KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Federal Official Says Poor Prognosis Result From VA Center’s Substandard Treatment

Up to 14 people who got substandard care at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center now face a poor prognosis, a federal official said Thursday, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

"The treatment was clearly not effective in six veterans who received radioactive seed implants, based on the blood protein test that monitors signs of prostate cancer. An additional eight patients may also have suffered treatment failures; their PSA test levels have begun to rise - a worrisome sign, Michael Hagen, the VA's national director of radiation oncology services, told members of the House VA Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations yesterday. Time will tell if more veterans face a recurrence of their cancers, Hagen said."

Over six years, 92 patients received too little radiation to their prostates or too much to nearby tissues, according to investigations of the poor care. "The seed implants, called brachytherapy, are usually used to treat early-stage cancers confined to the prostate gland; these patients have an excellent prognosis whether they opt for surgery, external radiation, or brachytherapy. A brachytherapy patient who receives an optimal radiation dosage has a better than a 90 percent chance of cure, studies have found."

University of Pennsylvania officials who supply medical personnel for the hospital apologized Thursday as did the doctor who performed most of the procedures. "Later in the hearing, Joseph Williams, the VA's acting deputy undersecretary for health operations and management, said the agency had implemented these corrective policies: Training in defining and reporting medical events, new procedures to verify seed placement (and) standards to plan and check the radiation dose" (Goldstein, 7/23).

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