2015 in review

The top 25 health care stories of 2015 countdown

December 30, 2015
by Gus Iversen, Editor in Chief
Whether it was an unmitigated failure or an unparalleled success, there is one thing about 2015 that we can all agree on: it's just about over. As these last 12 months rolled by, HCB News churned out original coverage of over 800 breaking news stories that had major implications for health care professionals. These stories ran the gamut from legislative shake-ups, technological innovations and breaking research, to unforeseeable disasters and occasionally the downright bizarre.

So, before we put the book up on the shelf, let's take a look back at the 25 headlines that — more than any others — shaped the year for health care business professionals, grabbed the most attention, and have set the stage for 2016.

25: Lung ultrasound may trump X-ray for diagnosing pediatric pneumonia 3/25/2015
Pneumonia is the number one cause of death in children worldwide, diagnosing it without dose exposure is highly desirable. In March, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai researchers published findings that suggest ultrasound may hold the key to diagnosing pediatric pneumonia without chest X-ray.

24: Using 3-D printing to combat Gaza's stethoscope shortage 9/16/2015
Dr. Tarek Loubani turned his frustration with lack of resources in Palestine's war-torn Gaza Strip into an "aha" moment. After several years of development and testing, he designed a reliable, accurate — and cheap — 3-D printed stethoscope, which can be produced on the spot using basic supplies and a printer. These are the kind of innovations we expect to see more of as 3-D printing continues to gain ground.

23: Siemens brings 7T MR to the clinic 6/3/2015
In June, Siemens Healthcare introduced its Magnetom Terra 7 Tesla MR system, which is built for neurological and musculoskeletal applications. 7T magnets have higher signal-to-noise and contrast-to-noise ratios compared to lower field systems. Although 7T is nothing new to research facilities, this marks the first time such a system has been designed specifically for clinical use.

22: Sometimes prostate cancer is left well enough alone 9/2/2015
The results of 20 years of research at the Brady Urological Institute at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore show that most men with nonaggressive prostate cancer did not die from their cancers. In fact, only two of 1,298 men in the study – with the average age being 66 – died of prostate cancer and only three developed other tumors.

21: Is that Doogie Howser? ...Nope 1/22/2015
At St. Mary's Medical Center in West Palm Beach, Florida, a teenager stalked the halls in a lab coat with a stethoscope around his neck, telling anyone who asked that he was a doctor. According to a security guard, the juvenile may have been doing this for a month while nobody spoke up or did anything about it.

20: Proton therapy is coming to the big apple 7/22/2015
The New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) announced the sale of a 51,000 square foot parcel at 225 East 126th Street and Third Avenue in Manhattan's East Harlem neighborhood, for the construction of the New York Proton Center (NYPC). The facility, which will be constructed with Varian's ProBeam, is part of a growing body of evidence suggesting proton therapy is here to stay.

19: Smaller cuts to freestanding radiation therapy centers by CMS than expected 11/9/2015
ASTRO, 228 members of Congress and whoever else wrote to CMS about the dangers of reducing reimbursement for freestanding radiation therapy centers by 6 percent, celebrated a modest victory in Fall of 2015 when CMS announced that the reimbursement rate would only be reduced by 2 percent.

18: Using SPECT to distinguish PTSD from TBI 5/4/2015
It’s difficult to differentiate between Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) since the conditions have very similar symptoms, but researchers at Thomas Jefferson University, UCLA, University of British Columbia and Amen Clinics found that they could accomplish that with SPECT imaging.

17: Heavy ion therapy coming to the U.S. 1/28/2015
Early in 2015, the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center announced plans to build the first heavy ion radiation therapy center in the U.S. The National Center for Heavy Ion Radiation Therapy is projected to be completed in 2021, at a total building cost of $200 to $250 million. Currently there are only eight heavy ion facilities on the planet, but it may one day become the standard of care for cancer patients.

16: GE "recalls" 12,968 MR magnets 2/20/2015
In February, GE initiated a "field corrective action" on 12,968 MR systems worldwide after discovering that the Magnet Rundown Unit (MRU) on an MR in India was disabled. The FDA classified this action as a class 1 recall.

15: Taking a page from ancient texts to understand superbugs 4/6/2015
Researchers from the University of Nottingham in England added unexpected insight to our understanding of antibiotic-resistant superbugs by killing them with a recipe from a 1,000 year old leather-bound book of cures.

14: Medical device tax suspended for two years 12/23/2015
Just before Christmas, Congress passed a two-year suspension of the 2.3 percent medical device tax in year-end legislation. While that's good news for device companies, (particularly the smaller ones struggling to compete) it is also a hit for the ACA. Like so many things, the ultimate outcome will depend in large part on the next U.S. president.

13: Better prostate cancer detection with PET than MR 8/21/2015
Researchers from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health discovered that PET can detect a fast-growing primary prostate cancer better than MR and is also better at differentiating it from benign prostate lesions. They hope this could eventually replace the traditional ultrasound-guided 12-core biopsy.

12: Here come the MR-guided linacs 1/23/2015
In January, Philips and Elekta announced a partnership to create an MR-guided linear accelerator. Niklas Savander, Elekta's president and CEO, expects that monitoring stereotactic radiotherapy with MR as it's happening will become the standard of care within 10 years. In October, MD Anderson signed off to install the first such system in the U.S. early next year.

11: King, Burwell, and the pursuit of loopholes in the ACA 3/5/2015
The nation was enraptured by the oral arguments in King versus Burwell. There is a passage in the ACA that specifies health care subsidies are available through an, "exchange established by the state," which — if taken on its own and separate from the rest of the health law — may have implied that states without their own markets should not receive federal subsidies. The verdict, delivered in June, concluded it did not.

10: Defining the risks of repeat Gadolinium exams 6/26/2015
A class of contrast agent that is used for millions of MR exams every year can cause “significant and persistent” MR abnormalities over time, according to a study published in the journal Investigative Radiology. The research, conducted on rats, could have major implications on the future of MR imaging.

9: MR explodes at New Jersey veterinary facility 3/9/2015
There were roughly 60 animals and 100 staff members in the western part of the Oradell Animal Hospital, when the facility's MR unit exploded. While local businesses heroically came together to minimize the impact of the disaster, it served as a sobering reminder of the consequences that may accompany improper deinstallation (or maintenance) of these powerful systems.

8: The trouble with duodenoscopes 2/27/2015
In February Olympus began facing lawsuits for negligence and wrongful death stemming from the UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center “superbug outbreak” linked to use of its TJF-Q180V duodenoscopes. The headlines persisted for months, the FDA intervened, new protocols were instated for maintaining the devices, and the challenge of keeping increasingly small parts sanitary has triggered a yellow traffic light on some aspects of endoscopy's robotic and mechanical progress.

7: Department of Defense chooses EHR provider 7/29/2015
After months of speculation and jockeying among three competing teams, Leidos — in partnership with Cerner and Accenture Federal Services — won the coveted Department of Defense contract. The contract could be worth $10 billion and is expected to improve care for 55 affiliated hospitals and 600 clinics, servicing 9.5 million active and retired military servicemen and women. An investment of this could shift the balance of power among health IT companies.

6: Crossing the blood-brain barrier with focused ultrasound 11/10/2015
A medical team at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto used focused ultrasound to temporarily open the blood-brain barrier, to more effectively administer chemotherapy to a patient’s malignant brain tumor. This is the first time that the BBB has been opened noninvasively and could have a major impact on how tomorrow's surgeons and physicians approach diseases of the brain.

5: Cybersecurity: Learning the hard way 3/17/2015
Moreso than in any other year, health care discovered in 2015 how important it is to keep sensitive information secure online. After Anthem's 80 million member data breach in February, Premera Blue Cross announced a cyberattack in March that jeopardized Social Security numbers, bank account numbers, clinical information and addresses of 11 million of its members in the Pacific Northwest. Meanwhile, Hospira partnered with independent researchers to illustrate the vulnerability of drug infusion pump dosages to hacking.

4: Breast cancer screening guidelines 4/29/2015
In April, the USPSTF came forward recommending routine biennial breast cancer screening for women ages 50 to 74. Those recommendations added kindling to a long-standing debate about when, and how often, women should be screened for a cancer that one in eight will be diagnosed with in their lifetime. Dr. Daniel Kopans told HCB News these recommendations will result in thousands of unnecessary breast cancer deaths per year, and that he believes screening should start at age 40.

3: A future with handheld linear accelerators? 8/17/2015
In August, we reported that European scientists had created a miniature linear accelerator designed to be used in hospitals for cancer treatment and to produce radioisotopes for imaging. Made up of four modules that are each roughly 20 inches long, the mini-linac came out to little more than 6.5 feet in size.

Then, in October, we reported that Hamburg's Center for Free-Electron Laser Science had built a prototype for a miniature particle accelerator with a single module that is 1.5 centimeters long and 1 millimeter thick, which could enable even smaller diagnostic imaging and radiation therapy techniques. What does it mean when researchers are reducing the footprint of these extremely powerful devices by a factor greater than 100? Only time will tell.

2: Watson gets its doctorate 4/13/2015
IBM announced it was setting up a Watson Health Cloud to provide a secure and open platform for physicians, researchers, insurers and companies focused on health and wellness solutions. The tech giant teamed up with Apple, Johnson & Johnson, and Medtronic on the project. A few months later IBM purchased Merge, a move that allowed Watson to try its hand at interpreting images while solidifying IBM's commitment to an industry where disruptive ideas are becoming more expected from HIMSS than RSNA.

1: Ultrasound? There's an app for that 6/24/2015
With Lumify, Philips added ultrasound to the list of things you can do directly from your phone. The only hardware required is a commercial tablet or smartphone – Android only, for now – and a transducer that plugs into the device's port. You can bet more OEMs are planning their entrance into this new market segment and, as they do, better health care will be making its way to populations that previously have not had access to it. For the majority of humans on Earth — meaning those in developing countries or rural regions — the standard of care is shifting upward.