News briefs

ASHP wants FDA mandate for drug barcoding

The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) in Bethesda, MD, has urged the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to require drug manufacturers to print bar codes on all drug packages as a way to increase patient safety in hospitals and health systems nationwide.

In a letter to Tommy G. Thompson, secretary of the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, ASHP stressed the immediate need for regulations requiring standardized machine-readable codes on all drug product containers, including single-dose medication packages used in hospitals. ASHP has concluded that manufacturers will not add codes to all medication packages in the foreseeable future without a federal mandate.

"When hospitals know that standardized bar coding will be required on medication packages, we believe that they will move quickly to have scanners ready at patients’ bedsides," says Henri R. Manasse Jr., PhD, ScD, executive vice president and CEO of ASHP. In addition to improving patient safety, bar coding also would improve the efficiency of drug product purchasing, storage, and distribution in hospitals, allowing more time for pharmacists to help counsel patients and monitor drug therapy regimens, the society says.

Expect flu vaccine delays for 2001-’02 season

About 64% of the 83.7 million influenza vaccine doses for the upcoming flu season will be available by the end of October, according to federal health officials during a regular meeting of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) in June. The remaining doses will be available in November and December. The officials say, however, that these early projections from manufacturers could change.

The ACIP made the following recommendations regarding flu vaccination strategies for health care providers for the upcoming flu season:

• Target vaccine available in September and October to those at increased risk of influenza complications and to health care workers.

• Continue vaccinating, especially those at high risk and in other target groups, through December and as long as vaccine is available.

For more information about federal recommendations and updates on influenza vaccine supply, visit the web site

Prostate cancer treatment may cause bone loss

Men may lose bone at an alarming rate as a result of a commonly used treatment for prostate cancer, say researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. The findings, published in the June issue of the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism (86:2787-2791), suggest that gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonists (GnRH-a), a frequently used treatment for prostate cancer, causes severe drops in bone mass and results in an increased risk of fracture in men.

The men who were treated with GnRH-a for prostate cancer experienced up to a decade’s worth of bone loss within the first year of therapy, says senior author Susan Greenspan, MD, professor in the divisions of endocrinology and geriatric medicine in the department of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh. Physicians have been using GnRH-a for more than a decade to treat men with late-stage metastatic prostate cancer. Greenspan is concerned about GnRH-a now being used to treat more men with earlier-stage disease and for longer periods of time.

"In treating men with this therapy earlier and for longer periods of time, we are putting them in a menopause-equivalent condition and subjecting them to severe osteoporosis — a disease that may have more serious consequences than early-stage prostate cancer," she says.

JCAHO adopts new patient safety standards

New patient safety standards adopted by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations will require hospitals to make specific efforts to prevent medical errors — and to notify patients when they have been harmed during treatment.

"Very simply, patient safety needs to be Job 1 for hospitals across the country and that's what our standards are seeking to do," says Dennis O’Leary, MD, president of the Oakbrook Terrace, IL-based Joint Commission.

"We need to create a culture of safety in hospitals and other health care organizations, in which errors are openly discussed and studied so that solutions can be found and put in place," he continues. "These new standards are intended to do just that."

The new standards encourage the internal reporting of medical errors, and actively engage clinicians and other staff in the design of remedial steps to prevent future occurrences of these errors. The additional emphasis on effective communication, appropriate training, and teamwork found in the standards language draw heavily upon lessons learned in both the aviation and health care industries.

Prospective analysis and redesign

A second major focus of the new standards is on the prevention of medical errors through the prospective analysis and redesign of vulnerable patient care systems, such as the ordering, preparation, and dispensing of medications. Potentially vulnerable systems can be identified readily through relevant national databases such as the Joint Commission’s Sentinel Event Database or through the hospital’s own risk management experience.

Finally, the standards make clear the hospital’s responsibility to tell a patient if he or she has been harmed by the care provided.

With the implementation of these standards — which became effective as of July 1, more than 50% of all of the Joint Commission’s hospital standards relate directly to patient safety. To learn more about the patient safety standards, visit the web site ptsafety_frm.html.

ASHP offers on-line oncology review course

The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) in Bethesda, MD, is offering an on-line tool to help pharmacists prepare for the Board of Pharmaceutical Specialties certification examination in oncology pharmacy.

The review course provides users a concentrated update on the diseases, therapies, regulatory issues, pharmacology, and statistics important to oncology pharmacy practice. Participants will hear an audio presentation and view accompanying slides for up to 19 course modules. After viewing the presentation, pharmacists can complete the tests on-line and receive their grade and certificate immediately.

Users can purchase individual modules or the complete course. Access to an individual module is available for eight weeks; purchasers of the full course will have access to the materials for six months. For fee and other information, visit the web site