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files-150x150A laptop and a cardboard box. These two items could be major tools in improving regular folks’ health throughout this year — and beyond — if they get launched on important tasks, pronto.

What needs to happen is for patients to be hyperconscious, persistent, and skeptical enough to start gathering vital records about themselves and their medical care. The documents they should have handy include all their medical records, as well as a file of any bills, insurance statements, and correspondence with providers about their treatment.

It might seem like a lot of bumpf. But consider, with patience: Doctors value the material so much that they make it their prime order of business in taking on a patient’s care to look fast and first at the individual’s health record.

newportswiki-300x197Californians have accomplished something that federal regulators have failed to — despite long, difficult campaigning. Voters in the biggest state in the nation not only have banned Big Tobacco from peddling its flavored products that target and exploit communities of color and the young. They also have defeated the industry in its legal challenges.

Big Tobacco had launched urgent appeals of the November ballot initiative banning flavored tobacco products only to see the U.S. Supreme Court decline to consider its case, the New York Times reported:

“As is the [high] court’s practice when it rules on emergency applications, its brief order gave no reasons. There were no noted dissents. R.J. Reynolds, the maker of Newport menthol cigarettes, had asked the justices to intervene before [Dec. 21], when the law is set to go into effect. The company, joined by several smaller ones, argued that a federal law, the Tobacco Control Act of 2009, allows states to regulate tobacco products but prohibits banning them … State officials responded that the federal law was meant to preserve the longstanding power of state and local authorities to regulate tobacco products and to ban their sale. Before and after the enactment of the federal law, they wrote, state and local authorities have taken action against flavored tobacco and e-cigarettes.”

juullogo1-300x142While regular folks will count their pennies and fret about affording gifts for loved ones during an inflation-plagued holiday season, plutocrats have given the hoi polloi a rare glimpse of the major loot they see in the business of peddling health-wrecking e-cigarettes and vaping.

The concerning disclosures are emerging as part of the financial struggles for the industry pioneer Juul to stave off fierce federal regulation, angry customers, and plummeting business to survive.

In its latest step, Juul — the high-tech company that helped to create the e-cigarette and vaping fad and then saw its fortunes plunge with increasingly stern federal oversight of its products —has settled more than 5,000 lawsuits with 10,000-plus individual plaintiffs.

surgtools-150x150Seniors and their loved ones should take note of new and increasing data that researchers are developing about the risks undertaken by elderly patients who choose to undergo significant surgeries — procedures that make up a little less than half of costly operations performed in this country.

The numbers about invasive medical work can be mind-changing, especially for those with age-associated conditions, the independent, nonpartisan Kaiser Health News Service reported. As KHN’s “navigating aging” columnist Judith Graham wrote:

“Nearly 1 in 7 older adults die within a year of undergoing major surgery, according to an important new study that sheds much-needed light on the risks seniors face when having invasive procedures. Especially vulnerable are older patients with probable dementia (33% die within a year) and frailty (28%), as well as those having emergency surgeries (22%). Advanced age also amplifies risk: Patients who were 90 or older were six times as likely to die than those ages 65 to 69. The study in JAMA Surgery, published by researchers at Yale School of Medicine, addresses a notable gap in research: Though patients 65 and older undergo nearly 40% of all surgeries in the U.S., detailed national data about the outcomes of these procedures has been largely missing.”

hospicenyer-300x123What happens when the highly vulnerable — older, sick, injured, and debilitated people — get left in the hands of profit-obsessed private enterprises operating under woefully lax regulatory oversight? Big messes abound, as news organizations have reported after taking deep dives into the workings of the “hustle” of for-profit hospice programs, or the chronic  staffing shortages that prevail at far too many private nursing homes.

Sure, this is a hectic time of the year, and it can be a challenge to carve out the time to pore over the painstaking reporting of fine journalists who race to make public their major investigations before the year’s end (including to qualify for major professional prizes).

Still, for anyone concerned about destructive failures in the U.S. health care system, how they blow up over time, and how they get ignored until they become crises, the reports by ProPublica, the New Yorker, and USA Today are important reading.

NCAAlogo2-150x150Armchair quarterbacks of the legal kind have raced onto the field, arguing that a Los Angeles jury verdict will help shield the National Collegiate Athletic Association from a potential avalanche of claims asserting the group did too little to protect young players from debilitation and death due to head trauma.

Maybe, maybe not.

Jurors rejected the case seeking $55 million from the NCAA, accusing the body that oversees collegiate athletics of failing to safeguard Matthew Gee, a University of Southern California linebacker on the 1990 Rose Bowl-winning squad.

burningdope-150x150Marijuana, as the kids say, isn’t as dope as users would like it to be.

Instead, a new study finds that marijuana can do greater damage to humans’ respiratory system than cigarette smoking — a nasty habit that research also has proven to be a major cause of cancer, heart and circulatory damage, and other health harms.

To be sure, the researchers’ observations about pot’s harms were based on a relatively small sample size of 56 Canadian patients who smoked both cigarettes and marijuana and had their chest scans scrutinized by at least two radiologists who were blinded to information about the patients whose images they were reviewing. As the Wall Street Journal reported of the study, published in the medical journal Radiology:

tksgiving-300x177Millions of us will have much to give thanks for during the annual holiday, which, like several of its recent versions, again will be a time of health wariness and uncertainty, too.

The seasonal feast — which brings so many the joy of not only a grand meal but also the pleasure of gathering with friends, family, and other loved ones — will be more costly than any in recent memory due to economic inflation and supply chain problems, the Associated Press reported:

“Americans are bracing for a costly Thanksgiving this year, with double-digit percent increases in the price of turkey, potatoes, stuffing, canned pumpkin, and other staples. The U.S. government estimates food prices will be up 9.5% to 10.5% this year; historically, they’ve risen only 2% annually. Lower production and higher costs for labor, transportation and items are part of the reason; disease, rough weather and the war in Ukraine are also contributors.”

ciggy-166x300Consumers, politicians, and federal regulators should not make the mistake of thinking that Big Tobacco somehow will go, as the poet put it, quietly into that good night.

The fortunes are still too big to be made in peddling products that persist as some of the greatest preventable threats to Americans’ health, industry players keep reminding us all — most recently by suing to block California voters upholding a ban of flavored tobacco and by taking a last-minute investors’ reprieve to reorganize a pioneering vaping company that was on the brink of bankruptcy.

The Golden State had not even finished tallying its midterm 2022 votes when RJ Reynolds marched into federal court to challenge the newly and overwhelmingly approved referendum to allow a two-year-old state law to take effect barring within weeks the sale of flavored tobacco and vaping products. As the New York Times reported:

pulseoximeter-150x150Until the coronavirus pandemic struck, few regular folks knew about pulse oximeters, much less had one on hand for urgent use. The devices, which fit over a finger, are supposed to give fast readings on the levels of oxygen in patients’ blood — a key measure of their respiratory wellness.

But the devices, whether in relatively inexpensive consumer versions or in medical-grade units used in doctor’s offices, clinics, and hospitals, are far from perfect. They suffer major inaccuracies when used by those with darker skin.

Federal regulators have known about this flaw for years. But at a time when patients, families, doctors, and hospitals relied on the devices routinely to make critical treatment decisions affecting those struggling with likely coronavirus infections, an information chasm opened. Doctors urged people to pop by drug stores and other retailers to pick up the devices, saying that they could be helpful in letting them know when their oxygen levels were dipping in concerning enough fashion that they should seek emergency treatment.

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