calesthenicsjpnse-300x169Even as American corporations twist themselves into pretzel shapes to persuade shareholders of their devotion to maximizing profits, why are they throwing an estimated $8 billion annually at workplace wellness programs that, according to a growing body of evidence, don’t work?

The zeal for wellness programs — which aim to get workers to exercise, lose weight, avoid smoking, drink in moderation, and stress less — is just one more flashing red indicator of political risks as companies grow more desperate to restrain skyrocketing health care costs.

Due to their post-World War II decisions to compete for workers in a fast rebuilding U.S. economy, companies long have been the go-to source for Americans’ health insurance: In exchange for a quarter of trillion dollars in federal tax subsidies, employers provide more than half of nonelderly U.S. workers — 152 million of us — workplace health coverage.

mouse-300x169James Heathers is a Ph.D. with expertise in scientific methods and data. He works in a behavioral science lab at Northeastern University in Boston. He’s young, adaptive, and savvy enough to participate in social media, especially Twitter. There, he saw a problem and a challenge with the way medical scientific findings get presented to sizable audiences online.

As someone accustomed to dealing with academic and scientific rigor, he paused and thought he could title his planned effort, “handling the translational gap during the science media transition.” But this Aussie has a sense of humor—and he wanted impact. He thought a straight-laced approach would be as “popular as cabbage sandwiches.”

So, instead, he focused in on a broad number of reputable studies that he thinks get misrepresented and grab unjustified popular attention. This research involves the extrapolation of early results in animal tests, making them sound — incorrectly — as if they instantly have meaning for people. He created a Twitter account that is garnering lots of attention, including tens of thousands of unexpected followers.

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After years of patient complaints about injuries and tens of thousands of lawsuits, the federal Food and Drug Administration yanked from the market a surgical mesh widely used to repair pelvic conditions in women.

The agency has  been slow to act on transvaginal mesh, which has been in use since the 1970s, with surgeons increasing its use in the 1990s. That in turn created an avalanche of complaints from safety advocates and women patients, who said the implant and procedure caused pain, bleeding, and scarring. This was not the surgical innovation, they said, that was supposed to remedy the pelvic tissue collapse that can cause the bladder or reproductive organs to slip out of place, causing pain, constipation and urinary leakage.

The FDA issued a series of increasing warnings about mesh, finally reclassifying it in 2016 as high-risk and ordering its makers to produce medical-scientific evidence about the device’s long-term safety.

eldersuicide-300x173With 3 out of 4 Americans insisting they would prefer to age in place at home, senior care institutions already face stiff headwinds. But an investigation by two media organizations paints a glum picture of a little discussed aspect of elder life: the “lethal planning” some older residents make in nursing homes, assisted living centers, and adult care facilities — to end their own lives.

The exact suicide toll among the 2.2 million elderly Americans who live in long-term care settings is poorly tracked and difficult to quantify, reported the independent, nonpartisan Kaiser Health News (KHN) service and PBS NewsHour (see the broadcast report by clicking here). But the two news organizations found:

[An] analysis of new data from the University of Michigan suggests that hundreds of suicides by older adults each year — nearly one per day — are related to long-term care. Thousands more people may be at risk in those settings, where up to a third of residents report suicidal thoughts, research shows. Each suicide results from a unique blend of factors, of course. But the fact that frail older Americans are managing to kill themselves in what are supposed to be safe, supervised havens raises questions about whether these facilities pay enough attention to risk factors like mental health, physical decline and disconnectedness — and events such as losing a spouse or leaving one’s home. More controversial is whether older adults in those settings should be able to take their lives through what some fiercely defend as ‘rational suicide.’

AmProgressBIRcosts-300x245When patients battle with the desperate extremes of a disease like a fast-spreading cancer, it isn’t just the radiation and chemo therapies that sap their spirits, there’s a  demoralizing runner-up concern: The constant battling with doctors, hospitals, and insurers over medical bills.

Medical billing and insurance-related costs are so over the top that they pile up a half-trillion-dollars a year in burdensome administrative costs — half of which is excessive and wasteful, according to new research from the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank.

The center reviewed past studies of administrative costs in U.S. health care, seeking to address criticisms of their methods and conclusions. Still, the new findings raise points that may stagger patients, policy makers, and politicians, say Emily Gee, a health economist for the group, and Topher Spiro, its vice president for Health Policy and a senior economic fellow.

Bracescamarrest-238x300Federal authorities have busted up what they say is a $1.2 billion Medicare fraud that should give taxpayers and patients pause about long-distance medical consultations and the huge sums of cash washing around the medical device industry.

Two dozen people, some of them doctors, have been charged in a complex ploy to gull seniors into asking about back, shoulder, wrist, and knee braces that were promoted as free on TV and radio ads nationwide. When the older adults called to inquire about the devices, they were transferred to telemarketing centers in the Philippines and Latin America.

In the far-away boiler rooms, trained operators extracted important personal information from callers, then connected them for “telemedicine” consultations with cooperating doctors. The MDs asked cursory questions before then prescribing the devices, whether needed or not. The orders were filled by select companies, which then would send out the braces and charge them to Medicare.

Candida-aurisWhen big hospitals are locked in bare-knuckle battles against debilitating and deadly bacterial and fungal infections sweeping their institutions, don’t patients have the right to know about these situations that might affect their lives and care? According to some hospital insiders, no.

The New York Times reported that a “culture of secrecy” prevails in hospitals as they combat “super bugs,” bacteria that have become resistant to antibiotics and now fungi that have evolved immunities to antifungals.

The newspaper found the institutional opposition to making public outbreaks of hospital-borne infection as it followed up its own scary page one story about the global spread of Candida auris, a drug-resistant fungus that preys on patients who already are hospitalized and may have compromised immune systems.

cpscIt may sound catchy when politicians claim to want to get Uncle Sam out of our wallets and off our backs. But the deregulatory reality may look different when hundreds of thousands of baby strollers have front wheels that suddenly fall off, or millions of family cars may be at risk of bursting into flames.

The Washington Post has dug deep into how a case involving the BOB, a British-made, three-wheeled stroller, illustrates how the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has become more industry friendly and turned away from vigorous protections for ordinary Americans.

The political party in power, aka the Republicans, not only get to fill commission openings, they also take over the important chair of the panel. That leader sets the tone and often pushes fellow party members on the commission to hew to it. The GOP has controlled the commission for the first time in a decade, and Republican chair Ann Marie Buerkle is making herself felt in agency actions.

kneestemcell-300x169When doctors and regulators crack down on the burgeoning and risky use of purported stem cell therapies, some well-known and respected big hospitals and health systems may have their own practices to explain, too.

As Liz Szabo reported for the nonpartisan Kaiser Health News Service:

Swedish Medical Center, the largest nonprofit health provider in the Seattle area … is one of a growing number of respected hospitals and health systems—including the Mayo Clinic, the Cleveland Clinic and the University of Miami—that have entered the lucrative business of stem cells and related therapies. Typical treatments involve injecting patients’ joints with their own fat or bone marrow cells, or with extracts of platelets, the cell fragments known for their role in clotting blood. Many patients seek out regenerative medicine to stave off surgery, even though the evidence supporting these experimental therapies is thin at best

kidshot-300x292As outbreaks of preventable infectious diseases rise to concerning levels, doctors, regulators, and lawmakers may need to toughen important laws requiring youngsters to be inoculated, protecting better our collective health and closing off legal loopholes for sketchy vaccination exemptions.

It would be ideal if more than a century of lifesaving experience and decades of rigorous scientific research were sufficient to persuade parents to get their children vaccinated against an array of harmful and dangerous infections. But grownups’ hesitancy or rejection of shots, out of unfounded personal belief or due to medical disinformation, has set in and spread. This has undercut local, national, and global campaigns to rid humanity of contagions like measles. Public information campaigns and evidence-based persuasion hasn’t worked as well as experts might hope, leading officials to pass vaccination laws.

But those protective measures have been eroded by the exploitation by a few, so far, of well-intentioned exemptions, reporters for the independent, nonpartisan Kaiser Health News reported.

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