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Collinslab-150x150Mukamal-144x150The National Institutes of Health, perhaps the world’s leading medical research institution, has moved fast to try to fix self-inflicted damage to its reputation caused by a controversial $100-million study on alcohol and its harms.

NIH Director Francis Collins halted the study, and an advisory group backed his action, lambasting researchers for soliciting funding and counsel from the alcohol industry for a work that purported to answer key and fundamental questions about booze but from its outset leaned toward seeing benefit in moderate drinking.

The New York Times deserves credit for digging into the dubious  actions by researchers supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, an arm of NIH.

sessions-300x200As voters make up their minds about this fall’s mid-term races, they may wish to burn into their memories how the Trump Administration has dealt, so far, and especially in recent days, with government social programs that have huge effects on Americans’ health and lives.

Take, for example, the late-week, late night announcement by the U.S. Department of Justice that it will decline to defend yet another part of the Affordable Care Act, as 19 states, most red and led by Texas, attack Obamacare in the courts. The legal aspects of this decision will keep lots of law degree holders and their kindred men and women in black robes arguing, heatedly, for a while. There also may be huge political smoke clouds.

But keep in mind this basic fact from the actions by the Justice Department led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions: The nation’s crack legal team is asserting that it is unconstitutional for the ACA to bar insurers from declining coverage due to preexisting conditions.

mentalnyt-300x142Although Americans keep making progress toward ending the stigma associated with mental disorders, including trying to put public funding for the diseases’ treatment on a more even footing, patients with serious mental illness suffer unfairly and harshly still due to their conditions.

Dhruv Khullar, a doctor at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and a researcher at the Weill Cornell Department of Healthcare Policy and Research, has written a painful piece for the “Upshot,” an evidence-based column for the New York Times. His article, “The Largest Health Disparity We Don’t Talk About,” reports that:

Americans with depression, bipolar disorder or other serious mental illnesses die 15 to 30 years younger than those without mental illness — a disparity larger than for race, ethnicity, geography or socioeconomic status. It’s a gap, unlike many others, that has been growing, but it receives considerably less academic study or public attention. The extraordinary life expectancy gains of the past half-century [for most in this country] have left these patients behind, with the result that Americans with serious mental illness live shorter lives than those in many of the world’s poorest countries.

salty-200x300If you’ve got a shaker of salt, you may want to empty it on recent news coverage of the American Cancer Society’s announcement about its new guidelines on the age to start colorectal screening. That’s because the organization’s advisory and more than a few health journalists show a shaky grasp of basic disease statistical math.

Cancer specialists, correctly, are concerned because they say they are seeing the disease in younger people, with more colon and rectum cancers detected in patients in their 20s and even in their teens. They’re unsure what’s causing this. But just how many diagnosed cases have there been — and do the numbers mean there’s enough hard science to support a new recommendation that patients get colorectal screening five years earlier than they do now, at age 45 instead of 50?

As Kevin Lomangino, managing editor of Healthnewsreview.org, a health news watchdog site, points out, too many reporters became too accepting of experts’ fuzzy math when describing a screening change that could result in patient harms. The society, and specialists contacted by many reporters, spoke often of “doubled risks,” or impressive seeming percentage increases in colorectal cancer diagnoses — but without providing actual numbers of cases.

MarijuanaOpioids-300x150There’s been a deadly side to the nation’s opioid drug abuse crisis and increasing number of states’ legalization of marijuana: A leading safety group says the number of drugged drivers killed in car crashes is rising dramatically.

The Governors Highway Safety Association reported that 44 percent of fatally injured drivers tested for drugs had positive results in 2016, which is up more than 50 percent compared with a decade ago, according to a blog post by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Pew Trusts, which added that, “more than half the drivers tested positive for marijuana, opioids or a combination of the two.”

As Pew reported, the District of Columbia and nine states “allow marijuana to be sold for recreational and medical use, and 21 others allow it to be sold for medical use. Opioid addiction and overdoses have become a national crisis, with an estimated 115 deaths a day. States are struggling to get a handle on drugged driving. Traffic safety experts say that while it’s easy for police to test drivers for alcohol impairment using a breathalyzer, it’s much harder to detect and screen them for drug impairment. There is no nationally accepted method for testing drivers, and the number of drugs to test for is large. Different drugs also have different effects on drivers. And there is no definitive data linking drugged driving to crashes.”

Kevin_Love-215x300DeMar_DeRozan_Nov_2016_cropped-163x300With all the excesses, abuses, and nonsense that pro athletes and pop stars can get into these days, it’s gotten rarer that commentators can point to positive actions these influential personalities can take. But a growing number of them deserve credit for publicly discussing their struggles with mental health issues, helping to reduce widespread stigma about them and to better the lives of their young fans.

The list of outspoken and helpful athletes and performers includes:  Olympic legend Michael Phelps, National Basketball Association All-Star DeMar DeRozan of the Toronto Raptors, and NBA Cleveland Cavaliers superstar Kevin Love, as well as five-time Grammy winner Mariah Carey and actresses Catherine Zeta-Jones and Demi Lovato, and the late Hollywood icon Carrie Fisher.

Phelps and DeRozan bravely have discussed their problems with depression, which affects an estimated 16 million Americans annually and may be one of the most common mental health disorders negatively affecting the nation.

alzheimers-300x168As many as five million Americans already have Alzheimer’s and other dementia-related conditions, and their resulting loss of cognitive capacity and personal control rank among the top causes for health dread among those 55 and older, polls show.  So it’s worth noting that new studies are showing that seniors 65 and older get on average a dozen years of good cognitive health ── and that span is expanding.

Further, the onset of problems typically may occur in relatively mild fashion, with the most serious cognitive decline occurring in a short but late period of 18 months or so, Judith Graham reported for the independent, nonpartisan Kaiser Health News Service.

In her story for the KHNS feature “Navigating Aging,” Graham looks at an array of the latest and reliable research on seniors and cognitive decline, finding glimmers of optimism in what has been increasingly gloomy, evidence-based studies on how huge a challenge may be posed for our fast-graying nation by dementia, Alzheimer’s and their care.

insurersPP-300x296Patients who expect their health insurer will work in their interests to contain costs by medical providers might just as well hope for assistance from leprechauns, unicorns, or the tooth fairy.

Marshall Allen, a reporter for the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative site ProPublica, has just penned a strong myth-busting piece, cross-posted on the National Public Radio site, about health insurers, writing:

The United States spends more per person on health care than any other country does. A lot more. As a country, by many measures, we are not getting our money’s worth. Tens of millions remain uninsured. And millions are in financial peril: About 1 in 5 is currently being pursued by a collection agency over medical debt. Health care costs repeatedly top the list of consumers’ financial concerns. Experts frequently blame this on the high prices charged by doctors and hospitals. But less scrutinized is the role insurance companies — the middlemen between patients and those providers — play in boosting our health care tab. Widely perceived as fierce guardians of health care dollars, insurers, in many cases, aren’t. In fact, they often agree to pay high prices, then, one way or another, pass those high prices on to patients — all while raking in healthy profits.

suicide-300x154Moms, dads, grandparents, teachers, and coaches all may need to increase even more the attention and concern they devote to teen-agers, especially young women, as hospitals and emergency rooms report dramatic increases in their treatment of youthful suicides.

Multiple news organizations reported that, as the New York Times noted, “the proportion of emergency room and hospital encounters for …  suicide-related diagnoses almost tripled, from 0.66 percent in 2008 to 1.82 percent in 2015. And the rate of increase was highest among adolescent girls.”

NPR reported: “Children ages 5 to 17 visited children’s hospitals for suicidal thoughts or attempts about twice as often in 2015 as in 2008.”

nags-300x166If you can get your favorite sports fans peeled away from the latest broadcast pro event  ─ whether it’s the basketball playoffs, hockey championship series, golf tourneys, or the heating up baseball season ─  a conversation of sorts could be sparked by dropping numbers on them. See what kind of rise you can get by telling them their data-driven obsession with improving their own athletic performance may be built on shoddy calculation.

In the “Moneyball,” statistics’ crazy world of contemporary sports and athletic fandom, that statement could be heretical. But the numbers-driven folks at the web site “528” deserve credit for digging into a popular but dubious approach employed by researchers in sports medical science: Magnitude-based inference, aka MBI. Their article’s worth a read, especially for wonks and the numerically inclined. For those who are less so, here’s a taste of what’s at stake, as 528 reported:

At first blush, the studies look reasonable enough. Low-intensity stretching seems to reduce muscle soreness. Beta-alanine supplements may boost performance in water polo players. Isokinetic strength training could improve swing kinematics in golfers. Foam rollers can reduce muscle soreness after exercise. The problem: All of these studies shared a statistical analysis method unique to sports science. And that method is severely flawed.

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