Saturday, March 19, 2011

The VA Shouldn't Hold Its BREATH

What a mess. In 2009, the Department of Veterans Affairs abruptly halted a study called the BREATH study, designed to help 413 veterans manage their advanced COPD, because of unspecified safety concerns.

Apparently the deadly type of safety concerns.

The VA, keeping mum about what happened until it publishes in a peer-reviewed journal, had all the right intentions. It wanted to help the sick vets cope with this chronic lung illness by teaching them how to manage it–-with the hope of then keeping them out of the hospital.

But apparently the trial backfired. While the study’s researchers wouldn’t give details, one told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, “If someone were to start a disease management program, I would suggest they probably not do it just yet, until the information is available," said Dennis Niewoehner, a pulmonary doctor in Minneapolis, a co-chair for the trial.

Forgive us, Dr. Niewoehner, but we disagree. One, the VA should tell healthcare providers now what happened. There may be a clinical trial going on that could benefit from your knowledge. And two, stalling the start of a disease management program until a paper is published is not right. For those with chronic diseases, every minute has got to be torture.

What is ironic is that maybe the VA should have waited to start its study. Just recently, a review was published in Current Opinion in Pulmonary Medicine on COPD and older adults. The researchers looked at various areas, including comorbidities and disease management.

Older adults with this disease have an average of nine other comorbidities, including depression, cardiovascular diseases and chronic renal failure. What they found was that research suggests that “aging is a determinant of the progression of disease and that management of this population requires different metrics and strategies.” According to the summary information of the VA study, the study group received an education program, an “action manager," plus care. They also received telephone calls. The control group received standardized care.

Since we have no clue as to what went wrong with the study, we can only speculate, but the take-away message is that patient monitoring and management could have potentially signaled these problems sooner. While we think publishing what goes wrong is as important as publishing what goes right, we also believe the use of monitoring technologies like MedAdherence can help providers manage patients with many comorbitities remotely, and possibly better.

Let us know what you think.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with your concern regarding the VA not reporting the increased mortality. Please see Southwest Journal of Pulmonary and Critical Care for an editorial and a meta-analysis of educational programs

    Richard A. Robbins, MD
    Editor, Southwest Journal of Pulmonary
    and Critical Care