Articles Posted in Research Studies

aged-alexboyd-300x200The Covid-19 pandemic is forcing many Americans to think and act on tough issues they otherwise might wish to avoid, and they’re getting thoughtful reminders on ways they may want to proceed with advanced or end-of-life medical planning and decisions on whether to keep elderly loved ones in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities or to bring them into their residences.

These are hard topics to deal with in the best of times. But failing to do so can leave families with not only a lifetime of regrets but also possibly significant financial consequences. Americans long have insisted that they want to have maximum control over medical decisions that affect their care.

So, thinking ahead about our own advanced medical plans, and revisiting the institutional care of beloved seniors may not only be appropriate, but necessary as the world struggles with the Covid-19 pandemic and medical caregivers are overwhelmed and may be stretched to their limits.

ACAsigning-300x176As the coronavirus pandemic causes Americans sky-high anxiety about their health and how they might access and afford extensive medical treatment if infected, the nation slid with only modest public attention into the second decade of one of its landmark health care experiments — the Affordable Care Act.

Obamacare became the law of the land on March 23, 2010, when the 45th president signed the 2,000-page bill for which he had campaigned long and hard. Republicans in the White House and Congress have attacked the ACA relentlessly ever since.

Researchers have spent a decade scrutinizing the ambitious act’s outcomes with zeal. The New York Times summarized some of the independent, nonpartisan evaluations, finding key areas that the public may wish to recognize in how Obamacare changed the complex U.S. health care system, on which Americans spend more than $3.5 trillion annually. In brief, as a result of the ACA, the newspaper reported (with boldface emphases mine):

While alarms have been raised about the nation’s ever-increasing numbers of suicides, mental health experts, educators, and medical researchers also are making urgent pleas for grownups to pay heightened attention to the spike in cases in which youngsters are taking their own lives.

As the independent, nonprofit Kaiser Health News Service reported:

“[S]uicide by children ages 10 to 14 has gone up and up. The suicide rate for that age group almost tripled from 2007 to 2017. Newly released 2018 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show a 16% increase over the previous year. While experts point to a host of explanations for the alarming rise, scientific proof about cause isn’t conclusive. Some research shows correlations with social media use, cyberbullying and the internet, but studies citing them as a suicide cause are less decisive.”

mammographyus-300x240As Americans live longer, clinicians may need to reconsider whether they need to subject older patients to routine screenings that may trigger even more costly, invasive, painful, and unnecessary medical testing and procedures. For women 70 and older, for example, yet more new evidence raises doubts about mammograms designed to detect breast cancers.

As the New York Times reported, researchers in Boston examined 2000-2008 Medicare claims “to follow more than one million women, ages 70 to 84, who had undergone a mammogram.” Quoting Dr. Xabier Garcia-Albéniz, an oncologist and epidemiologist at RTI Health Solutions and lead author of a new observational study of their women subjects:

“They had never had breast cancer and had a ‘high probability,’ based on their medical histories, of living at least 10 more years. ‘That’s the population who will reap the benefit of screening,’ Dr. Garcia-Albéniz said, because it takes 10 years for mammography to show reduced mortality. The researchers divided the subjects into two groups: one that stopped screening, and another that continued having mammograms at least every 15 months. They found that mammograms provided a survival benefit, if a modest one, for women ages 70 to 74. In line with previous research, the study found that annually screening 1,000 women in that age group would result, after 10 years, in one less death from breast cancer. But among the women who were 75 to 84, annual mammograms did not reduce deaths, although they did, predictably, detect more cancer than in the group that discontinued screening. ‘You’re diagnosing more cancer, but that’s not translating to a mortality benefit,’ Dr. Garcia-Albéniz said.”

drugpromotrump-300x178President Trump has stormed past accepted professional practices and triggered alarms about ethical decision making by caregivers, as he persists in his noisy advocacy for treating seriously ill patients with Covid-19 infections with an unproven pair of prescription drugs.

Promoting this drug regimen — on social media and in White House news conferences — has pitted the onetime real estate developer and reality show host with an undergraduate economics degree squarely against Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the nation’s foremost infectious disease experts at the National Institutes of Health.

They have squared off publicly, with the leader of the free world talking about how he “feels good” about giving patients two, long-used antimalarial drugs — chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine (aka plaquenil) — while Fauci has insisted such prescribing has no basis now, and, at best, should be subjected to rigorous clinical trial to determine their effectiveness.

AAMedals-300x156Although federal experts estimate that alcohol abuse leads to 88,000 Americans’ deaths annually and economic costs of almost $250 billion, one of the nation’s oldest and best-known programs to deal with this problematic behavior has long been surrounded by doubts.

Critics have questioned its effectiveness, criticized its “irrationality,” and focused on its stepped regimen, desperate and self-enrolling participants, and core tenets, including its spiritual appeals to higher and external powers.

But after a deep dig into the building and rigorous evidence about it — including scrutiny of 27 studies, (some of them randomized clinical trials) with more than 10,000 participants — researchers from Harvard, Stanford, and Europe have concluded in a published, research review for the respected Cochrane Collaboration that Alcoholics Anonymous, indeed, can be beneficial for many but not all excessive alcohol users.

cjdlogoCold, hard facts — not hunches, arguments, or theories — matter most when tough health care decisions must be made. Americans have been reminded of this by painful headlines on the opioid and overdose crisis, the rise of lung injuries and deaths due to vaping, and, yes, now the rapid spread of a new coronavirus. Doctors, hospitals, insurers, Big Pharma, and other major parties in the U.S. health care system aren’t always as candid as they need to be, especially in disclosing how they harm and even kill patients.

That’s a truth (with a small “t”) that readers can discover quickly in the Center for Justice and Democracy’s latest edition of its annual “Briefing Book: Medical Malpractice by the Numbers.” The center, at New York Law School, provides evidence about a field that has become the bogeyman for politicians, policy makers, and medical practitioners eager to hide egregious errors with extreme counter factual assertions.

Malpractice cases in the civil justice system provide important insights and checks on how doctors and hospitals care for the sick, injured, and vulnerable.

cdcHepCopioidabuse-300x150The opioid-overdose crisis has not disappeared, not by a long shot, and there’s a new warning about its toll: A blue-ribbon expert panel has urged doctors to expand testing for hepatitis C to all adults, ages 18 to 79, and no longer limiting the screening to those born between 1945 and 1965. That’s because the risky conduct that goes with abusing opioids also bumps up the risk of this potentially deadly but treatable liver infection.

Hepatitis C is growing as a significant health concern, the New York Times reported:

“Despite substantial advances in treatment over the past five years, infections are on the rise. Roughly 44,700 new hepatitis C infections were reported in the United States in 2017, according to federal data. A major challenge for health officials is that a significant number of people have the virus but do not know they are infected … Hepatitis C leads to chronic liver disease in most people who contract it, and some eventually develop cirrhosis and liver cancer. It is spread primarily through the sharing of needles among people who use illicit drugs.”

calguardvirusaid-300x169The coronavirus outbreak spreading across the globe may be providing Americans with an unhappy view of the dirty downsides of the too-often dysfunctional U.S. health care system as it grapples with spiking Covid-19 infections.

Congress has appropriated more than $8 billion, so the federal government can provide the nation the support it needs in battling the respiratory illness that exploded out of central China a few weeks ago. Almost 100,000 people globally have been infected with the virus, which has killed thousands. The deaths in this country are rising into the dozens, while infections are increasing into the hundreds. In Italy, the government took a drastic step in dealing with steeply rising infections and ordered a virus-related quarantine of much of the northern part of the country — a tough lock down because the Lombardy area is the largest economic powerhouse of the nation.

In the U.S., federal efforts to stockpile needed medical supplies, notably masks, gloves, and gowns — personal protective equipment or PPEs — continue to lag. The administration is under fire for its slow and ineffectual roll-out of virus testing kits. Vice President Pence promised that big numbers of screening supplies would be available quickly — at least 1 million, asap — but he since has been forced to walk back that pledge. Even as he talked about 75,000 test kits becoming available soon, the Atlantic magazine reported that as few as 1,895 Americans have been tested so far for the virus.

bias1999-300x169Highly educated and rigorously trained doctors may be just as susceptible to a built-in bias that bargain-seeking consumers yield to when they hit stores seeking 99 cent goods, buy into TV hype for $19.99  wares, or fall for a salesman’s pitch for a used car priced at $17,999.

Ivy League researchers call the cognitive flaw “left digit bias.” They warn that this common irrationality can have consequences with doctors and patient care.

As Anupam B. Jena of Harvard and Andrew R. Olenski of Columbia reported in the New York Times’ evidence-based column “The Upshot:”

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