barcode-b4d283303a1a8ec1667da9a9cf3325b8They may seem like a cryptic pile of digits on devices that most of us might never see but will have in us, sometimes in life-saving fashion. But “unique identification numbers,” emblazoned on everything from hip implants to pacemakers, may offer a ne safety check on a burgeoning aspect of health care. They also have gotten a major boost from the federal Medicare agency.

The Wall Street Journal has reported that the agency, after years of resistance, has agreed with the federal Food and Drug Administration and patient safety advocates that the makers of medical devices should put the identifying numbers on their products, and that this information also should be recorded in patient records, particularly the new electronic versions. To be sure, this is one  step in a long regulatory process.

But experts say it could be a big advance, allowing them to better detect flawed equipment, bad processes or practices, and other situations involving medical devices and harming patients’ health and safety. Some regulators and advocates for the device makers had fought this step for some time now. They contend that it adds to costs, and it hasn’t yet demonstrated a return for the investment.

oxycontinNew, disturbing information is emerging about Big Pharma’s role in the nation’s killer crisis with the abuse of prescription opioid drugs. It also shows that, even when companies act in ways beneficial to the public good, they do so with self-justifying spin.

Major kudos, to start, to the Los Angeles Times for its sustained reporting on the questionable activities of Purdue Pharma, maker of OxyContin, one of the nation’s best-selling and most abused opioid pain-killers. Purdue, for marketing purposes, worked with firms nationwide to obtain detailed information about the distribution and sales of OxyContin, a Times investigation found.

Company executives, at one point, turned to this data as part of what it would tout as a top-level initiative to crack down on abuse and criminal activity involving a product that has generated $31 billion for the private, family-held firm.

United_States_Capitol_west_front_edit2Taxpayers fork over $174,000 in annual pay for  each of the 435 members of the U.S. House and the 100 Senators. The House Speaker gets $223,500, while the Senate President and the House and Senate majority and minority leaders get $193,400. And that doesn’t count the benefits and perks and office staffs. But now they’ve split town for a seven-week recess, without protecting the nation from a potential public health crisis involving Zika, the mosquito-borne disease that is presumed to cause major defects in the unborn of mothers exposed to the virus.

The Zika legislation foundered when partisans could not resolve whether the disease-fighting dollars might support reproductive health measures (birth control), particularly funding for Planned Parenthood. Democrats saw this as a necessary part of the battle. Republicans, who have opposed federal funding of this aspect of health care, disagreed.

Even as this bickering stalemated the zika bill:

emergency-services_overviewThey’re stocked with sufficient material to respond to days of crisis. Key personnel have been told to stay in town and be at the ready. They’ve developed response plans and drilled on readiness. It’s a sad reflection of the horrible headlines of recent days─from France, Dallas, and Orlando, and tragically too many more locales─that hospitals and public health officials in Cleveland and Philadelphia are preparing for the worst-case medical emergencies as Republicans and Democrats get ready to launch their political conventions this week and next in those two cities.

A top doc at the Cleveland Clinic told Stat, the online health information site,  “We know there’s probably going to be some public disturbance that will occur at the RNC. We have to be able to think in advance of how we’d be able to handle a number of protesters who might need assistance, or police who might need assistance.”

His counterpart at a leading emergency care facility in Philly, site of the Democratic national convention, observed: “Even at a major trauma center, getting five or six critically injured patients is an extraordinary undertaking. It’s labor- and resource- intensive to care for just one patient—so when you multiply that by five, or 20, or 200, you can very quickly overwhelm even an expert center.”

FireShot upshot2Sometimes it feels like there is so much information about diet and nutrition that it’s hard to know what to think about what we eat and how it affects our well-being.

The New York Times consulted with experts in nutrition to develop a story and informational graphic that capture how ordinary Americans and nutritionists differ in their views about the health value of foods.

Us:  we think granola bars, coconut oil, frozen yogurt, granola, Slim Fast shakes, American cheese, and orange juice tend to be healthful.

risperdalA Tennessee teen-ager suffered such emotional distress after growing enlarged breasts as an undisclosed side-effect of an anti-psychotic medication that the drug’s maker should pay him $70 million in damages, a Philadelphia jury has decided.

That verdict, only for compensatory damages, was the latest rebuke to Johnson & Johnson over its drug Risperdal. Jurors found that J&J “intentionally falsified, destroyed, or concealed records,” that warned that the medication could cause gynecomastia, the abnormal enlargement of the breasts in men.

J&J has lost a half dozen similar cases already, and it faces more than 1,500 damage lawsuits in Pennsylvania court. In one previous decision, a jury in 2015 awarded an autistic Alabaman $2.5 million after he developed 46DD sized breasts after taking Risperdal.

Doctors who sexually abuse their patients too often get away with it because of weak oversight, sympathetic regulators, and their capacity to move around to elude punishment, a new investigation has found.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution says it spent months, scrutinized more than 100,000 medical board disciplinary orders from across the nation, and found too many disturbing instances where perverse physicians harmed patients but escaped punishment or received only a slap on the wrist.

The events of recent days ─in Texas, Louisiana, and Minnesota─ have been so tragic that it’s easy to despair. Here are four health-related people stories worth reading to remind us of humanity’s enduring better side:

  • In the horrors of Syrian combat, medical Samaritans strive to maintain some kind of care

syriaFirst, let’s stipulate that there’s almost as much barbarous conduct as can be imagined in this recent New Yorker report about the struggle to maintain medical care in combat-ravaged Syria. President Assad’s predation on his own people has become an international abomination, including his forces unleashing snipers to maim emergency medical personnel, and their dropping barrel bombs, laden with lacerating shrapnel, on hospitals or known care-giving sites (February, 2016, photo of a bombed hospital from Doctors Without Borders/Medicins san Frontieres).

cookie monsterIn case you missed it, Uncle Sam has found a health monster of sorts in your home-made cookies: the raw dough that so many chefs and kids like to lick off the spoon or out of the bowl.

It turns out that more than three dozen Americans in 20 states have been felled with illnesses caused by Shiga toxin-producing E coli O121 bacteria. Investigators from the federal Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have traced the taint to contaminated flour from a General Mills factory in Kansas City, Mo. Ten of the illnesses, which include stomach cramps, diarrhea, and vomiting, have been severe enough to require patients to be hospitalized.

The FDA has ordered the recall of more than 10 million pounds of flour produced in the mill last November and December.

stemcellBeneficial therapies can topple over to medical nightmares in a blink, especially when regulators seem to have looked askance or even shut their eyes and slumbered. The Food and Drug Administration may need to look into what  is going on with the burgeoning business of so-called stem cell treatments.

Two academics took to the Internet and found “at least 351 businesses in 570 locations …marketing stem cell therapies that have not been fully vetted by medical researchers or blessed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration,” they reported in the peer reviewed, academic journal Cell Stem Cell.

To be sure, they did not visit the facilities in person, and they use care not to describe any of them as violating state or federal laws or regulations. They used rigorous, robust online means, though, to look at the operations’ Internet pitches, which, as The Los Angeles Times notes:

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