us-cash-184x300Here’s something that many Americans likely would want to think twice about letting happen: Should good health and long lives be just another of the spoils reserved to the rich?

Vox, a news and information site, has posted a provocative dig into national data on longevity — a measure that has raised experts’ concern with its recent rare, two-years-in-a-row dive, notably due to fatal overdoses of opioid drugs, including prescription painkillers, heroin, and fentanyl.

Experts scrutinizing the data, Vox says, keep finding that “what’s often lost in the conversation about the uptick in [U.S.] mortality … is that this trend isn’t affecting all Americans. In fact, there’s one group … that’s doing better than ever: the rich. While poor and middle-class Americans are dying earlier these days, the wealthiest among us are enjoying unprecedented longevity.”

treadmill-300x222Millions of Americans may be hitting the gym as part of their new year resolve to get fitter. They also need to exercise caution and common sense to avoid injuries that could leave them in worse shape.

As the Washington Post reported, the 2018 health club crush will result in “hundreds of thousands of [exercisers] stumbling on treadmills, falling off exercise balls, getting snapped in the face by resistance bands, dropping weights on their toes and wrenching their backs by lifting too much weight.”

Further, the newspaper added:

medtest-300x169Medical over-screening and over-testing not only adds hundreds of billions of dollars in unnecessary costs to U.S. health care, it also may be skewing researchers’ understanding of what causes disease and imposing harsh burdens on older Americans.

Stat, an online health and medical news service, has highlighted an intriguing study from the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, whose researchers are well-respected for their work on their Atlas Project, which “documents glaring variations in how medical resources are distributed and used in the United States.”

Dartmouth researchers recently examined screening, especially for breast, prostate, and thyroid cancers, and found that over-testing, as Stat reported, may be “misleading doctors and the public about what increases people’s risk of developing cancers,” especially “the types of cancer that matter.”

precise-223x300Although billions of dollars and lots of positive public attention have been lavished on the promise of genetic-based “precision medicine,” this therapeutic approach to treating cancer and other serious diseases may need more scrutiny for basics of quality control.

National Public Radio deserves credit for airing some less-heard experts’ worries about the roles of at least two groups of little-seen and often-ignored medical specialists — pathologists and med techs — and how their common practices may undercut the potential of efforts to target disease treatments to individual patients based on maps of their genes.

Despite its powerful and progress-promising name, precision medicine relies on some old-fashioned, unchanged, and possibly problematic medical techniques, experts told NPR. Blood and tissue samples, which later will be analyzed with costly and supposedly state-of-the-art equipment, still get taken by med techs with limited training. Little attention typically gets paid to how they collect samples and how carefully they get handled before arriving in labs. They may sit on carts for hours, and they may be dragged through different parts of hospitals where temperatures vary widely and can hit extremes.

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The new year is bubbling with numerous reports about  “raw water.” Enthusiasts are flocking to outlets — in Oregon, Maine, San Diego, San Francisco, and the Silicon Valley — for unfiltered, untreated, and unsterilized H2O from springs. They’re paying dearly, for example $36.99 for a 2.5-gallon glass orb of “off the grid” Live Water from a West Coast vendor.

Devotees insist “raw water” tastes better. They contend it’s healthier when free of chemicals, like purifying chlorine and tooth- and bone-protecting fluoride, and replete with “probiotics,” bacteria and microscopic life such as algae that they claim are beneficial.

Such claims fly in the face of at least a century of public health experience and progress, a period in which science-based hygiene has helped to rid the nation of epidemics due to water-borne bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Cholera, typhoid fever, dysentery, and hepatitis A no longer flourish in water supplies, killing thousands annually as these banes once did. It goes without a thought for most Americans that they can turn the spigot at home or the office, drink freely and deeply and not end up getting deathly ill — risks that may be posed by “raw” water.

blkmom-300x222The bad news for expectant black moms isn’t confined to those living in the nation’s capital: A new investigation has found higher risks of harm for women in New York, Florida, and Illinois when they deliver at hospitals that disproportionately serve black mothers.

ProPublica, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative site, analyzed two years of hospital inpatient discharge data from the three states to “look in-depth at how well different facilities treat women who experience one particular problem — hemorrhages — while giving birth.” Reporters found negative patterns that underscored big woes identified by other research before:

[B]lack women … fare worse in pregnancy and childbirth, dying at a rate more than triple that of white mothers. And while part of the disparity can be attributed to factors like poverty and inadequate access to health care, there is growing evidence that points to the quality of care at hospitals where a disproportionate number of black women deliver, which are often in neighborhoods disadvantaged by segregation. Researchers have found that women who deliver at these so-called ‘black-serving’ hospitals are more likely to have serious complications — from infections to birth-related embolisms to emergency hysterectomies — than mothers who deliver at institutions that serve fewer black women.

An ugly truth about malpractice lawsuits is that some of the most indefensible violations of patient safety are covered up by hospitals, clinics and doctors with the complicity of the lawyers representing the injured patients.  This happens when settlements are entered into that require the patient to keep confidential everything that happened, and sometimes to even pretend it never happened.

USA Today has a big takeout today that describes a particularly egregious example: the prestigious Cleveland Clinic covered up a rape allegation against one of its surgeons by settling the patient’s claim and requiring the patient to sign a settlement document promising to remain silent about the episode. Eventually the surgeon resigned quietly and moved onto another health care institution, which of course knew nothing about the allegations until informed recently by the newspaper.

Everybody is familiar by now with how secret settlements have allowed sex abusers in the entertainment and media world – Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Bill O’Reilly and the rest of the gallery of shame – to buy off their accusers and go onto perpetrate harms against others.

fdanulogo-300x126Watchdogs have caught the Federal Food and Drug Administration dogging one of its most basic and important tasks — getting contaminated and potentially dangerous foods off the shelves quickly.

Federal inspectors spot-checked several dozen recalls among 1,557 the agency conducted between 2012 and 2015, partly to see how the FDA used wider powers given to it under the Obama Administration to protect American consumers from food-borne illness.

The agency dawdled for weeks and even months, adding to delays that might increase the risks of harms to the public, said investigators under the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services. As the New York Times reported:

bullets-300x245When illness, accidents, and natural- or man-made calamities strike, victims discover in their long slog to recovery that our health insurance system only aggravates their pain and anxiety.  That’s a painful lesson that hundreds of Americans will keep struggling with in 2018, months after a madman rained gunfire from high-powered rifles down into a Las Vegas music festival crowd.

Modern Healthcare deserves credit for its follow-up of the October mayhem Nevada. It was part of what the industry publication calls an “epidemic of mass shootings,” tragedies stretching from San Bernardino, Calif., to Newton, Mass. They’re taxing hospitals’ capacities not only to provide large-scale emergency medicine but also to provide follow-up care — especially assisting survivors and their families and friends in dealing with their staggering medical expenses.

Victims in mass shootings, Modern Healthcare reported, confront a “proliferation of health plans with high deductibles and coinsurance requirements, leaving [them] exposed to many thousands of dollars in cost-sharing. Severely injured patients needing repeat surgeries may hit their out-of-pocket spending limits multiple years in a row, forcing them into bankruptcy. On top of that, even insured patients may face big balance bills if they are treated by out-of-network providers.”

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