Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Critical thinking in medicine

Testing Treatments
Els Tractaments, a prova

If you are interested in critical thinking about treatment claims, then now it is the time to read this book in english and catalan. You'll understand:
Why do we need fair tests of treatments?
What are fair tests of treatments?
What can be done to improve tests of treatments?
How can YOU help to improve tests of treatments?
And you'll find a review by Xavier Bonfill at Annals




Sunday, June 25, 2017

Health as the capacity for action

Autonomy in Patient-Centered Care for Chronic Conditions

Currently the concept of health as the absence of disease is absolutely outdated. The goal of clinical care has moved towards health-related quality of life. I have to admit that this is more an aim than a reality, but many professionalos share this view. If this is so, then considering health as capacity for action becomes critical. Mark Sullivan explains this view in an outstanding book, specially on part 3 and 4.

The turn to HRQL arose from the recognition that observable characteristics of the body could not provide an adequate account of the overall burden of chronic disease on individual patients or on the population as a whole. But the HRQL concept merely tried to add the experience of the patient to a notion of health defined by observable damage to the body or objective disease. It is not adequate to talk about the subjective experience of objectively defined health states. Health is not an objective state because neither death nor disease are always bad for patients. Most patients now choose to limit the medical care they receive at the end of life because they do not see death as the worst possible outcome. Similarly, it is possible for older adults to live well despite multiple chronic diseases. HRQL has not provided a fundamentally new metric for health and has not succeeded in redirecting clinical trials or activity to a more patient centered set of goals.
Any adequate, comprehensive, and valid approach to health must focus on personal agency, or the capacity of the person to achieve his or her goals. This is the only way we will understand and achieve individual well- being. This personal agency is both a means to well- being and an intrinsically valuable component of it. We conceptualize health and well- being as capabilities rather than as objective or subjective states: “our capability to lead the kind of lives we have reason to value.” To explore and define a new sense of health as agency, we will need to understand the various ways in which health and action are related.
A deep view of bioethics and the concept of health, all together. Good read for this summer.




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