Articles Posted in Accessibility of Healthcare

emergency-services_overviewResidents of the nation’s capital will participate in a public health test every time they pick up the phone to dial 911 for help. How their calls get answered says a lot about common sense, as well as the availability and affordability of medical services in Washington and the nation.

National Public Radio reported that a bunch of new faces now will join dispatchers in DC’s already hectic and often overloaded 911 center. They will be registered nurses specializing in urgent triage. And when 911 callers want what they claim is emergency medical help, dispatchers will hook in the nurses who will try to determine what kind of fast assistance might be appropriate.

This might raise hackles: Why can’t 911 dispatchers just get on with it and send ambulances with lights flashing whenever a caller reports an “emergency”? Here’s the problem, as NPR reported:

hjobs-300x169Although Americans’ spending for prescription drugs has taken a surprising dip, overall costs of medical care keep heading north. The rise this year is faster than it has been in a while. The culprit? Look to big, shiny hospitals. Or look around at people flocking to well-paying jobs in the health care sector.

Modern Healthcare, a trade industry publication, reported that “rising hospital price growth in March [of 2018] drove overall health care price increases to their highest rate since January 2012.”

It’s unclear exactly why hospitals increased prices, except maybe because they can, the magazine said, citing research by the nonprofit health research group Altarum. Its experts, and those quoted by Modern Healthcare, suggested that hospitals may have taken an earlier hit to their finances due to rising drug costs. Hospitals, after lagging, only now may be trying to recoup those costs by hitting patients with price increases at a time when the economy seems more solid.

walmartclinic-300x209Americans are showing with their feet and their money how they feel about doctors’ offices and  shiny hospitals, places they’re shunning more and more. They’re racing to neighborhood clinics and urgent care centers that seem to be popping up on every suburban street corner and shopping mall.

Before these facilities transform U.S. health care, would it be worth asking what this trend might mean, not just for profit-seeking retailers, drug store chains, and, yes, also hospitals and doctors who are shifting into new lines of business?

The New York Times found that:

mom-300x171Big Medicine can paper over its troubles with basic fairness by slapping fancy terms on them: take “health and gender disparities,” for instance. But doctors, hospitals, and the rest of us can’t make medical care more equitable, accessible, safe, and affordable without looking at inequities, square on.

That’s why the New York Times, Washington Post, and Associated Press deserve credit for recent deep digs into the struggles of women, poor women, and especially black women with modern medicine:

antidepressant-300x225Even as the nation enters an even scarier phase in its battle against the raging opioid abuse epidemic, new and sterner warnings are flying about antidepressants. The costs of these powerful drugs add up, as does the toll of depression and its care. Users say antidepressants are a nightmare to get off of. And medical experts cast growing doubt about whether their benefits outweigh their risks.

The New York Times deserves credit for detailing the worrisome plight of an estimated 15.5 million Americans who have been taking antidepressants — sold as brand drugs like Zoloft, Effexor, Paxil, Prozac, and Cymbalta — for at least five years. The rate of the psychiatric medications’ use “has almost doubled since 2010, and more than tripled since 2000,” the newspaper reported, adding that “nearly 25 million adults … have been on antidepressants for at least two years, a 60 percent increase since 2010.”

Users who try to wean themselves from the drugs find themselves, fast, in nasty situations with “dizziness, nausea, headache and paresthesia — electric-shock sensations in the brain that many people call brain zaps,” patients told the New York Times.

NORC-chart-300x179Although the United States remains the world’s most affluent nation, it also is a country where money plays a driving, negative role in its people’s well-being. Sudden financial losses  may shorten some Americans’ lives, while dismal finances may keep many others from seeking medical care.

So why are politicians still pushing to slash the nation’s social safety net, even as millions of individuals and families are voting with their wallets to protect their health?

Lethal ‘wealth shocks’

coveredcalif-300x169Although Republicans have ripped at the health insurance offered under the Affordable Care Act, a less known but also important aspect of Obamacare may soon benefit Californians. This West Coast ACA-related move also may be worth watching by patients and medical safety advocates, as well as employers and insurers.

The Golden State, the San Francisco public radio station KQED reported, soon will tell hospitals that “time’s up” for them to improve their care, and, if they fail to hit new quality and safety targets that will be part of an impending three-year contract with Covered California, the ACA marketplace operator, they will get the boot from Obamacare coverage.

Because bluer-than-blue Democratic California has gone all-in in supporting and putting ACA coverages in place, the state’s Obamacare exchange is big (more than 1 million customers and 11 approved companies) and lucrative — so much so hospitals and insurers can’t ignore the quality demands. They’re neither extreme nor should they be surprising, because state officials emphasize they have consulted with key parties for several years now in the “Smart Care California” collaborative about the plans they intend to put in place.

FAST-infographic-2016-300x169It’s no April Fool joke: Emergency doctors across the country, according to the New York Times, have been defying widely accepted standards of care and withholding a drug that rigorous clinical trials and medical specialists long have recommended for stroke victims.

Administration of the drug, tPA or tissue plasminogen activator, helps to prevent brain injury after a stroke by dissolving the blood clot and opening up the blocked vessel. Neurologists and neurosurgeons as well as cardiologists, have campaigned for its aggressive use within hours after the onset of symptoms.  Indeed, hospitals nationwide have adopted speedy stroke care, including with tPA, under slogans like “Time is Brain.”

The drug’s fast use has become so accepted, the capacity to administer it is a keystone for hospitals to receive a much-sought designation as specialized stroke treatment centers. And though it has long been thought that tPA needed to be given within three or four hours from the start of stroke symptoms, new research funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has opened the strong possibility that many more patients could benefit from tPA and neurosurgery within 16 or even 24 hours after suffering a stroke.

Dumpster-300x251Although enthusiasts still wax on about  how technology will improve lives, patients may want to be wary about purported advances that may end up complicating and even compromising crucial parts of their medical care — including how their medical records are kept and how payers decide if they’re covered.

Let’s start with some kudos for dumpster-diving doctors in Canada who discovered flaws in hospitals’ disposal of supposedly confidential and legally protected patient health records. They went around unidentified facilities collecting from various bins a half ton of paper that doctors, nurses, and hospitals were ready to toss.

After examining the piles of paper, they found most private records had been properly handled. But thousands of documents also were not: They were improperly disposed of, and contained identifying or confidential patient treatment information, the researchers found. Though Canada’s patient privacy laws differ from those in the United States, they agree that patient health records must be guarded, and the researchers found violations of practice, policy, and potentially privacy laws.

redfieldPresident Trump’s latest rant  that drug dealers should face capital punishment fell flat in the face of new revelations on what’s going on with the fight against opioid drug overdoses and abuse that have become the leading killer of Americans younger than 50.

It turns out that states have failed to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in funding appropriated by Congress to battle the abuse of prescription painkillers, potent synthetic versions like fentanyl, and illicit drugs like heroin.

Politico reported that the Obama Administration, in the 21st Century Cures Act, passed by the Congress and signed into law by the president as 2016 ended, provided more than $1 billion over two years in grants to help states attack the opioid crisis.

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