FDA-logo-300x129When it comes to medical products — devices put in or substances put on our bodies — consumers may be ill-served by the federal regulators who are supposed to protect them from injury.

The federal Food and Drug Administration has taken a double hit in recent news reports, with an investigation by Reuters news service raising big doubts about the agency’s oversight of products  with supposedly safe talc — but that long may have been tainted with disease-causing asbestos. The Kaiser Health News service, meantime, has followed up on the wave of lawsuits and research that has resulted from its discovery that the FDA for years allowed device makers to hide from public view a million complaints about medical devices.

The scathing findings in these two reports, combined with other deep digs into agency work, might well prompt members of Congress to conduct hearings into whether the FDA is acting as the watchdog that the public deserves or as a lap kitten beholden to the rich, powerful, and booming medical device industry.

samoa1-300x300The distant nation of Samoa may have more to offer the United States than prominent athletes and warm Pacific Islander culture. Its deadly experiences with a raging outbreak of an infectious disease underscore a timely and important message: Vaccinations matter and we should all get them.

A confluence of unfortunate events has led to a measles epidemic in Samoa, news organizations reported, with more than 40 deaths and 3,000 illnesses among the nation’s 200,000 people. Schools and colleges have been shut due to the illness.

International health organizations, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are flying in medical experts to assist with the dangerous and growing epidemic, which has hit children on the island hard.

Lifeexpectancydecline2019-300x205Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and Indiana — if you’re obsessed with national politics, these states might register in your mind as key partisan battlegrounds. But if you’re focused on Americans’ health and well-being, these states — along with New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, and West Virginia — may be causes for different and considerable concern: the nation’s plummeting life expectancy.

These states are flashing warning signs, racking up the greatest relative increases in death rates among young and middle-aged adults (New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, West Virginia, and Ohio).

Excess deaths among Americans in their prime, that is individuals in the 25 to 64 age group who would live longer if mortality rates improved, also were highly concentrated geographically, with fully a third of them in just four states: Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Indiana, experts say.

investigationnursinghomesnbc2019-300x262Profit-hungry nursing home operators persist in throwing out vulnerable seniors and disabled patients from needed care, too often because the facilities find they can get higher-paying patients to fill their already costly beds.

Thousands of complaints about potentially improper discharges or transfers from nursing homes and assisted living facilities dominate the work of ombudsmen, whose work is federally required, and state supported, an NBC News investigation found.

The broadcast journalists reported:

cannabisleaf-281x300Fans of marijuana and its related products may want to take careful note of developments regarding their health and safety effects.

Federal researchers are racing to trace thousands of cases of lung damage and dozens of deaths to so-called smokeless consumption of tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, the ingredient that produces the marijuana high. Other federal officials also are warning about cannabidiol or CBD — a derivative of marijuana or its cousin hemp — and its burgeoning and unapproved use in an array of products on the market.

To be sure, because blue-nose attitudes blocked rigorous research on marijuana and other drugs, medical scientists have been scrupulous in declining to make sweeping declarations about grass and its potential benefits or harms.

vcuhospital-300x200A  Virginia hospital has found an eyebrow-raising solution to some of  its struggles with elderly, poor, and sick patients who take up beds and medical resources that might generate more revenue and less headache for the institution: Administrators hired a law firm and turned to the courts to strip legal control over the frail seniors from their loved ones.

Over families’ objections, the seniors’ newly appointed guardians then allowed the patients to be moved out of the Virginia Commonwealth University Health System hospital in Richmond and into poorly rated nursing homes. As the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported:

“A yearlong investigation by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, which involved analyzing more than 250 court cases and interviewing more than two dozen people, revealed that VCU Health System has taken hundreds of low-income patients to court over the past decade to remove their rights to make decisions about their medical care. This process, which frees up hospital beds at VCU Health System and saves thousands in uncompensated costs, often results in sick, elderly or disabled patients being placed in poorly rated nursing homes, sometimes against the wishes of their own family members. In these cases, VCU Health asks the court to grant an attorney at the ThompsonMcMullan law firm the power to make critical medical and life decisions for its patients. The court orders the attorney to represent the best interests of those patients, but the law firm continues to look out for the hospital’s interests on dozens of guardianship cases each year.”

tday-300x141With the launch of a season of eating, drinking, getting together with friends and family, and celebrating, it may be worth a moment to ponder how to keep those you care most about as healthy and safe as possible, but with a good dollop of fun too. Herewith some suggestions:

Food safety

When it comes to the centerpiece of Thanksgiving — the festive eating — hygiene and moderation matter. Nothing would ruin the holiday more than to sicken the guests, right? So, cooks and their helpers should take special care to keep their hands washed, the tools and prep areas sanitary, and to ensure that the food gets handled correctly, especially in thawing and thoroughly cooking the turkey and stuffing. It may seem counter intuitive, but experts warn against rinsing the turkey or any other fowl that might be store-bought and served. That’s because the birds get cleaned as part of the processing and rinsing with warm water may only spread microbial contaminants all around the kitchen. The key to kill off harmful bugs, by the way, rests in cooking foodstuffs for long enough and at high enough temperatures to ensure they’re safe to eat. Consult those published recipes carefully. Cooks need to plan well, so they get various menu items in and out of the stove and oven, so hungry diners get their fill at the appointed time.

ihs-300x197Although doctors, hospitals, and insurers may howl about the professional harms they claim to suffer due to medical malpractice lawsuits, research studies show that it’s just a tiny slice of MDs who  lose in court and must pay up for injuring patients. Further, the data show that the problem few doctors don’t rack up one, but two or three malpractice losses before they even start to see their work curtailed.

Common sense would suggest that if judges and juries find doctors’ conduct egregious enough to slap “frequent flyers” with multiple losing malpractice verdicts, these MDs might best be parted of the privilege of treating patients. Not only doesn’t that occur often enough, a Wall Street Journal investigation has shown the terrible consequences that can result for patients and taxpayers alike when it doesn’t.

The federal government, the newspaper reported, long has struggled to provide promised care through the Indian Health Service (IHS) to those who live on rugged, spare, and sprawling reservation lands. This obligation to provide such medical services is embedded in the Constitution and old treaties. But if it’s tough to get doctors to practice in rural America — where the hours may be extra long and the pay decidedly lower than cities — it had become a nightmare for the IHS to fill its many vacancies.

shooting-300x201When it comes to key health concerns of the American public, President Trump and his administration have offered evidence anew that whatever they say may not last to the next political moment, that inaction is its own powerful kind of action, and that what officials say they’re doing may be exactly the opposite.

This is not intended as partisan commentary. It reflects the turn of a few news cycles and how Trump and his officials have dealt with:

  • The outbreak of serious lung illnesses and deaths tied to vaping

distractedwalker-300x200
With the pedestrian death toll climbing to scary levels and bike-vehicle accidents zooming up too, individuals may need to take common sense steps to safeguard themselves and not rely on motorists or traffic planners for their safety.

Just as drivers need to put away electronic devices while they’re on the road, so, too, should folks on foot give up risky texting or online browsing on their smart phones while walking, experts say. And, though they may not be keen on them, helmets offer bikers important protections and they should be donned by riders regularly.

And if you’re zipping around on a scooter, your head is even more vulnerable than if you’re on a bike.

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