Health Highlights: April 20, 2011

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

Hospital Outpatient Care Pricier Than Doctor’s Office Visits: Report

Only five percent of all ambulatory doctor visits in the United States in 2008 were to doctors in hospital outpatient departments, but these types of visits accounted for more than 20 percent of the $309 billion spent on that type of care, says a federal government report released Wednesday.

The average cost of a hospital outpatient doctor visit was $1,275, compared to $199 for a visit to a doctor’s office, according to the latest News and Numbers from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

The average cost of a hospital emergency department in which a patient was seen by a doctor was $922. This type of visit accounted for only four percent of all ambulatory visits but 14 percent of the total amount spent on ambulatory doctor care.

Patients who received hospital outpatient care from a doctor were about seven times more likely to have surgery than patients seen in a doctor’s office and four times more likely than patients seen by a doctor in a hospital emergency department, the report said.

In cases where patients didn’t have surgery, the average expense per visit for physician care was 44 higher in the hospital emergency department than in the outpatient department — $821 vs. $569.


FDA Approves Cervical Cancer Test

A test to identify women at high risk for cervical cancer has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The test can detect two types of the human papillomavirus (HPV) associated with more than 70 percent of cervical cancer cases, as well as 12 other types of HPV that can also cause the disease, Bloomberg News reported.

FDA approval of the test from Roche Holding AG was based on a study of more than 47,000 women in the United States.

In 2010, more than 12,000 cases of cervical cancer were diagnosed in the U.S. and more than 4,000 women died of the disease, according to the National Cancer Institute, Bloomberg reported.


Rituxan Approved to Treat Blood Vessel Inflammation Disorders

The arthritis and cancer drug Rituxan has been approved to treat two rare disorders that cause blood vessel inflammation, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Tuesday.

In combination with steroids called glucocorticoids, Rituxan (rituximab) can be used to treat patients with Wegener’s granulomatosis (WG) and microscopic polyangiitis (MPA). The diseases each affect less than 200,000 people in the United States.

The FDA approval was based on a single clinical trial that included 197 patients with WG or MPA. Common side effects included infection, nausea, diarrhea, headache, muscle spasms and anemia.

The drug already has FDA approval to treat patients with rheumatoid arthritis, chronic lymphocytic leukemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.


Policy Shift Will Reduce Medicare Drug Plan Service Cuts

The Obama administration will award quality bonuses to hundreds of Medicare Advantage plans rated as average, a move that could prevent service cuts to millions of seniors enrolled in the plans.

The decision will lead to a $6.7 billion infusion into the popular private insurance plans and could avert service cuts that would have been a political problem for the president and Democrats in Congress, the Associated Press reported.

The quality bonuses will change what would have been averaged out as a net loss for the Medicare Advantage plans in 2012 into a small gain, according to the insurance industry.

Plans with average ratings account for more than half of the approximately 11 million Medicare Advantage enrollees, the AP reported.


Woman Shows Off New Hand

A 26-year-old American woman who showed off her newly transplanted right hand Tuesday said she’s still getting used to it.

“I do feel like it’s mine. Slowly but surely, every day it becomes more and more mine,” Emily Fennell said Tuesday at a news conference at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, the Associated Press reported.

She received her new hand March 5 during a 14 1/2-hour operation at the medical center. It was the first such transplant at the hospital and the 13th in the United States.

Doctors said Fennell, who lost her hand in a traffic crash, faces a long rehabilitation process, the AP reported.


Breath Test for Cancer a Step Closer: Scientists

Researchers say they’re a step closer to creating a breath test that can detect cancer.

Israeli scientists who created an “electronic nose” found that it was able to identify chemical signals of cancer in the breath of 80 patients with lung or head and neck cancer, BBC News reported.

The findings appear in the British Journal of Cancer.

“There’s an urgent need to develop new ways to detect head-and-neck cancer because diagnosis of the disease is complicated, requiring specialist examinations,” said lead researcher Professor Hossam Haick of the Israel Institute of Technology, BBC News reported.

“We’ve shown that a simple ‘breath test’ can spot the patterns of molecules which are found in head-and-neck patients in a small, early study,” Haick said. “We now need to test these results in larger studies to find if this could lead to a potential screening method for the disease.”

While the findings are encouraging, it will take years of research to determine if the breath test could be used in the clinic, Dr. Lesley Walker, of Cancer Research UK, told BBC News.