Articles Posted in Research Studies

leapfrog-300x300A familiar health care advocacy group will expand its grading of 2,000 or so hospitals across the country to also provide new safety and quality information on 5,600 stand-alone surgical centers that perform millions of procedures annually.

It may seem like a small step, and the devil will be in the details of the new data that will be voluntarily reported, analyzed, and then made public by the Leapfrog Group, a national health care nonprofit that describes itself as being “driven by employers and other purchasers of health care.”

Surgical centers have burgeoned because they can be nimbler than the hospitals and academic medical centers they now outnumber. The centers can be set up without hospitals’ high overhead costs, including for staff and equipment that may be unnecessary for a specialty practice. The facilities also can be set up closer to patients, theoretically offering them greater access and convenience, including with easy navigation and parking.

anversaTreatments with “stem cells,” therapies that already were sliding into disrepute due to hyped claims and inappropriate use, took another big hit to their scientific credibility when two respected institutions announced they were retracting 31 published studies claiming stem cells could help patients with damaged hearts.

Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston jointly denounced Piero Anversa, a once celebrated cardiologist who had worked at both institutions but left in 2015, for putting out false or fabricated data for dozens of studies he and colleagues published. The works — contrary to accepted science — purportedly showed that damaged heart muscle could be regenerated with stem cells, a type of cell that can transform itself into a variety of other cells.

The medical journals that have published Anversa’s studies must decide for themselves their course of action now with his work. The experts at Retraction Watch, a nonprofit that monitors science publishing and pulled papers as part of an effort to provide greater transparency to the scientific process, say it is rare for one researcher to have so many studies determined to be flawed and subject to removal from public view.

mitchAt a time when Americans experience high anxiety and financial insecurity due to medical costs — with more than 20 percent of those with health insurance experiencing trouble paying for necessities, more than a quarter of them saying they had bills in collection, and 13 percent forced to borrowed money as a result of illness — politicians and special interests are closing the midterm campaigns as if they can prank voters. Just how gullible do they think the electorate can be?

Republican congressional candidates, after howling about the Affordable Care Act and campaigning unsuccessfully to repeal it in dozens of votes for years, including in the first of the Trump Administration, now are claiming to constituents that they support key parts of Obamacare.

Even as GOP state attorneys general argue in a pending federal court case to gut ACA protections on preexisting conditions, minimum benefits, and lifetime limits, Republican candidates are telling voters, counter factually, how much they embrace and support those Obamacare components. They’re trotting out sad tales about their own relatives’ illnesses to claim to support a position that they opposed in legislative votes and actions just weeks ago.

blue-300x206They may seem small and may be symbolic, but Britain and Japan both are taking steps to deal with suicide, a public health menace by which 45,000 Americans age 10 or older took their lives by their own hand in 2016 alone.

In Britain, the New York Times reported that Prime Minister Theresa May appointed health minister Jackie Doyle-Price to lead “government efforts to cut the number of suicides and overcome the stigma that prevents people with mental health problems from seeking help. While suicide rates have dropped in recent years, about 4,500 people take their own lives each year in England. It remains the leading cause of death for men under age 45.”

Britain, like the United States, has struggled to provide adequate and appropriate mental health care to its people, even though it has a national health service. And Britons, like their friends across the ocean, are reluctant to seek mental health care for multiple reasons, including stigmatization.

supplements-300x200
Same story, new data, and a message that needs repeating: Over-the-counter supplements — sold as safe alternatives to prescription drugs for weight loss, muscle building, and sexual enhancement — may be risky and not beneficial to your health. Indeed, many of them are adulterated with strong prescription drugs.

As the Washington Post reported of a newly published study:

Researchers found unapproved and sometimes dangerous drugs in 746 dietary supplements, almost all of them marketed for sexual enhancement, weight loss or muscle growth … [A scientific] review of a Food and Drug Administration database of contaminated supplements for the years 2007 to 2016 most commonly turned up sildenafil — the drug sold as Viagra — and other erectile dysfunction drugs in sex enhancement products; sibutramine and the laxative phenolphthalein, both banned by the FDA, in weight-loss supplements; and steroids or their analogues in muscle-building products. About 80 percent of the supplements were contaminated by one pharmaceutical that should not have been in the product. Twenty percent contained at least two such drugs, and two of the supplements contained six unapproved drugs. One product contained a drug that raises blood pressure and another drug that lowers it. Despite these contaminants, fewer than half the products were recalled.

bigmac-300x259Americans can’t stop chowing down on fast foods, despite years of warnings about their health harms.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that 36.6 percent of Americans — 37.9 percent of men and 35.4 percent of women — eat some kind of fast food on any given day.

As the Los Angeles Times reported:

deduct-300x190As various news organizations reported, anxious Americans will vote in less than a month with health care as a dominating concern. A new annual report shows why: Medical costs keep rising, as does the cost of health insurance, notably the coverage most of us get from our employers. Companies keep pushing on to workers higher premiums and deductibles that race ahead of inflation and devour wage growth.

Deductibles — the out-of-pocket costs that patients must pay before their coverage kicks in and benefits them — have skyrocketed since 2008, growing by 212 percent. That’s eight times faster than wage growth, and 12 times faster than inflation, according to the latest research by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The average deductible, $303 a decade ago, now has hit $1,573 for single coverage.

Nobelmedal-300x295The 2018 Nobel Prizes represent a pinnacle of global  recognition for path-breaking research, but the awards also surface some less than noble aspects of modern science and medicine.

This year’s prizes cast a spotlight on breakthrough findings on  how to take off the immune system’s natural brakes to allow it to attack cancer, and on speeding evolutionary processes so enzymes and bacteria-fighting viruses can be harnessed to create compounds helpful to mankind. Advances in these areas promise to improve and lengthen  lives around the planet.

And it was terrific at a time of so much gender-based discrimination and abuses of women in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine, to see prestigious prizes, finally, awarded to two women in chemistry (the fifth such Laureate) and physics (the third).

Medicare-logo-650x250-300x115Critics may want to carve it up and make it tougher to join, while proponents would expand it and add more money to it. But what could the U.S. health system overall learn from real, rigorous research on Medicare, the major health coverage method for tens of millions of Americans age 65 and older?

Politico, the politics- and Beltway-focused news web site, has renewed attention on the work of Ph.D. economist Melinda B. Buntin, a professor who heads Vanderbilt University’s health policy department. She and her colleagues have spent years digging into the money flowing into Medicare, a program that in 2017 paid out $700 billion in benefits, compared with $425 billion in 2007.

As Politico reported, the research shows a surprise beneath the big, aggregate, and problematic Medicare cost: “One of the best-kept secrets in American health care might be that Medicare spending — in important ways — is going down.”

flu1918-300x209Although shots carry their own risks, just as any medical treatment does, new data from 2017’s killer flu season shows the folly of patients ignoring influenza’s wrath and skipping the vaccination for it. Youngsters and seniors, especially, need to get these inoculations.

The federal Centers for Disease and Control reported that 80,000 Americans died last winter due to the flu, the infectious disease’s highest toll in 40 years, far exceeding the previous peak of 56,000 such deaths recorded decades earlier.

Youngsters were hit hard in the most recent season, as the Washington Post reported:

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