GoodSamIs this any way to treat the most needy? Los Angeles prosecutors have announced a $450,000 settlement with yet another of the city’s hospitals accused of “patient dumping,” the practice of hustling individuals, particularly the poor and homeless, out of an institution as quick as possible and without full regard to the effect.

In this instance, a well-known hospital near downtown Los Angeles gave emergency care to a homeless man for a foot injury, and then gave him a bus token, shoved him out the doors and he eventually ended up in the city’s notorious, hellish Skid Row district. His condition quickly worsened and he required further treatment at another emergency room, where authorities learned of his early shabby care and subsequently decided to pursue a dumping case.

The hospital involved, which has been notable for stepping forward to provide indigent care and to prevent patient dumping, admitted no wrongdoing. It said it would be less expensive to pay the fine and avoid a legal fight with the city.

eisenCaulfieldpaltrowHype and health misinformation is a metastasizing aspect of our age, in which technology both increases the public’s access to varying points of view─and, to put it kindly, the great gullibility of all too many. Which is why it’s also heartening to see skeptics also are out there to question the widespread humbug.

Look, for example, at what may be one of the most-read health information websites around, WebMD. Yes, it provides some good information. It also seems to be one of the high temples for cyber practitioners of clickbait-ing, offering headlines in recent days such as: Could you be allergic to kissing? 6 ways to fix eggs. Does getting older have to a drag? And Is it OK to drink your pee?

There’s a good reason for the site, of course, to provide provocative teases, upping its online traffic and boosting its appeal to advertisers. Like who? Try Big Pharma for millions of dollars in ads. As the website Vox reports, WebMD also has raised eyebrows by the way it places Big Pharma pitches with content that (hypochondriacal) readers see when they seek information about certain health conditions. Caveat emptor, use caution and common sense when consuming health related information, as I have written before.

Problems with medical devices contribute to 3,000 Americans’ deaths annually, research shows, and fixing any one of the problem devices can cost hundreds of millions. So why aren’t government officials doing more and better in regulating them and protecting the public, a New York Times health policy columnist has asked.

This health economist, Austin Frakt, also has zeroed in on possible solutions, some of which have surfaced after a scandal involving diagnostic scopes used in gastroenterological procedures. Those defective and dirty scopes caused infections that have killed at least 21 and sickened dozens at hospitals nationwide, U.S. Senate investigators confirmed in January.

Experts are starting to think that medical devices each must carry distinctive numbers and tags of some kind, and that this information needs to be recorded in health records each time a device is implanted or used. Such a system exists now for medications. It has helped researchers analyze and find problems in drug prescribing.

220px-Sanford_Bishop--113th_Congress-- RepCole_2Just days after federal health officials warned about teen-agers’ increasing use of e-cigarettes (vaping) and hookahs, members of a House committee have approved a legislative move that shields vaping manufacturers from imminent and stringent U.S. Food and Drug Administration oversight.

The appropriations committee, in a 31-19 vote, approved a proposal offered by Reps. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) and Sanford Bishop (D.-Ga.), to alter the effective date for vaping manufacturers’ products to be required under proposed FDA rules to undergo a “pre-market tobacco application process.”

As part of the process, manufacturers for each and every tobacco product must document their ingredients and potential health harms, such as causing cancer and other heart and lung diseases. Opponents have denounced the proposal, arguing e-cigarettes are less harmful than regular cigarettes and that the prospective federal regulation is too burdensome and will kill the industry. It is largely unregulated now.

ny-med-premiereHospital patients who are dying or in extreme duress should not have their privacy exploited by reality television camera shows, federal health care regulators now have made clear. They have just settled with a noted New York hospital on $2.2 million in penalties and fines for its role in cooperating with a celebrity doctor whose crews recorded for broadcast the last throes of a an elderly Manhattan resident fatally injured when hit by a garbage truck.

The dead patient’s family complained that neither he nor they gave the hospital permission to film during his unsuccessful emergency treatment. Further, they said repeated broadcasts of the reality TV show “New York Med,” headlined by Mehmet Oz (the heart surgeon-cum-TV show celebrity known as “Dr. Oz”), caused them great pain and distress, as well as invading their and their loved one’s privacy.

Federal authorities, who oversee patient privacy matters under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), finally agreed with the family years after they filed complaints, posting online this stance about patients’ protected health information (PHI):

nihclincenterA venerated research and care institution that happens to be in our neighborhood got a rebuke and a reminder about its need to put patients first, ensuring that their care doesn’t get trumped by research needs.

A blue-chip panel conducted a sweeping review of the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center in Bethesda. The panel found shortcomings in the way officials at what is described as the world’s largest research hospital handled details of the sprawling complex’s operations.

The center, which officials said needs a new, external oversight body and an office to monitor quality and safety concerns, was hit with revelations about its pharmacy services and its products, supposedly sterile, that were to be delivered to patients. Inspectors, instead, found fungus and insect contamination in the pharmacy area, as well as ventilation woes.

zapSome recent health headlines have made stories sound so enticing they’re hard to resist:  Are there genetic superheroes walking among us who can provide invaluable clues to preventing deadly diseases? What’s the secret of a big, long lost research study and could it have changed contemporary views on the risks of dietary fat? Should many older Americans who take statins, one of the most commonly prescribed medications, give them up in favor of a more costly therapy? And is there really a dazzling new way to test the blood for health markers?

Skeptics to the front, please. Somehow some very good, very savvy folks, again, are pushing health-related information that needs careful scrutiny or outright howls of complaint. I’ve written about the problems with health care information, and it gives me no pleasure to detail this quartet:

Superhero hype

While the rich tend to live longer and generally prosper in their better health, the poor─and especially now less affluent whites and white women─ don’t fare nearly so well, new research says. And geography may be helpful to some of the poor in surprising ways.

Major newspapers have been full of reports on death rates, especially since a Nobel Laureate and his distinguished researcher wife analyzed data and recently reported that for the first time in recent years the rates were increasing for poorer, less educated white men.

As I’ve written, this sudden mortality shift shocked public health experts, who knew that longevity for blacks in the U.S., while trailing that for whites, has been steadily improving.

vapingDespite aggressive campaigns to discourage kids from starting to smoke, tobacco use has stayed the same among middle- and high-school aged students in five recent years, federal officials report. They blame a sharp increase in teens use of e-cigarettes and hookahs, which experts say could lead to significant health harms.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has just released its analysis of data on the tobacco habits of more than 20,000 public school students who responded to annual surveys from 2011 to 2014. The researchers said:

Substantial increases were observed in current e-cigarette and hookah use among middle and high school students, resulting in an overall estimated total of 2.4 million e-cigarette youth users and an estimated 1.6 million hookah youth users in 2014. Statistically significant decreases occurred in the use of cigarettes, cigars, tobacco pipes, bidis, and snus. The increases in current use of e-cigarettes and hookahs offset the decreases in current use of other tobacco products, resulting in no change in overall current tobacco use among middle and high school students. In 2014, one in four high school students and one in 13 middle school students used one or more tobacco products in the last 30 days. In 2014 …  current e-cigarette use surpassed current use of every other tobacco product, including cigarettes.

bwhospitalBecause money makes such a difference in health care in the United States, what happens when it’s no object? The results aren’t pretty, a prestigious Boston hospital has found. It rolled out the red carpet and penthouse suites for a Saudi prince who stayed for seven months of therapy for a drug-resistant infection.

His lavish ways, however, ended up tainting the institution’s best practices, resulting in internal and Massachusetts state investigations. The Boston Globe said the episode, in which the unidentified prince and his entourage made unusual care demands and lavished gifts on staff in violation of hospital policies, shows the risks of so-called VIP care.

The paper said the post-mortem of the royal treatment found that: medical staff failed to adhere to best practices in wearing protective gowns when treating the princely patient who found the attire “off-putting” and dirty; nurses and others were accused of mishandling narcotics, giving them to members of the royal entourage and not administering them to the patient himself.

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