Changing Business of Medicine: Private Equity

A recent commentary (JM Zhu et al. NEJM 2021; 384: 11: 981-983. Private Equity and Physician Medical Practices — Navigating a Changing Ecosystem) describes the restructuring of medical practices with a major decline in independent practices due to the growth of hospital-affiliated employees and private-equity investment in medical specialties.

Key points:

  • Between July 2016-January 2018, “hospitals and health systems acquired more than 8000 practices…Roughly 14,000 physicians left private practice”
  • Private-equity investment in medical practices has emerged as an alternative source of investment “that allows physicians to continue to hold equity and benefit financially from future transactions.”

Potential consequences of private-equity investment in medical practice:

  • Reduction in competition
  • Leverage market power with insurers & possible higher costs
  • Possible additional pressures on physicians to improve profits and reduction of physician autonomy
  • Possible improvements in value with operational improvements including sharing industry knowledge with smaller practices, adopting technology infrastructure, and helping practices assume risk with value-based payments
  • Possible prioritization of patients with better payer mix and lower complexity

My take: Mergers and acquisitions whether through hospitals or private equity make me worried that physicians will be squeezed between delivering profits and providing the best service for our patients.

Related audio interview with Dr. Jane Zhu on the growth of private equity investment in medical practices

Passive Smoking and Worsening Crohn’s Disease

S Scharrer et al. Inflamm Bowel Dis 2021; 27: 379-385. Passive Smoking Increases the Risk for Intestinal Surgeries in Patients With Crohn’s Disease

This was a retrospective cohort study which included 169 patients who never smoked actively, 91 patients (54%) were exposed to passive smoking.

Key finding:

  • Exposed patients were more likely to undergo intestinal surgery than nonexposed patients (67% vs 30%; P < 0.001). Multivariate Cox regression analysis revealed that passive smoking was an independent risk factor for intestinal surgeries (hazard ratio, 1.7; 95% CI, 1.04–2.9; P = 0.034)

The associated editorial (RA John, RB Geary, pgs 386-387, Full Text: Smoking Cessation for Patients With Crohn Disease: Not Just for the Patient?) makes several useful points:

  • Smoking has long been identified as one of the strongest environmental risk factors for both the development of Crohn disease (CD) and the worsening of the disease course.
  • Studies in smokers with CD have reported that the risk of flares and complications matches that of nonsmokers with CD after 1 year of abstinence.
  • It would be reasonable to expect that a similar risk reduction exists for patients who can become passive-smoke-free. In addition, their likelihood of remaining smoke-free themselves is increased if they live in a smoke-free household.

My take (from editorial): “Clinicians should consider widening the scope of smoking cessation counseling to include not just patients but also their cohabitants.”

Is Eosinophilic Esophagitis More Frequent in Patients with Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

A Sonnenberg et al. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2021; 19: 613-615. Full Text. Comorbid Occurrence of Eosinophilic Esophagitis and Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Using the Inform Diagnostics database, which is a national electronic repository of histopathologic records from patients distributed throughout the entire United States, the authors performed a case-control study among 302,061 patients undergoing bidirectional endoscopy on the same day.

The database contained 3860 ulcerative colitis (UC) patients, 3330 Crohn’s disease (CD) patients, 1476 patients with indeterminate colitis with respect to UC or CD, and 5296 MC (microscopic colitis) patients. 

Key findings:

  •  EoE was less common in the overall IBD, CD, and MC case populations than the control population. Adjusted odds ratios (compared to control) :
    • EoE and IBD aOR 0.64
  • EoE and Crohn’s aOR 0.41
  • EoE and UC aOR 0.97
  • EoE and Indeterminate Colitis aOR 0.29
  • EoE and MC aOR 0.68

My take: (partly from authors) “Unexpectedly, the present analysis revealed statistically significant inverse relationships between EoE and CD or MC, but not UC.” Because endoscopy is often undertaken in those with a suspicion of IBD, EoE can be identified in the IBD population surreptiously; however, its frequency is likely less than in the general population.

Trends in Liver Diseases: Autoimmune Liver Diseases and Fatty Liver

1st Study: M Lamba et al. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2021; 19: 573-579. Full text: Trends in Incidence of Autoimmune Liver Diseases and Increasing Incidence of Autoimmune Hepatitis

This was a population-based prospective study from Canterbury, New Zealand

Key findings:

  • Overall incidence rates were 1.93 per 100,000 for AIH (95% CI, 1.58–2.34), 0.51 per 100,000 for PBC (95% CI, 0.33–0.73), and 0.92 per 100,000 for PSC (95% CI, 0.68–1.21). 
  •  The incidence rate of AIH was significantly higher during the period of 2014–2016 (2.39 per 100,000; 95% CI, 1.76–3.23) than during the period of 2008–2010 (1.37 per 100,000; 95% CI, 0.91– 2.06) (P < .05). Incidences of PBC and PSC did not change significantly.
  • In 2016, prevalence values were 27.4 per 100,000 for AIH (95% CI, 23.58–32.0), 9.33 per 100,000 for PBC (95% CI, 7.13–12.05), and 13.17 per 100,000 for PSC (95% CI, 10.56–16.42).

My take: This study indicates that autoimmune hepatitis has been increasing in incidence.

Related blog posts:

2ndStudy: ZM Younossi et al. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2021; 19: 580-589. Full text: Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis Is the Most Rapidly Increasing Indication for Liver Transplantation in the United States

This study was an analysis of data from the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients (2002 through 2019).

Key findings:

  • In 2002, the most common etiologies of non-acute liver failure on the liver transplant waitlist (in patients without HCC)
  • In 2019, among patients without HCC, NASH was the second leading indication for liver transplantation (28% of patients), after ALD (38% of patients). were chronic HCV infection (37%) and ALD (16%), whereas only 5% had NASH
  • HCC accounted for 27,799 patients (16.5%) and was commonly due to chronic HCV throughout study period

My take: Demand for liver transplantation has NOT improved despite curative therapy for chronic hepatitis C. This is due to increased liver failure related to fatty liver disease and alcoholic liver disease.

Related blog posts:

Figure 1 Prevalence of the most common CLD etiologies in waitlisted liver transplant candidates without HCC. (A) Proportion of all non-HCC listings with known etiology; (B) the proportion relative to that seen in 2002.

Juice in Infancy and Fatty Liver Disease

Briefly noted: ML Geurtsen et al. Hepatology 2021; 73: 560-570. Full text: Associations Between Intake of Sugar‐Containing Beverages in Infancy With Liver Fat Accumulation at School Age

Methods: In a population‐based prospective cohort study of 1,940 infants, we assessed sugar‐containing beverage intake (juice or soda) at 1 year with a validated Food Frequency Questionnaire. Liver fat fraction and NAFLD (liver fat fraction ≥5.0%) were assessed with MR. Key findings:

  • Compared to infants with <1.0 serving/day, those with >2.0 servings/day had the highest odds of NAFLD at 10 years of age (OR, 3.02; 95% CI, 1.34, 6.83). This was independent of sugar‐containing beverage intake and body mass index at school age
  • Liver fat fraction greater than or equal to 5% in school-aged children was almost 3-fold higher in those who consumed more than two servings of juice per day at age 1 (4.0%) than in those who drank less than one per day (1.4%)
  • The associations between juice intake in infancy and NAFLD were strongest in children with overweight or obesity at age 10 and those in families with more limited education

Major strengths of this study are the population‐based prospective longitudinal design with a large sample size, with information on sugar‐containing beverage intake in infancy and liver fat fraction measured with MR at 10 years of age.

My take: Juice and other high sugar beverages (eg soda) should be avoided, particularly at younger ages.

Related blog posts:

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Interleukin-13 Monoclonal Antibody for Eosinophilic Esophagitis & More COVID-19 Data

A recent study (ES Dellon et al. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2021; 19: 473-483. Full text: Long-term Efficacy and Tolerability of RPC4046 in an Open-Label Extension Trial of Patients With Eosinophilic Esophagitis) provides 1 year data on RPC4046, an IL-13 monoclonal antibody.

This study analyzed data from 66 patients who completed the 16-week, double-blind, induction portion of a phase 2 study of RPC4046 (180 mg or 360 mg/wk) vs placebo and then completed a 52-week LTE, receiving open-label RPC4046 360 mg/wk.  20 of the 86 initial subjects (from the 16 week induction study) did not complete the full 52-week duration of the open label extension

Key findings:

  • Overall, 42 of 66 (64%) subjects had a peak eosinophil count <15 at 52 weeks
  • In the initially-treated group, 29/57 (51%) had peak eosinophil count <15 at 16 weeks
    • 20/29 maintained a eosinophil count <15 at 52 weeks; 3 had an eosinophil count of 15 or greater at 52 weeks. Thus, 20/23 (87%) with data at 52 weeks maintained response.
  • In the initially-treated group, 28/57 (49%) had a peak eosinophil count of 15 or greater at 16 weeks
    • 10/28 (36%) had a peak eosinophil count <15 at 52 weeks and 12 continued with an eosinophil count of 15 or greater at 52 weeks. Thus, 10/22 (45%) acquired a response after the induction period.
  • In the placebo induction group (n=29), none had a peak eosinophil count <15 at week 16
    • 12/29 (43%) had a peak eosinophil count <15 at 52 weeks during open-label treatment; 9 continued with an eosinophil count of 15 or greater at 52 weeks. Thus, 12/21 (57%) developed a response without an induction treatment.

In addition to the improvements in eosinophil count, the authors identified clinical, endoscopic, and histologic improvement. “RPC4046 was well tolerated with little immunogenicity elicited in the LTE period.” Overall, the majority of treatment related adverse events were mild or moderate in severity and “no significant safety concerns.”

My take: This study shows that RPC4046 may emerge as a useful treatment for EoE.

Related blog posts:

From Washington Post. U.S. Death rate from COVID-19 continues to decline, even though the number of reported daily cases has increased in last 3 weeks. With previous surges, deaths have been a lagging indicator. With the large number of vulnerable individuals vaccinated, it is unclear if the death rate will rise again or will continue to decline.
From Washington Post

Eat Your Fruits and Veggies -Ignore ‘Dirty Dozen’?

USA Today 3/17/21: These 12 fruits and vegetables contain more pesticide residue than others, ‘Dirty Dozen’ study says

An excerpt: “The 2021 “Dirty Dozen,” released Wednesday by the Environmental Working Group, ranked pesticide residue levels of fruits and vegetables based on samples taken by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration…’The most important thing is that everyone should be eating lots of fruits and vegetables…We do recommend you try to reduce your pesticide exposure.'”

From Detroit Free Press: Environmental group adds 3 vegetables to its annual Dirty Dozen list

“USDA’s Pesticide Data Program report finds that 99% of samples tested fell below the safety standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency…Only one in 10 Americans eat enough fruits and vegetables daily, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention…Dirty Dozen list creates fear and disparages consumers from buying — organic or not.”

Related article: NY Times, Nicholas Kristof: What are Sperm Telling Us? “Scientists are concerned by falling sperm counts and declining egg quality. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals may be the problem.”

My take: It is concerning that many foods have pesticides. However, adequate fruit and vegetables in the diet offers many health advantages and this is probably a greater priority.

Related blog posts:

AI for UC, Case of Eosinophilia in UC

K Gottlieb, J Requa et al. Gastroenterol 2021; 160: 710-719. Central Reading of Ulcerative Colitis Clinical Trial Videos Using Neural Networks Key finding: A deep learning algorithm can be trained to predict levels of UC severity from full-length endoscopy videos with excellent agreement with human central readers; endoscopic healing accuracy was 97% for UC endoscopic index of severity (UCEIS) and 95.5% for endoscopic Mayo score.

JS Herndon et al. Gastroenterol 2021; 160: 29-30. Full text: Marked Eosinophilia in a 27-Year-Old Woman With Recent Onset Ulcerative Colitis What is the reason for marked eosinophilia (wbc 40 with 46% eos) in a 27 yo with ulcerative colitis?

MRCP and liver biopsy images consistent with a diagnosis of Eosinophilic Cholangitis

Real-World = Partially-Treated Celiac Disease

A recent prospective observational study reinforces the idea that most people with celiac disease are unable to accomplish a strict gluten-free diet (GFD): JP Stefanolo et al. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2021; 19: 484-491. Real-World Gluten Exposure in Patients With Celiac Disease on Gluten-Free Diets, Determined From Gliadin Immunogenic Peptides in Urine and Fecal Samples

The investigators enrolled 53 adults with celiac disease (CD) for at least two years and followed symptoms as well as stool/urine testing for gluten immunogenic peptide (GIP). “GIP in stool can detect gluten consumption of more than 40 mg/d and the urine tests are positive from 40 and 500 mg/d of gluten.”

Key findings:

  • Over the 4-week study period, weekend samples (urine) identified 70% of patients excreted GIP at least once, compared with 62% during weekdays (stool).
  • Patients had a median of 3 exposures during the 4 weeks.
  • Also, the authors noted increases in GIP excretion towards the end of the study. “This suggests a potential Hawthorne effect that could be explained by a decrease in hypervigilance that often is seen in a context of research studies.”

The authors note that GIP “excretions of greater than 2 mcg/g in stool or greater than 12 ng/mL in urine can induce mucosal damage in almost 100% of patients.”

My take: This study adds to the body of literature emphasizing the high rate of inadvertent gluten exposure.

Related blog posts:

Before and After at Lake Michigan shoreline (1 month apart in Evanston, IL)

Early January -Evanston, IL
Early February -Evanston, IL

Doctors’ Jobs Obsolete

Thanks to Jose Garza for sharing this important information:

Full link The Science Post: Hospital to replace doctors with parents who have done their research

Other important article links available at this website include the following: