Articles Posted in Communication

doc-sleep-300x225Must doctors be absolutely impervious to common sense improvements in the way they train their own? Their bullheadedness has reemerged with the revisited decision by a major academic credentialing group to allow medical residents yet again to work 24-hour shifts.

The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education clearly was on the defensive when it issued its memo on residents’ learning and working hours, guidance that academic medical centers and hospitals nationwide will rely on in setting workplace standards for the young doctors in whose hands so many patients will put their lives. The council noted that it had established a high-level task force to reconsider criticisms of residents’ stress and overwork and how this might imperil patient care, responding to an early rollback of shift hours:

“… The Task Force has determined that the hypothesized benefits associated with the changes made to first-year resident scheduled hours in 2011 have not been realized, and the disruption of team-based care and supervisory systems has had a significant negative impact on the professional education of the first-year resident, and effectiveness of care delivery of the team as a whole. It is important to note that 24 hours is a ceiling, not a floor. Residents in many specialties may never experience a 24-hour clinical work period. Individual specialties have the flexibility to modify these requirements to make them more restrictive as appropriate, and in fact, some already do. As in the past, it is expected that emergency medicine and internal medicine will make individual requirements more restrictive.”

Foxx-275x300Call it creepy or maybe a too-early April Fool’s joke. What else can be said about a Republican-backed measure, advancing in the House of Representatives, that puts Big Brother in charge— big time —in many workplaces via so-called wellness programs?

It’s called the  “Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act.” This Orwell-inspired bill,  pushed by North Carolina Republican Congresswoman Virginia Foxx, gives employers scary control over their workers. Employees who participate in job-related health programs can be compelled to undergo genetic tests, and to provide the results to employers, albeit in supposedly anonymized fashion. If they fail to do so, they could face thousands of dollars in fines.

Disclosure of extremely personal, private medical information has been barred by the 2008 Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, aka GINA. It arose partly after a 1998 court case, in which clerical and administrative workers were allowed to sue their employer for requiring testing for “highly private and sensitive medical genetic information such as syphilis, sickle cell trait, and pregnancy” without their consent or knowledge during a general employee health exam. GINA has been key in blocking employers from tapping into genetic and other confidential medical information as part of increasingly popular but largely ineffective workplace wellness programs. Because most Americans, more than 155 million of them, get their health insurance at work, many companies have launched and expanded such programs as way to reduce their coverage costs.

rheumatoid-arthritis-hands-2-300x200More than 50 million Americans struggle with arthritis: Three in 10 of them find that stooping, bending, or kneeling can be “very difficult.” One in five can’t or find it tough to walk three blocks, or to push or pull large objects. Grown-ups with arthritis are more than twice as likely to report fall injuries.  Arthritics have lower employment rates, and a third of them 45 and older experience anxiety or depression. So what to do about this leading cause of disability, a painful condition whose woes will only grow as the nation ages and already is responsible for $81 billion in direct annual medical costs?

Experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that those with the most common arthritis forms—osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, lupus, and fibromyalgia—avoid a reflexive reach for pain-killing pills. Instead, they must keep moving. “Physical activity,” CDC experts said in a new study, “is a proven strategy for managing arthritis. …” It also “has known benefits for the management of many other chronic conditions” that also afflict those with arthritis—including heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.

Although arthritis commonly is associated with seniors, the majority of adults with the condition, more than 32.2 million Americans, are younger than 65. Arthritis is much more common among women than men, and much less so among Hispanics and those of Asian descent that among whites. It afflicts those with a high school or less education more than those who completed college or higher.

cdc-logo-300x226When it comes to the nation’s health, the Trump Administration and the GOP-dominated Congress seem determined to prove they know how to do penny-wise and pound-foolish. They’re amply demonstrating this with proposed slashes in the nation’s basic budget for public health. They’re calling for a $1 billion cut for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, notably in the agency’s funding to combat bioterrorism and outbreaks of disease, as well as to battle smoking and to provide critical medical services like immunizations. Their target is the Prevention and Public Health Fund, set up under the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. With the ACA under fire by partisans who want to repeal and replace it, the fund was already imperiled. GOP lawmakers, determined to cut domestic spending, seem disinclined to come up with substitute sums.

Andy Harris, a Maryland Republican congressman, physician, and House appropriations health subcommittee member, has been quoted as calling the public health money, “a slush fund.” He argued that, “It’s been used by the secretary [of health and human services] for whatever the secretary wants. It’s a misnomer to call it the Prevention and Public Health Fund, because it’s been used for other things, and it’s about time we eliminated it.”

The Obama Administration did embarrass Congress by tapping the fund to provide emergency aid last summer to Florida, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and other states battling tropical infections, including Zika and dengue fever. Congress took a long recess vacation, as states clamored for help for mosquito eradication and vaccine development to deal with Zika, a virus that can cause severe birth defects and other harms.

Medicaid-300x225Republicans have long fumed about the federal government’s role in health care, ever since Medicare for the elderly and Medicaid for the poor were both passed in 1965. Now, though, we’re at a crossroads, where a frontal assault on Medicaid could cause big damage to both programs.

The temptation for too many Americans, as I’ve written before, may be to skip over the Medicaid-related parts of the GOP proposals to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. That would be wrong because those parts of the American Health Care Act, aka Trumpcare, may be the most radical and will be detrimental to the poor, working poor, children, sick, disabled, and seniors. They will hit many millions more middle-class Americans than might be thought.

Opponents also say that Trumpcare and its Medicaid and health insurance changes will harm Medicare, the linchpin of health care coverage for seniors.

ahca-300x169The president and his GOP allies on Capitol Hill already have rammed through two U.S. House committees a plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. But to paraphrase a best-seller’s title, those who will be affected by the American Health Care Act, the AHCA, are from Earth, while the Republicans who are pushing Trumpcare must be from Pluto.

That’s because their Trumpcare, as evidence already has shown, will divide Americans as never before, while at the same time unifying them in opposition to it and disbelief about its current form.

Here’s what the suddenly engaged, now arm-twisting president Tweeted about the House legislation:  “Our wonderful new Healthcare Bill is now out for review and negotiation. ObamaCare is a complete and total disaster— is imploding fast!”

PrecisionHealth-300x108It’s a $50-million business with a roster of blue-chip consultants who would be an envied faculty at most any major university. But look closely at the activities of Precision Health Economics because this firm’s esteemed academic economists, for big bucks, are boosting Big Pharma’s efforts to justify some of its sky-high prices for its products to policy-makers, regulators, and lawmakers.

Pro Publica, the Pulitzer Prize-winning online investigative site, deserves credit for raising questions about yet another area in which ordinary Americans may be outgunned by special-interest money. Big Pharma already has earned notoriety for seeking to advance its causes by paying physicians, underwriting patient advocacy groups—and now retaining high-powered economists.

Economists play a key role in providing expert views on drugs, their prices, and markets, all of which are increasingly controversial issues as Americans struggle to afford medications that can cost $1,000 a day or tens of thousands of dollars for treatment regimens lasting for a few months.

prescription-bottles-1-300x170Some diligent, grown-up sons and daughters may want to check in on mom, dad, and grandma, grandpa, all the aunties and uncles, too. That’s because there’s yet another warning that too many doctors are whipping out their prescription pads all too readily and writing scripts for retirement-age Americans, who now take on average three psychiatric drugs without any mental health history.

Research published in the JAMA Internal Medicine shows that over-prescribing of powerful psychotropic drugs, including sleeping pills, painkillers, and anti-depressants may be more common than believed. The study was based on an analysis of data from a big number of doctors’ office visits, with researchers finding the number of “polypharmacy” incidents (cases in which seniors received scripts for multiple drugs) increased between 2004 and 2013 from 1.5 million to 3.68 million.

This doubling resulted from seniors’ greater openness in talking with their doctors about mental health issues, and, in instances where visits were related to “anxiety, insomnia, or depression,” the researchers write. But, in disturbing fashion, a high number of women and rural patients were involved in cases where multiple psychotropics were prescribed, and many of the prescriptions were for painkillers.

HouseGregoryHouse-276x300Doctors, nurses, and hospitals should stop ignoring colleagues who act like jerks because obnoxious physicians—think of  Dr. Gregory House, the TV internist—may hurt patients, especially in surgery.

Researchers, who published a study in the JAMA Surgery, looked at two years of quality care data from seven medical centers, involving 800 surgeons and 32,000 adult patients. They also had information on physicians with “unsolicited patient observations,” meaning complaints from those undergoing care and their friends and families.

Stat, the online health information site, summarizes what the researchers found:

ryanMembers of Congress are home in their districts for a week-long break, and many lawmakers are expected to get an earful from voters upset over many issues at the start of the Trump Administration, especially this: What the heck’s going on with health care?

Republicans have insisted for years now—counter-factually, as the evidence has amply demonstrated—that they had a cheaper, better, more inclusive alternative to the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. The promised to repeal the ACA on the day they gained control of Congress and the White House. That hasn’t happened. Nor has the GOP proffered its vaunted replacement. Instead, the party had talked in recent days about an ACA repair.

But under fire from their most conservative party members, Republican leaders have thrown up what they call an outline of Trumpcare. The GOP has moved from lots of R’s—repeal, replace, and repair—to some C’s and D’s: Costly, callous, divisive, and cruel. Those are some ways their retread plan elements (dubbed “déjà vu all over again” in one report) could be described. The outline still faces major challenges, not the least of which is whether a chaotic White House and a lumpen Congress can conduct the nation’s business and enact public policy.

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