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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’

superbugs-300x118Hospitals may be providing us all with too many causes for high anxiety, with reports on increasing findings of “nightmare” bacteria stalking more health care facilities than had been known, more disclosures about how taxpayers may foot an even bigger bill to deal with a beleaguered public hospital in Washington, D.C.,  and a respected reform advocate’s detailing of just how traumatizing many hospital stays may be.

Let’s start with the new research by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a study that tried to determine just how many cases there might already be of patients infected in hospitals, nursing homes, and other medical care facilities with so-called Superbugs, bacteria that resist treatment not only with most standard antibiotics but also drugs that are deemed therapies of last resort. These include three types of bacterial infections deemed especially urgent but difficult to control: Clostridium difficile (C. difficile), aka C-diff; carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CREs, as shown above); and Neisseria gonorrhoeae.

CDC officials weren’t sure how many of the Superbug cases — which leave doctors and hospitals little option but to provide only supportive care — they might detect by scrutinizing records from pathology labs nationwide.

adams-241x300Our nation’s lethal opioid epidemic is reaching its tentacles right into our paychecks, as employers face rising health insurance costs that crimp their ability to give pay raises to the rest of us.  This is happening even as we are being urged to carry overdose antidotes, just in case.

The independent, nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation reported that its new analysis of large employer insurance claims shows that American businesses paid $2.6 billion in 2016 to treat opioid addiction and overdoses by their covered workers and dependents. That compares to $273 million in 2004, so it’s up ten-fold in a decade.

The costs of caring for opioid abuse skyrocketed, even as employer health insurance saw sharp declines in the number and expense for prescriptions and use of powerful painkillers.

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.

Seroquel-25mg-300x195In a display of just how corruptive big money has gotten to be in modern medicine, Big Pharma keeps getting dubious doctors to write so-called off-label prescriptions for powerful anti-psychotic medications — no matter their proven harm to patients nor big settlements drug makers have been forced to pay.

The Washington Post deserves credit for its investigative dissection of AstraZeneca and its “blockbuster” product, Seroquel (generic name quetiapine). It’s a medication developed to treat severe cases of schizophrenia.

Instead, as has occurred with several other drugs of its kind, doctors — in response to major marketing and sales campaigns by AstraZeneca — have decided this wallop-packing drug can be given for uses for which there is less or little evidence. The Washington Post says doctors write abundant Seroquel scripts for patients with an “expansive array of ills, including insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder and agitation in patients with dementia.”

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.

smoke-300x148States may be rushing to legalize marijuana, but common sense, good research, and the law may be lagging. New reports confirm what should be inarguable: Marijuana may have health harms when smoked, and it poses safety risks when used while driving.

With the new and considerable attention paid to cigarette smoking, it’s plain to see that, like tobacco, a key health worry with marijuana rests in its burning and inhalation.

It hasn’t been easy to study due to grass’ legal classifications and, therefore, the restrictions imposed on researchers. But medical scientists at the University of California San Francisco have started to find that dope smoke, direct and second-hand, demonstrates similar or even slightly greater detrimental health effects than tobacco smoke.

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.

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