimates the health benefits of cancer treatments
Argument 4: the assessment of benefit excludes the beneficial effects that treatment and its consequences have on those who care for cancer patients
Argument 5: the opportunity cost argument is weak. There are always efficiency savings that can be found in any systemwhich mean that the alleged sacrifice of health represented by the threshold is spurious. the actual sacrifice is much smaller
Argument 6: cancer is a scary disease and people who suffer from it deserve to have access to treatments that would fail aconventional cost-effectiveness test
Argument 7: for some cancer patients a costly and not very effective treatment may offer a “last chance” to someone in despair. such a situation might exist if no intervention of any kind existed for these patients or if the patient suffered from a rare form of cancer
Argument 8: cancer is a “severe” disease and should accordingly be given a higher priority than less severe diseases
Argument 9: many cancer patients have a short life expectancy even with treatment. a quasi-utilitarian argument might cite the law of diminishing marginal value: even small gains for such people are to be valued more highly than the same gains of equivalent quality of life for people with an already long expectation of life. alternatively, there is the more direct emotional appeal “Our moral response to the imminence of death demands that we rescue the doomed proof"
These arguments fall into two broad groups. Some are questionsof social value: how should we value health gains of particular kindsand should we value them differently according as they accrueto different people? Others are questions of fact: would informa-tion about the quantitative size of the effects in question lead us to conclude that cancer is indeed a special case? The burden of proof in both cases lies with those making the assertion that cancer is, indeed, special. That burden of proof is not impossible to bear.
Is cancer a special case? The question may apply to many diseases and will provide more difficulties than answers. In the end any analysis relies on distributive justice principles and according to different views you'l apply different prioritisation criteria.

PS. The article was published in a cancer journal. I was surprised by the new perspective by Tony Culyer.

PS. What do you think about a new cancer inmunotherapy service that may cost $750.000???

Le Corbusier Guitariste (1960)

Friday, June 9, 2017

The farce of confidential drug prices (2)

Payers’ experiences with confidential pharmaceutical price discounts: A survey of public and statutory health systems inNorth America, Europe, and Australasia

Some months  ago I posted on confidential drug pricing. I said that this was the end of cost-effectiveness as we have known. Now a new article reflects the evidence of my words:
Confidential price discounts are now common among the ten health systems that participated in our study, though some had only recently begun to use these pricing arrangements on a routine basis. Several health systems had used a wide variety of discounting schemes in the past two years. The most frequent discount received by participating health systems was between 20% and 29% of official list prices; however, six participants reported their health system received one or more discount over the past two years that was valued at 60% or more of the list prices. On average, participants reported that confidential discounts were more common, complex, and significant for specialty pharmaceuticals than for primary care pharmaceuticals.
If confidential discounts are huge (>60%), as they are, any cost-effectiveness analysis is adhoc and its obsolescence undermines any result. This fact is the recognition that the pricing system is not working and we are under a procurement system. As I said some months ago:The time to finish such farce has come.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Genome editing: understanding CRISPR-CAS9

Excellent speech by Salvador Macip at Grifols Foundation conference on CRISPR (in catalan):

Friday, June 2, 2017

Compensating behaviour after nudging

Nudges that fail

Cass Sunstein shows in his las published article that nudging may fail, and explains the reasons and what to do. Great, I was waiting for that, because we need to disentangle the current approaches to nudging. the article tries to shed light, but in the end, uncertainties remain.

The general point is that any form of choice architecture, including the use of default rules, may have little or no net effect if people are able to find otherdomains in which to counteract it. The idea of compensating behavior can be seen as a subset of the general category of strong antecedent references, but it points to a more specifi c case, in which the apparent success of the nudge is an illusion in terms of what choice architects actually care about (Hirschman,1991).
What matters is welfare, not effectiveness (Sunstein,2016). A largely ineffective nudge may have positive welfare effects; an effective nudge might turn out to reduce welfare. A strong reason for nudges, as distinguished from more aggressive tools, is that they preserve freedom of choice and thus allow people to go their own way. In many contexts, that is indeed a virtue, and the ineffectiveness of nudges, for some or many, is nothing to lament. But when choosers are making clear errors, and when third-party effects are involved, the ineffectiveness of nudges provides a good reason to consider stronger measures on welfare grounds.
 Therefore with this text Sunstein is landing to the practical difficulties on nudging. Highly recommended.

PS. Congratulations to Adam Oliver, C. Sunstein and G. Akerloff for the new journal.

Pissarro à Eragny - La nature retrouvée
Au Musée de Luxembourg maintenant

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Controversies on QALYs

The Limitations of QALY: A Literature Review

After 50 years, valuing health using QALYs is still a daunting task. Basically the debate over ethical considerations, methodological issues and theoretical assumptions, and context or disease specific considerations is still alive. And I would add that it will remain as an open issue. Those that would like a simple metric for a complex issue will fail forever. And this pitfalls are translated to decision making when QALYs are the reference for resource allocation.
I'm unsure about what will be the next step. A recent article explains current limitations, but unfortunately I can't foresee alternative options for the future:

Debate continues to exist on whether QALYs should serve as the central means of health economics analysis. This review examines the potential shortfalls of QALYs, spanning current ethical, methodological, and contextual domains in addition to examining their suitability for regenerative medicine and future technologies. In the UK, NICE currently stipulates a threshold of £20 000 - £30 000 per QALY  when evaluating new therapeutics and/or technologies for NHS adoption, and has used this tool to apply a rational and transparent process to technological adoption for over ten years. Calculating QALY or cost effectiveness thresholds is particularly complex and debate has previously been publicized on whether the value of a QALY should be dictated by first proposing the worth of a QALY and setting the healthcare budget at or below that value, or alternatively, proposing a healthcare budget and then allowing the cost of a QALY to declare itself following purchasing decisions. With the advent of cellular based therapeutics and their comparably high upfront costs, the QALY calculation methodology may need refinement to realise the financial advantages and opportunity costs such interventions may convey – particularly considering the degree of uncertainty associated with them.
Meanwhile we should focus on improving comparative effectiveness of current and new technologies, specially those that are related to precision medicine.


Dr. Heisenberg's Magic Mirror of Uncertainty, 1998

Friday, May 26, 2017

Are You What You Eat?

Are You What You Eat? Healthy Behaviour and Risk Preferences

I am not strictly a fan of economic experiments. They are useful, but usually researchers achieve conclusions from samples and settings that are far from what happens really in population and geographies. However, some days ago I was looking at an article that it seemed of interest. They try to:
estimate the degree of risk aversion for a sample of young healthy adults and we explore its links with a broad range of risky behaviours considered together. Second, as indicator of the overall quality of diet, we complement, for the first time, the BMI with the Healthy Eating Index (HEI), and we relate both to estimated risk preferences
Sounds good, because the use of Body Mass Index is absolutely outdated and its relationship with risk aversion is crucial. This is the summary:
Our results show that risk preferences significantly differ across young adults with different, not extreme, health conditions. In particular, they reinstate the importance of conducting analyses that look separately at the two sub-samples of female and male subjects . This allows disentangling the links and interactions between preferences and key health variables such as smoking, and also to fully account for the gender-specific effects of the BMI and of alternative indicators of healthy weight.
Second, in our sample young women do not show any significant robust associations between risk preferences and BMI. Third, for young men – but not women – the HEI index appears to be significantly and consistently associated with risk preferences: across all specifications, healthier nutritional habits, tend to be robustly associated with higher risk aversion. This, together with the lack of significance of BMI-based indexes, suggests that, for subjects with not extreme health conditions, there is a wide scope to use measures alternative (or complementary) to the BMI, as indicators of the overall quality of diet.
That's it. And his final recommendation:
 From a health policy perspective, our study suggests that in young adults who have not yet developed chronic or extreme health conditions, looking at a comprehensive nutritional indicator such as the HEI could provide more direct insights to the deeply rooted behavioural mechanisms that drive health behaviours than considering an indirect and increasingly questioned measure such as the BMI.
Since children's obesity is one of the main challenges for health improvement, someone should take into account this message.

PS. Eliciting risk and time preference, the 2008 key article.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Taxing unhealthy foods

The effect of prices on nutrition: Comparing the impact of product-and nutrient-specific taxes

Nowadays, many people is asking about evidence oon the impact of taxes for sugar sweetened beverages. The reason is that in Catalonia from May 1st. a new tax has been implemented.Two tax rates have been set in relation to sugar content: For drinks containing more than 8 grams of sugar per 100 ml: €0.12/litre. For drinks containing between 5 and 8 grams of sugar per 100 ml: €0.08/litre
A new article in the Journal of Health Economics sheds light on the issue:
Our main finding from the tax simulations is that nutrient-specific taxes have much larger effects on nutrition than do product-specific taxes, without causing a larger decline in consumer utility. The intuition for this result is that nutrient-based taxes have a much broader base, so it is more difficult to substitute away from any one good in response to such taxes. For example,a 20% tax on soda decreases total purchased calories by 4.84% and decreases sugar consumption by over 10%. However, a 20% sugar tax decreases total calories by over 18% and sugar by over 16%.The larger effect of a sugar tax on nutrition comes despite the fact that it has the same effect on indirect utility as a soda tax. Dueto their negative income elasticities and the patterns of own- and cross-price elasticities we find, taxes on snacks and packaged mealshave very small effects on nutrition. Fat and salt taxes, on the other hand, have much larger effects, decreasing calories by 19% and 11%, respectively. SSB taxes, which can be thought of as a hybrid price policy that targets a set of products based on their nutritional content, also are quite effective, reducing caloric intake by over 8%. However, these taxes are less-effective and only slightly less-distortive than a broad-based sugar tax.
If this is so, the next steps should be to review the initial impact and explore wether new approaches could be more succesful. Unfortunately the article doesn't explains the details of how to implement their result...

PS. On sugar

Ben l'oncle Soul

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The challenges of medical practice variations

Medical Practice Variations

The title of this post is not original, it is really from a book published in 1990, 27 years ago! And Wennberg started such research on the 70's. What is new is the book "Medical Practice Variations" released last year. After all these years concerns have spread, methodological improvement is huge, and unfortunately evidence says that practice still shows wide range of variability. This is the main concern, what to do about it.
The description is excellent, 23 chapters and 527 pages reflect an effort of many years of several projects on the issue. A must read is the chapter 4, p. 53 by Enrique Bernal and his team: Medical Practice Variations in Elective Surgery. Variations may harm and produce waste, therefore understanding how to prevent low-value care is crucial. They say:
Two key steps in reducing low-value care, proposed by García-Armesto et al. (García-Armesto et al. 2013), are the following:
• Identifying those technologies ineffective in their usual indications or less effective than alternatives
– Dropping them from the benefits basket or making them subject to avoidable copayments
– Restricting indications to certain types of patients (choice guided by evidence of positive benefit/risk balance)
– Specifying and limiting the types of providers more suitable to offer each service (therefore substantiating indication becomes a requisite, discouraging irrelevant use)
– Capping the frequency or length of treatments
• Producing and making available guidance on a regular basis to reduce inappropriate use of procedures
– Highlighting and tackling unwarranted variations in elective surgery (naming and “shaming” to prompt query and change)
– Fostering best practices and improving coordination of care
As I said, a must read. Congratulations to the authors. Unfortunately the barrier is the price: $279. Notwithstanding that, health policy makers and managers should have it as a key reference for their decisions.

PS. If you want to know more about current projects, check the ECHO  website.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The tough figures of worldwide health spending

Evolution and patterns of global health financing 1995–2014: development assistance for health, and government, prepaid private, and out-of-pocket health spending in 184 countries

We live in a disparate world, and the range of health care expenditure per capita goes from $33 in Somalia to $9.267 in USA. These are tough figures, while in Somalia you'll understand that access is the problem, in USA disparity is inside, waste and access at the same time are the problems. The Lancet article shows the reality of world health expenditure. It worths reading it.
The availability of prepaid resources for health, such as government spending, is one of many determinants of access to health care, and can lead to population health gains. Economic development is associated with an increase in spending and specifically an increase in prepaid resources. This is at the core of the pursuit for universal health coverage. This research also points to countries that deviate from the trends, spending more or less than expected, based on their level of economic development. This information is valuable to planners assessing funding gaps and financing opportunities, and can be used to provide insight into what future health financing challenges are likely. Tracking changes in health financing patterns across time and benchmarking against global trends is vital to addressing missed opportunities, ensuring access to medicines and high quality services, and the pursuit of universal health coverage.

Gorgeous new album by Joan Miquel Oliver. Atlantis

Sunday, April 30, 2017

ACOs state of the art

L’expérience américaine des Accountable Care Organizations:des enseignements pour la France ?

After all the efforts, ACOs coverage in US is right now only for 9% of population (28 million citizen). It seems a low figure. You can check the details of the current situation in an excellent report (en français) by IRDES. However, they consider that this approach could be useful for France, and I'm not so sure. The differences are huge to introduce something similar.

Parov Stelar - State of the Union
In Barcelona soon

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Toolkit for comparative effectiveness

Methods in comparative effectiveness research

If comparative effectiveness is the new fram for valuing health technologies, then we need the appropriate toolkit. This is not new, I said the same in 2010 and afterwards in this blog. Right now there is a difference, you may read in this 600 pages book all the details about it (a chapter on machine learnisn is missing).
A clear understanding of comparative effectiveness is precisely what the authors of this report have neglected, unfortunately. It doesn't make any sense to start economic evaluation without an assessment of comparative effectiveness. It doesn't make any sense to back for QALYs as an accounting approach. Forget this guidelines, and suggest to read this book.

This volume covers the main areas of quantitative methodology for the design and analysis of CER studies. The volume has four major sections—causal inference; clinical trials; research synthesis; and specialized topics. The audience includes CER methodologists, quantitative-trained researchers interested in CER, and graduate students in statistics, epidemiology, and health services and outcomes research. The book assumes a masters-level course in regression analysis and familiarity with clinical research.

Monday, April 24, 2017

What is population health?

What does improving population health really mean?

Population health means the health outcomes of a defined group of people, as well as the distribution of health outcomes within the group.
Therefore, measuring and understanding the reasons for differences in health is a key factor for tackling them.
Kindig paper is the most relevant, and this one reflects the begining.
From the post by Kings Fund :

Friday, April 21, 2017

Approaching the golden age of epigenomics and epitranscriptomics

A new twist on epigenetics

If epigenomics is crucial to discard the genetic predestination paradigm, now we can add a new 'omics to the paradigm: epitranscriptomics. Last February, Nature published interesting news related to recent scientific developments:
The epigenome helps to explain how cells with identical DNA can develop into the multitude of specialized types that make up different tissues. The marks help cells in the heart, for example, maintain their identity and not turn into neurons or fat cells. Misplaced epigenetic marks are often found in cancerous cells.
 Chuan He and Tao Pan are two researchers that have been working on new ways of controlling gene expression
He and others have shown that a methyl group attached to adenine, one of the four bases in RNA, has crucial roles in cell differentiation, and may contribute to cancer, obesity and more. In 2015, He’s lab and two other teams uncovered the same chemical mark on adenine bases in DNA (methyl marks had previously been found only on cytosine), suggesting that the epigenome may be even richer than previously imagined.
The team had shown for the first time that RNA methylation was reversible, just like the marks found on DNA and histones.
Methylated adenine bases are the focus of research on gene expression.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Exercise as a socially contagious activity

Exercise contagion in a global social network
Disciplines as diverse as economics, sociology, medicine, computer science, political science and physics have recently become interested in the interdependence of behaviours across the human social network. In particular, scientists have begun to ask whether our health and other behaviours are contagious, in that our decisions and actions affect the decisions and actions of our peers. If behavioural contagions exist, understanding how, when and to what extent they manifest in different behaviours will enable us to transition from independent intervention strategies to more effective interdependent interventions that incorporate individuals’ social contexts into their treatments
A new  study offers some of the first hard evidence that health-related habits can spread — and so perhaps could be deliberately seeded and encouraged — by social influence and peer pressure. Previous research has sought such a contagious effect in factors such as obesity and smoking, but the results have been inconclusive.

Studies in social differences in health have a a new hurdle to tackle. How to boost social permeability? As Mackenback said in The Lancet on health inequalities: now it's personal.

PS. These are the results of the study in one figure:

Monday, April 10, 2017

The useless prediction of the end of liberalism

Francis Fukuyama predicted 25 years ago the end of history, the triumph of liberal democracy and the arrival of post-ideological world, Now Y. N. Harari predicts the end of liberalism and the arrival of a post-humanism (?). All these efforts are useless in my opinion and the reason is obvious, those that predict the future don't have more information than any other human being. They could devote their time to fruitful initiatives.
If I knew that the second half of Homo Deus was devoted to the end of liberalism and the birth of a post-humanism, I wouldn't have read it. I always try to avoid snake-oil sellers. Reading is an asymmetric information game, the writer knows more than the reader. I would suggest to start a global snake-oil writers lists to reduce asymmetric information.
The New Yorker publishes a sound review of the book,
Harari’s larger contention is that our homocentric creed, devoted to human liberty and happiness, will be destroyed by the approaching post-humanist horizon. Free will and individualism are, he says, illusions. We must reconceive ourselves as mere meat machines running algorithms, soon to be overtaken by metal machines running better ones. By then, we will no longer be able to sustain our comforting creed of “autonomy,” the belief, which he finds in Rousseau, that “I will find deep within myself a clear and single inner voice, which is my authentic self,” and that “my authentic self is completely free.” In reality, Harari maintains, we have merely a self-deluding, “narrating self,” one that recites obviously tendentious stories, shaped by our evolutionary history to help us cope with life. We are—this is his most emphatic point—already machines of a kind, robots unaware of our own programming. Humanism will be replaced by Dataism; and if the humanist revolution made us masters the Dataist revolution will make us pets.
Does this makes any sense? Is it possible to remain as the current best seller with such a message?

Norah Jones. It's a tragedy

Friday, April 7, 2017

When science and regulation don't talk to each other

An Evidence Framework for Genetic Testing

National Academy of Sciences and Food and Drug Administration don't talk to each other. At the same time that NASEM publishes a report on how to assess genetic testingFDA clears genetic testing for 23andme without any precise assessment, for the following tests:

  • Parkinson’s disease, a nervous system disorder impacting movement
  • Late-onset Alzheimer’s disease, a progressive brain disorder that destroys memory and thinking skills
  • Celiac disease, a disorder resulting in the inability to digest gluten
  • Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, a disorder that raises the risk of lung and liver disease
  • Early-onset primary dystonia, a movement disorder involving involuntary muscle contractions and other uncontrolled movements
  • Factor XI deficiency, a blood clotting disorder
  • Gaucher disease type 1, an organ and tissue disorder
  • Glucose-6-Phosphate Dehydrogenase deficiency, also known as G6PD, a red blood cell condition
  • Hereditary hemochromatosis, an iron overload disorder
  • Hereditary thrombophilia, a blood clot disorder
Meanwhile NASEM recommends a decision framework for the use of genetic tests in clinical care:
1. Define genetic test scenarios on the basis of the clinical setting, the purpose of the test, the population, the outcomes of interest, and comparablealternative methods.
2. For each genetic test scenario, conduct an initial structured assessment to determine whether the test should be covered, denied, or subject to additional evaluation.
3. Conduct or support evidence-based systematic reviews for genetic test scenarios that require additional evaluation.
4. Conduct or support a structured decision process to produce clinical guidance for a genetic test scenario.
5. Publicly share resulting decisions and justification about evaluated genetic test scenarios, and retain decisions in a repository.
6. Implement timely review and revision of decisions on the basis of new data.
7. Identify evidence gaps to be addressed by research.
If you want further details, check Mathew Herper blog. My first impression after reading it is that this move, paves the way for recreational genetic testing. An approach that should be completely banned by legislation. If FDA has done so, let's wait for what it may happen in Europe where the regulator is still planning a change of the regulation in 2022!!! Meanwhile, the door is open (to the worst for citizens).

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Learning to say no

Cost effective but unaffordable: an emerging challenge for health systems

There are big questions unanswered in health policy, and the social willingness to pay for a costly and effective technology is one of them. In a recent article, a description and controversies of NHS budget impact policies are explained:
The budget impact test means that technologies costing the NHS more than an additional £20m a year will be “slow tracked,” regardless of their cost effectiveness or other social or ethical values. This risks undermining the existing opportunity costs framework.
Therefore if there is a costly and effective therapy that has an impact budget greater than 20m, than next steps are uncertain in UK. This is the setting.
Really this affects all health politicians, and the issue is related to prioritisation and price regulation. The "solution" to the first issue is to delay prioritisation to the next minister, and what it is possible is to renegotiate prices of drugs. As I have said many times, prices are a fiction, because what it is under negotiation is a contract with the government, therfore the whole amount (p·q).
Budget impact is essentially the price per patient multiplied by the number of patients treated. Yet the prevalence of someone’s condition should not determine their access to treatment. The principle of equity means that like cases should be treated as like; the NHS Constitution requires the NHS to respond to the clinical needs of patients as individuals.
Righ now in Catalonia cost-effectiveness is a also a fiction, since prices are confidential, and it is not possible to estimate the ratio. Budget impact is the option.

Prix Pictet. Photo Exhibition in Barcelona
You can't miss it

Friday, March 31, 2017

Paying the bill of gene therapy

GENE THERAPY: Understanding the Science, Assessing the Evidence, and Paying for Value

Approximately 12-14 investigational gene therapies for additional ultra-rare conditions and some for more common conditions, such as haemophilia and sickle cell disease, are progressing through the developmental pathway and are expected to reach regulatory approval within the next 2-3 years
These therapies rely mostly on viral vector techniques, therefore they don't take into account the coming genome editing, the most disruptive one and the most recent as well. If this new technologies reach the market, how should be paid and applied?. This is what a recent report explains and gives details for decision makers. It is really welcome, the issue deserves a deeper understanding.
Situation in Europe
Glybera and Strimvelis, have been granted marketing authorization in the European Union by the European Medicines Agency (EMA):
- Glybera was approved by the EMA in 2012, but has since become the world’s most expensive short-term treatment (Adams, 2016), and as such has not been widely successful - it has only been used by one patient, with the prescribing clinician overcoming steep bureaucratic hurdles to obtain insurer funding (Abou-El-Enein et al., 2016a).
- Strimvelis received marketing authorization in 2016. Patients can currently only be treated in Milan, due to the treatment’s extremely short shelf life which dictates that cells must be infused back into the patient in less than six hours.
More efforts should be devoted to understand this emerging market and assess its value.

Caro Emerald

Friday, March 24, 2017

Rethinking income inequality and health (once again)

Income Inequality and Health: Strong Theories,Weaker Evidence

The inequality frame is usually flawed, and this is specially clear when the metholodogy and data to support the statements are biased. Let me suggest today this article that summarises perfectly common misunderstandings on this relationship. It would be a great input for a review and remake of recent papers.
The summary:
What is already known about this topic? A large body of research has examined the association between income inequality and average health. A separate body of research has explored income disparities in health. These two traditions should be seen as complementary, because high and rising income inequality is unlikely to affect the health of all socioeconomic groups equally. 
What is added by this report? Although plausible theories suggest that rising income inequality can affect both average health and health disparities, empirical tests provide only modest support for some of these theories. We argue that understanding the effects of income inequality on health requires attention to mechanisms that affect the health of different income groups, thus changing average health, disparities in health, or both. 
What are the implications for public health practice, policy, and research? Progress is likely to require disentangling direct effects of rising income inequality, which operate through changes in an individual’s own income, from indirect effects, which operate through changes in other people’s income. Indirect effects of rising income inequality may change a society’s political and economic institutions, social cohesion, culture, and norms of behavior, all of which can then affect individuals’ health even if their income remains unchanged.

PS. If someone needs an estimate of morbidity, please avoid inconsistent approaches. If someone needs policy guidance don't trust on cross-sectional data on such a difficult issue.

PS. My posts on health inequalities.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Anticipating public concern over genome editing

Genome editing: an ethical review

The Nuffield Council has released a key document on ethical implications of genome editing. You'll notice that it is an open document, a work in progress because technology is evolving. If you want an excerpt check this short guide.

It should be remembered that most prospective technologies fail, and that some lead to undesirable consequences, a fact often obscured by ‘whig’ histories that reconstruct the history of successful technologies and their beneficial social consequences. Scientific discovery and technological innovation is important but not inevitable. Most important among the factors shaping technological development is human agency. It is human agency, in terms of decisions that are made about directions of research, funding and investment, the setting of legal limits and regulatory principles, the design of institutions and programmes, and the desire for or acceptance of different possible states of affairs, that will determine whether, and which, prospective technologies emerge and, ultimately,
their historical significance.
Nuffield council work is of interest, meanwhile, China is already testing CRISPR technology in humans, no ethical concerns...

Josep Segú - Barcelona

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The value of diagnostic information

The Value of Knowing and Knowing the Value: Improving the Health Technology Assessment of Complementary Diagnostics

Last summer the Office of Health Economics released an inspiring paper on the value of diagnostic information related to companion diagnostics and next generation sequencing genomic tests. I read it recently and its appproach sheds additional light on a difficult issue:
Traditional cost-effectiveness analysis conducted as part of HTA focuses on three key elements:
1. Life years gained
2. Improvements in patient quality of life
3. Cost-savings within the healthcare system (also called “cost-offsets”).
Elements 1 and 2 are often combined in the quality-adjusted life year (QALY) by HTA bodies.
Elements 1, 2, and 3, plus the cost of the technology, are then used to assess the  cost effectiveness of the technology.
The next element most often included is “productivity” or “time value”, reflecting gains and losses related to the value of the patient’s time either when receiving medical care or related to the impact of absenteeism or presenteeism due to illness. Another element - less commonly measured - is nonmedical cost-savings outside the healthcare sector, such as transport costs and family caregiving.
Based on our systematic literature review, we identified and defined five additional elements
related to the value of knowing and the value of information:
• Reduction in uncertainty - additional value from knowing a technology is more likely to work
• Value of hope - willingness to accept greater risk given a chance for a cure
• Real option value - the value of benefiting from future technologies due to life extension
• Insurance value - psychic value provided by invention of an innovative medical product and by the accompanying financial risk protection afforded by a new treatment
• Scientific spillovers - value due to other innovations that become possible once a new technology has been proven to work.
I have discussed many times such additional issues, specially the real option value. Unfortunately measurement of such items are not that easy. Anyway, it's good to take into account and let's hope new developments on this topic.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Falsehood as ingredient of populist health policy

On Rumors: How Falsehoods Spread, Why We Believe Them, and What Can Be Done

Today I would like to suggest you to read Barack Obama in his farewell speech. It's an inspiring piece to understand US and democracies in general. Inequality, racism and polarization are the three key isues to tackle.
He said:
For too many of us, it’s become safer to retreat into our own bubbles, whether in our neighborhoods or college campuses or places of worship or our social media feeds, surrounded by people who look like us and share the same political outlook and never challenge our assumptions. The rise of naked partisanship, increasing economic and regional stratification, the splintering of our media into a channel for every taste – all this makes this great sorting seem natural, even inevitable. And increasingly, we become so secure in our bubbles that we accept only information, whether true or not, that fits our opinions, instead of basing our opinions on the evidence that’s out there.

This trend represents a third threat to our democracy. Politics is a battle of ideas; in the course of a healthy debate, we’ll prioritize different goals, and the different means of reaching them. But without some common baseline of facts; without a willingness to admit new information, and concede that your opponent is making a fair point, and that science and reason matter, we’ll keep talking past each other, making common ground and compromise impossible.
Without a common baseline of facts there is no possibility to talk to your political opponent. Nowadays, fake news like health privatization are continuously spreading without any foundation. Our health minister speaks incredibly about that in our Parliament. Such obsession has driven to submit a new unnecessary law on health contracting.We are now in an obsession focused policy era.
To understand this phenomena, Sunstein wrote a book in 2008, before thee term post-truth era, that explains the basics and what to do.
Cass Sunstein says in the book:
Rumors are nearly as old as human history, but with the rise of the Internet, they have become ubiquitous. In fact we are now awash in them. False rumors are especially troublesome; they impose real damage on individuals and institutions, and they often resist correction. They can threaten careers, relationships, policies, public officials, democracy, and sometimes even peace itself. Many of the most pervasive rumors involve governments—what officials are planning and why.
This small book has two goals. The first is to answer these questions: Why do ordinary human beings accept rumors, even false, destructive, and bizarre ones? Why do some groups, and even nations, accept rumors that other groups and nations deem preposterous? The second is to answer this question: What can we do to protect ourselves against the harmful effects of false rumors? As we shall see, part of the answer lies in recognizing that a “chilling effect” on those who would spread destructive falsehoods can be a truly excellent idea, especially if those falsehoods amount to libel.
Sensible people believe rumors, whether or not they are true. On the Internet, self-interested, malicious, and altruistic propagators find it increasingly easy to spread rumors about prominent people and institutions. Such rumors cast doubt on their target’s honesty, decency, fairness, patriotism, and sometimes even sanity; often they portray public figures as fundamentally confused or corrupt. Those who are not in the public sphere are similarly vulnerable.
Rumor transmission frequently occurs as a result of cascade effects and group polarization. Indeed, rumors spread as a textbook example of an informational cascade: imperfectly or entirely uninformed people accept a rumor that they hear from others, and as more and more people accept that rumor, the informational signal becomes very strong, and it is hard for the rest of us to resist it, even if it is false.
Group polarization also plays a large role, as people strengthen their commitment to a rumor simply because of discussions with like-minded others.
 If you want people to move away from their prior convictions, and to correct a false rumor, it is best to present them not with the opinions of their usual adversaries, whom they can dismiss, but instead with the views of people with whom they closely identify
The signal of the rumor may be so strong that though reality is absolutely different, everybody is finally conceding the value of truth. This is sadly what has happened to health privatization, and I would like to see a possibility to reverse it.

Friday, March 3, 2017

The value of health, and how to measure it


Too often people talk about the value of health, and few are those that try to measure it. Now you have the opportunity to have a look at the book that summarises the state of the art on measuring health from different perspectives, clinical and research, epidemiology and economics (resource allocation). The implications of health in well being are explored, and the author says:
Valuing health states by their average consequences for well-being has the unfortunate implication that disabilities count as significant health problems only if the people who have them are significantly worse off than the people without them. With respect to disabilities, such as blindness, to which people adapt, this implication leaves the health analyst with a choice between asserting falsely that the blind necessarily have lower levels of well-being or asserting falsely that blindness is not a serious disability.
This unfortunate implication, coupled with the difficulties in measuring the value of health by eliciting preferences or by measuring subjective experience, raises doubts about the project of valuing health by its bearing on well-being, which chapter
10 explores. The value of health differs in important ways from well-being and indeed appears to be easier to measure than well-being.
And we all agree that health is a crucial factor for well-being, though its measurement is uncertain up to now.

PS. A wide review of the book.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

On sugar as a toxic substance. How little is still too much?


Last book by Gary Taubes takes a difficult way, how to demonstrate sugar as a toxic substance for our health. Although he tries to show evidence for his words, he finally concedes the following conclusion:
Ultimately and obviously, the question of how much is too much becomes a personal decision, just as we all decide as adults what level of alcohol, caffeine, or cigarettes we’ll ingest. I’ve argued here that enough evidence exists for us to consider sugar very likely to be a toxic substance, and to make an informed decision about how best to balance the likely risks with the benefits. To know what those benefits are, though, it helps to see how life feels without sugar.
The "very likely" expression is crucial. Unfortunately we don't have a explicit causal explanation of the impact of sugar on metabolic syndrome, for example. I think that epigenetics will provide neew perspectives on the issue, however we will have to wait. Meanwhile reducing exposure is the best advice.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Arrow in memoriam

K. J. Arrow passed away this Wednesday. He is one of the giants of economics and the founder of health economics. It is difficult to summarise his works in few words. You'll find obituaries in the Post and NYT. Josep M. Colomer has written an interesting post in his blog (social choice perspective). Tony Culyer has published also his obituary (health economics perspective)

An interview in a recent book reviews his works and opinions. Regarding healt economics, he says:
I was asked to study, as a theoretical economist, health care. This was a paper that I regard very highly, one of the best things I ever did. I think I mentioned that in fact, afair amount of my research is the result of people asking me these kinds of questions. I studied Social Choice because somebody asked me a question. A now retired professor, Victor Fuchs, was then at the Ford Foundation, and they wanted to get studies done of social problems. They wanted studies of welfare—in the ordinary sense of the word—of medical care and of education. For each of these areas, they wanted one study by somebody who had worked in the field and one by a theorist, and I’m a theorist who had not necessarily worked with people.
In my case, I was asked to work on medical care. I read up on the literature, and gradually a pattern emerged that essentially the parties know different things. The physician knows a lot that the patient doesn’t, and therefore the patient can’t check on the quality of medical care in the same way we buy a loaf of bread. It’s not like I’ll buy that loaf again. But with medical care, you can’t be sure because you don’t know that much. It’s the same thing between the insurer and the physician or the patient. So I said that with medical care, noneconomic factors, essentially ethical codes, play a role in keeping the system together. But I didn’t have a theory at the time, I just had a statement. It was pretty clear to me that non-economic factors do play a major role. What is considered good practice, that’s what keeps the system going. The trouble is that I’ve seen the limits of economic analysis. I could see one solution, but it was very different from market kinds of solutions. But I did have a theory about it.
When I look at other people, they don’t have theories either, or they have rather vague theories. When I try to impart this to students, of course it’s a very confusing message. That’s one of the reasons I don’t think I’ve been a great teacher. I’ve perhaps had students who did appreciate what I was doing, although they tended to pick up the more technical parts of it. I’m a little disappointed they haven’t tried to tackle the broader picture. If they’re working with it, they’ve done very fine work, going well beyond what I did. So I’d say that would be a rather lengthy answer to your question. I see myself primarily as a scholar, as a thinker about things, trying to enlist others in this thinking. Yes, I think I would say that more so than others.
PS. Arrow in my posts

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Genome editing, closer than you think

Human Genome Editing Science, Ethics, and Governance

Last week the US patent office ruled that hotly disputed patents on the CRISPR revolutionary genome-editing technology belong to the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT. In a former post I explained the dispute. Genome editing in my opinion shouldn't be patented and will see exactly the impact of such ruling in US and elsewhere in the next future.
If you want to know in detail what does genome editing means for the future of life sciences, have a look at NASEM book.
It is now possible to insert or delete single nucleotides,interrupt a gene or genetic element, make a single-stranded break in DNA, modify a nucleotide, or make epigenetic changes to gene expression. In the realm of biomedicine, genome editing could be used for three broad purposes: for basic research, for somatic interventions, and for germline interventions.
CRISPR (which stands for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) refers to short, repeated segments of DNA originally discovered in bacteria. These segments provided the foundation for the development of a system that combines short RNA sequences paired with Cas9 (CRISPR associated protein 9, an RNA-directed nuclease), or with similar nucleases, and can readily be programmed to edit specific segments of DNA. The CRISPR/Cas9 genome-editing system offers several advantages over previous strategies for making changes to the genome and has been at the center of much discussion concerning how genome editing could be applied to promote human health.
I would just want to say that these patents destroy the soul of science, since access should be available with no barriers for the development of  innovation. Patents are not the incentive for discovery in this case, as I explained in my post, natural processes should'nt be patented. And this is why today is a really sad day.

PS. My posts against patents

Michael Kiwanuka. Home again

Monday, February 20, 2017

An article that surpasses publication bias

Evaluación de la efectividad de un programa de atención integrada y proactiva a pacientes crónicos complejos

Publication bias (Wikipedia dixit): Publication bias is a type of bias that occurs in published academic research. It occurs when the outcome of an experiment or research study influences the decision whether to publish or otherwise distribute it. Publication bias matters because literature reviews regarding support for a hypothesis can be biased if the original literature is contaminated by publication bias. Publishing only results that show a significant finding disturbs the balance of findings

We've just surpassed such conventional view and have published a new article on integrated care and I've prepared a short post in the blog of Gaceta Sanitaria (in castillian):

La integración asistencial a examen

Todo estudio experimental tiene un contexto, y antes de entrar en el detalle resulta crucial comprenderlo para evaluar sus resultados. Hay dos términos usuales en la política sanitaria de nuestros días: integración asistencial y cronicidad. En Gaceta Sanitaria encontrareis el artículo: “Evaluación de la efectividad de un programa de atención integrada y proactiva a pacientes crónicos complejos”. El programa tiene lugar en el Baix Empordà, en una organización sanitaria integrada y si comparamos indicadores de utilización y calidad seleccionados (Tabla 4) observaremos que superan sustancialmente la media del sistema sanitario público catalán. Este ya es un primer reto en sí mismo, mejorar cuando se parte de una posición de ventaja relativa.
Los profesionales están acostumbrados a dos décadas de práctica asistencial integrada. Esto significa que cualquier aproximación organizativa alternativa se internaliza y se difunde, lo que dificulta aislar el impacto.
Se aplicó un modelo predictivo que resultó ser el punto de partida para la selección de pacientes. Es previsible que en un futuro próximo sea posible la estimación probabilística de trayectorias y episodios para los enfermos crónicos complejos. Esto nos aportaría mayor precisión a la estratificación dinámica de pacientes.
Las conclusiones del estudio muestran ligeras reducciones en la utilización hospitalaria fruto del programa. Pero mantienen patrones similares entre los distintos grupos sujetos a intervención. Es por ello que destacaría dos afirmaciones del artículo: “una situación general de alta calidad asistencial previa y mantenida en el ámbito de la intervención, y una inevitable contaminación entre grupos,  dificultaron la demostración de una efectividad marginal del programa” y “la estratificación de la población con una identificación explícita de los pacientes crónicos complejos puede ayudar a avanzar los resultados, y el criterio clínico los hace  extensivos a todos los pacientes de características similares”.
Esto nos lleva a confirmar las dificultades de los estudios experimentales en los que deseamos probar el impacto de un cambio organizativo. Este estudio sería candidato a no ser publicado, porque su resultado mantiene una ambivalencia y no permite pronunciarse con claridad sobre la opción defendida con carácter general en nuestros días: la superioridad de la atención integrada y proactiva de los pacientes crónicos complejos frente a otras alternativas. Sin embargo, su publicación además de alertar sobre la dificultad de este tipo de estudios, nos señala nuevas pistas.  Más allá de los cambios en la utilización y coste que representa la integración asistencial, necesitamos medir los resultados en salud y la calidad en los episodios asistenciales, comprender el impacto en salud de estas estrategias organizativas. Esta es la tarea más relevante y sobre la que se deberían enfocar nuevos estudios. Es por ello que las investigaciones las estamos centrando en la medida de los cambios en la esperanza de vida de buena salud a lo largo del tiempo y en la medida de los episodios. Este tipo de medidas agregadas, junto con otras de carácter fisiológico y de percepción de salud y bienestar tienen que permitir alcanzar una visión más completa de lo que aporta la integración asistencial.

A tribute to the great Jim Croce (1942-1973)

Friday, February 17, 2017

Satisfaction guaranteed (at a high price)

Euro Health Consumer Index 2016

The survey has a clear message: the more you have choice on healthcare, the more you are satisfied (in general). The Netherlands leads the ranking every year in the last decade. The european countries that spend most on health per capita are Luxembourg (6.023€), Germany (4.003€) and Netherlands (3.983€). Luxembourg lies behind in satisfaction, while Switzerland (choice) is in the second position and the third is for Norway (not so strong in choice).
Choice may provide satisfaction, but you have to agree on a model that supports it, and be able to pay the bill. Personally, I'm not so sure about choice as a general construct to support decision making and satisfaction, a former post explains my doubts.
Long time ago the European Union made surveys on satisfaction, and decided to stop, because it was an easy policy tool for the opponents. Right now we do have only the Euro Health Consumer Index 2016. Unfortunately you'll not find data on Catalonia, it will appear in a next edition.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

A prescription for “high-need, high-cost” patients

David Blumenthal presented at the recent  OECD health conference the Commonwealth Fund report: Designing a High-Performing Health Care System for Patients with Complex Needs: Ten Recommendations for Policymakers
These are the recommendations:

1. Make care coordination a high priority for patients with complex needs
2. Identify patients at greatest need of proactive, coordinated care
3. Train more primary care physicians and geriatricians
4. Improve communication between providers, e.g. integrated clinical records
5. Engage patients in decisions about their care
6. Provide better support for carers
7. Redesign funding mechanisms for patients with complex needs
8. Integrate health and social care, and physical and mental healthcare
9. Engage clinicians in change, train and support clinical leaders
10.Learn from experience; scale up successful projects

Once again, the issue is not about what, but about how, according to the specific setting. This is the reason why change implies modify incentives and coordination mechanisms. This is the hardest part, with cost and benefits uneven distributed over time and people. And this is the reason why recommendations fail so often in its implementation.


Monday, February 13, 2017

Common challenges and responses to improve healthcare quality

Key messages from the last OECD report on quality:

Systemic changes on where and how health care is delivered will optimise both quality and efficiency
Lesson 1: High-performing health care systems offer primary care as a specialist service that provides comprehensive care to patients with complex needs
Lesson 2: Patient-centred care requires more effective primary and secondary prevention in primary care.
Lesson 3: High-quality mental health care systems require strong health information systems and mental health training in primary care
Lesson 4: New models of shared care are required to promote co-ordination across health and social care systems
Health care systems need to engage patients as active players in improving health care, while modernising the role of health professionals
Lesson 5: A strong patient voice is a priority to keep health care systems focussed on quality when financial pressures are acute
Lesson 6: Measuring what matters to people delivers the outcomes that patients expect
Lesson 7: Health literacy helps drive high-value care
Lesson 8: Continuous professional development and evolving practice maximise the contribution of health professionals
Health care systems need to better employ transparency and incentives as key quality-improvement tools
Lesson 9: High-performing health care systems have strong information infrastructures that are linked to quality-improvement tools
Lesson 10: Linking patient data is a pre-requisite for improving quality across pathways of care
Lesson 11: External evaluation of health care organisation needs to be fed into continuous quality-improvement cycles
Lesson 12: Improving patient safety requires greater effort to collect, analyse and learn from adverse events
It may sound as a dejà-vu, and the difficult part is how, not what to do to improve quality. However if you want to read an article on health care quality comparisons, check this one. Comparing quality is crucial because we are used to compare expenditure without a detailed knowledge of quality achievement. We'll have to follow next reports on the issue.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The coverage of health risk and the extent of generosity

The Right to Health A Multi-Country Study of Law, Policy and Practice

If we look at European Union, the right to health is heterogeneous. The size of the difference among countries depends on many factors, and path dependence explains mostly such diversity. If you want to check beyond EU, a new book explains how countries define health risck coverage under different arrangements.
Looking at health through a human rights lens tells us something about the nature of illness that epidemiology and biology cannot: it encourages us to consider to what extent illness is unjust. It also frames illness and disease within the political, social, cultural, and economic conditions that surround it; considers the power dynamics that perpetuate illness and disease; and focuses the attention on marginalized and vulnerable groups that may exist outside of medical research priorities or beyond the target demographics of political decisions, at greatest risk of becoming invisible. Worse still, history has shown us that in extreme situations medical professionals can be used as tools of the state to cover up or even inflict abuse. Considering the complex relationship between justice and health, using the international framework for the right to health offers the possibility of mitigating some of the effects of deeply embedded inequalities and discrimination and promoting environments in which anyone can achieve their highest level of health.
There is a major misunderstanding about the frame of the right to health. Somebody should specify that we are talking mostly of right to health care and state at the same time about the individual duties on health. Anyway, let's imagine a country that close to 2% of population are immigrants that have the right to health care accepted as any citizen, this is my country.  Unfortunately such unique level of generosity and solidarity you'll not find it in this book:

PS. Somebody should ask at the same time if going beyond such level of generosity is financially sustainable. However this is an inconvenient question, a politically incorrect one.

PS. Good post.This Economic Phenomenon Is Making Government Sick and this one

Friday, February 10, 2017

The future of health statistics


You may find information on quality of healthcare in many websites. Catalonia has developed a broad strategy in this topic. You may check "Central de Resultats", and you'll find details about it. However, what about patients perspectives on quality?.
OECD has started an approach known as Patient Reported indicators survey. We'll have to wait for more details, but this initiative will cover a range of topics that provider led information forgets.
And this approach is only a tool from a wide set of recommendations about the future of health statistics. Sounds good.

Miró- Projecte per Catalunya

Sunday, February 5, 2017

The endogenous democide of Spain

From Theorising Democide: Why and How Democracies Fail:
Ko Maeda has made the case that ‘research on the determinants of democratic durability can be advanced by paying closer attention to the manner by which democracies are terminated.’ Specifically for Maeda, we need to pay closer attention to two distinct types of democratic breakdowns: endogenous termination and exogenous termination
Exogenous termination: when democracy and its popularly elected government are overthrown by forces external to the democracy and government. Spain suffered a coup d'état in February 23rd, 1981.
Endogenous termination:‘where democratically elected leaders ended the democratic process themselves’,endogenous terminations occur most frequently as the result of acts ‘suspending the constitution, arresting the opposition politicians, restricting the activities of the mass media, or rigging electoral results’. Against the conventional assumption that democracies do not self-immolate, there has been little or at least a great deal less attention paid to breakdowns of democracies whose source stems from democratic practices and institutions themselves. But as Maeda is quick to identify, this assumption has been problematic given the empirical data, which suggests that some 40 per cent of all democratic breakdowns which occurred between 1950 and 2004 were due to  endogenous factors. Democracies fail, and they do so not because of some extrinsic or exogenous factor. Indeed, almost half of all democracies that have collapsed during the last half century have done so as a result of endogenous causes: that is, democratic  reasons and processes. In other words, there is something intrinsic to democracy that makes it prone to self-destruct.
When incapable of redressing the political crises they have manufactured  themselves,whether because of individual freedoms, bureaucratic morass or the sluggishness of democratic politics, the claim is that democracies can die by their own hand. They have, in Keane’s words, ‘suffered and died under several bad moons’, another of which he claims ‘is now rising over all democracy’ In contrast to its more common meaning – the murder of a person or people by their government – the theory of democide put forward in this book focuses instead on a people who elect, by more or less democratic means, to murder their democracy.
This is precisely what will begin tomorrow. The indictment of our former president and 4 ministers confirms the process of democide of Spain.