Articles Posted in Accessibility of Healthcare

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.

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.

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

eyefocus-300x278Although experts estimate medical over-testing adds more than $200 billion in wasted spending in the U.S. health care system, reducing  it can be hard, as we can see from one example in eye surgery.

Let’s zoom in on cataract surgery, a procedure in which eye surgeons (ophthalmologists) aim to relieve the visual clouding that many patients experience as they age, taking out the natural lens and putting in an artificial replacement. The surgery isn’t without risks, but it goes swiftly and with minor inconvenience for most patients, who get to go home the same day.

For healthy seniors undergoing cataract surgery, the professional consensus has seemed clear for not quite two decades: preoperative testing—which may include a complete blood count, chemical analysis, coagulation studies, urinalysis, electrocardiography, echocardiography, cardiac stress tests, chest radiography, and pulmonary-function tests—is unnecessary. This has been established by rigorous studies (see here and here), as well as by the stringent Cochrane review. The American Academy of Ophthalmology has made this a guideline or clinical statement and spread the word, notably through the public Choosing Wisely initiative that counsels patients on key procedures they need to ask their caregivers about if they’re ordered.

donquixote-300x259When it comes to something as crucial as health care, let’s keep it simple: Americans deserve better than this …

  • Can President Trump keep up his barrage of counter-factual assertions and political reverses on federal help for those needing health insurance, a key part of the Affordable Care Act? After resurrecting in federal courts the decade-long debacle of Republican efforts to kill Obamacare—including its protections for preexisting conditions—Trump flipped yet again. He heard an earful from party leaders that they have no way to cover tens of millions who would lose their health insurance if the ACA gets tossed out by courts, and he apparently awoke to the reality that the GOP can’t eliminate the law when Democrats control the House. So, the president then insisted that the GOP, after failing to do so for years, would present a better alternative and enact it, repealing Obamacare, too—at some time after the 2020 elections. If Republicans win back the House, keep control of the Senate, and he is reelected.
  • Even as the president asserted the GOP’s superiority in health care policy, the Los Angeles Times and the Philadelphia Inquire reported that a key element of Trumpcare is bringing back consumer nightmares. Patients initially might like the short-term health insurance plans the administration has pushed as an ACA alternative. Officials have relaxed rules on them so they can last longer than the few months permitted under Obamacare. The plans may carry lower monthly premiums. But they come with skimpy benefits. Which consumers are rediscovering. They’re getting sick and hoping to rely on short-term policies, only to find they owe doctors and hospitals thousands of dollars—but their insurance won’t help them with a penny.

care-300x180Americans have real reason to fear a health care catastrophe: If loved ones suffer major injury or illness, who will feed, bathe, and care for them 24/7 after they get out of the hospital and recuperate at home? Who will take time off from work to set up and take them to unending and long medical appointments? Who will wait for and get all the pills and devices they need?

The nation has been locked in a decade-long battle over health insurance that helps cover medical costs, but caregiving, a crucial part of the social safety net, gets short shrift, writes Aaron E. Carroll, a professor of pediatrics and health research and policy expert at Indiana University School of Medicine. As Carroll noted in a timely and personal column for the New York Times “Upshot” feature:

Americans spend so much time debating so many aspects of health care, including insurance and access. Almost none of that covers the actual impossibility and hardship faced by the many millions of friends and family members who are caregivers. It’s hugely disrupting and expensive. There’s no system for it. It’s a gaping hole.

Doctors and hospitals finally are owning up to and treating mental and physical damages inflicted on some of the sickest and most vulnerable individuals in their care—the 5 million or so patients who get helped in intensive care units, published research shows.

Although ICU patients may get dramatic emergency care that saves them from deadly infections, major disease, and significant accident or injury, experts only recently have begun to recognize and assist them with a condition associated with their stays: post-intensive care syndrome (PICS). A readable new study in the medical journal JAMA says that ICU patients may suffer a “constellation of symptoms” with PICS that hinders their recovery to their pre-hospitalization well-being, including: “muscle weakness, cognitive impairment, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).”

cdcshots-300x230As doctors and public health officials coast-to-coast battle infectious outbreaks — of measlesmumps,  meningitis, whooping coughinfluenza, as well as typhus, hepatitis, and TB — the nation is also struggling with the right response for yet another contagion: the viral spread of medical misinformation on social media.

Medical nonsense isn’t new, and savvy patient-consumers long have needed to do a little work to protect themselves from what can be its real and significant harms. But a season of rapidly spreading and 100% preventable infectious diseases has forced modern medicine to confront generational dilemmas with health disinformation that is “shared” widely online and especially via social media.

For the rising generation that now parents youngsters who need and should be vaccinated, social media sites like Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram, as well as information searches via Google have become as ordinary and accepted as once were daily newspapers and the 6 o’clock TV news. But cyber world’s ubiquity also has allowed counter factual, unfounded, nonscientific, and extreme notions to proliferate, as users of all kinds “create content” online. This has fueled the dangerous normalizing and further rise of the anti-vaccination or anti-vaxxer movement.

EHRsKHN-300x230Tempting though it may be to dismiss doctors’ howls about electronic health records—maybe they’re Luddites or they’re just another group of high-paid workers beefing about their job tools—the persistent and significant nightmare of the complicated computer systems has been this: Do they harm patient care?

The answer now may be: Yes, billions of taxpayer and private dollars spent on EHRs may be reducing patient safety.

That’s the finding of the independent, nonpartisan Kaiser Health News Service, based on its extensive investigation in partnership with Fortune Magazine. The two media operations reported that:

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