Articles Posted in Statistics

figure-300x169Big data and numbers may seem to drive the world these days, but human factors can play a dizzying role when it comes to statistics and medical treatments.

For those fascinated by numeracy in health care, writer Hannah Fry, in a readable New Yorker essay, details how medicine and patients alike have been bedeviled by attempts to quantify life-and-death decision making.

She tracks centuries of investigators experiments in applying rationality, logic, and mathematics to human lives and their care by doctors and others, reporting about Adolphe Quetelet, an 1830s Belgian astronomer and mathematician:

lightred-290x300Red means stop, right? That’s a driving basic. But Americans’ flouting of a fundamental traffic regulation — the red light — is costing more lives than it has in a decade.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has found that two people die daily in vehicle wrecks involving the running of a red light, NPR reported, noting:

“Drivers blowing through red lights killed 939 people in 2017. That’s an increase of 31% from a low in 2009, when 715 people were killed. More than half of those killed were passengers or people riding in other vehicles. About 35% were the drivers who ran the red light. Pedestrian and cyclist deaths connected to red light running represented about 5% of total deaths.”

Although Good Samaritans deserve a great holiday cheer for their part in paying for some of it, medical debt persists as a giant shame of the American health care system. Doctors, hospitals, insurers, Big Pharma, and other providers and suppliers need to step up to shrink the financial burdens of medical care that crush far too many patients and their loved ones.

Judith Jones and Carolyn Kenyon, two retired friends in Ithaca, N.Y., raised $12,500 that they donated to a charitable group. It buys bundled, past-due medical bills and forgives them to help those in need. That became a powerful gift, as RIP Medical Debt leveraged it, buying for a penny on the dollar or so, a portfolio of obligations exceeding $1.5 million.

That means that 1,300 New Yorkers, all around their state, received envelopes, just in time for the holidays, telling them that they no longer needed to pay nor to worry about debts they had incurred for medical services from 130 hospitals and their branches.

drugoverdosecdc2018-300x165

CDC: drug overdoses

As 2018 rumbles to its close, Americans are getting yet more excruciating information about the toll inflicted on us by Big Pharma, doctors, hospitals, and insurers: The nation is posting record numbers of overdose deaths, suicides, and a life expectancy rate that’s falling in a way not seen since the great wars.

It takes almost zero effort to connect the awful trio of bad health indicators. But it grows increasingly clear that to reverse them the United States will need leadership, resources, and a commitment that, for now, is painfully absent.

agingtire-300x89With the nation’s road toll rising in already alarming fashion, Uncle Sam may need to step up information campaigns and even reconsider regulation of a greater than believed vehicle risk: aged and decaying tires.

FairWarning, an independent investigative news site, and road safety advocates deserve credit for dogging the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) about its tire-related crash data. That information, which plays a key role for policy- and law-makers in determining road safety measures nationwide, quietly got updated by federal bureaucrats. Their posted numbers suddenly indicated for 2015 that fatal tire-related crashes more than trebled from a standing figure of 200 to 719 such deaths, FairWarning and others found.

To be fair, perhaps the agency was taking to heart criticism from Randy and Alice Whitefield, statistical consultants for a company called Quality Control Systems, whose study of NHTSA data suggested flaws. These included bureaucrats’ decision to determine their figures, based on a small, selective database on road accidents, rather than using larger, more comprehensive, and equally available crash information.

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:

theater-228x300What’s an internist to do when an 81-year-old patient, already in failing health with advanced emphysema, seeks a second opinion because he’s been told his prostate specific antigen (PSA) levels are unacceptably high? This senior also has been advised to schedule a prostate biopsy urgently to determine if he has cancer. Can this discussion with both a scared patient — and his bright, concerned personal doctor — be any tougher?

For Andrew Lazris, who is also a geriatric specialist practicing in Maryland, this was a hard, complicated case because it involved his dying dad.

It also exemplified for him the work that he has undertaken with Eric Rifkin, an environmental scientist and adjunct researcher at Johns Hopkins University, in ensuring that patients retain their fundamental and critical right to have a say in their care. And, in doing so, they have developed what they argue is a clear, comprehensible way to help patients grasp and deal with the inevitable uncertainties, risks, and complexities of the array of medical treatments they can get overwhelmed with by doctors, hospitals, Big Pharma, medical device makers, and others in health care.

cdcnytopioidtoll-300x262In 2017, drug overdoses killed 72,000 Americans, a 10 percent increase over 2016 and yet another record, according to the latest provisional federal estimates.

That single year toll would be more than double the American deaths attributed to the Korean War, and almost 1.25 times those  caused by the Vietnam War. The New York Times reported that 2017’s overdose deaths were “higher than the peak yearly death totals from HIV, car crashes or gun deaths.”

The newspaper said experts, analyzing the numbers, blamed them on a few reasons (see NYT chart above): “A growing number of Americans are using opioids, and drugs are becoming more deadly. It is the second factor that most likely explains the bulk of the increased number of overdoses last year.”

alslat-254x300The National Football League, which long has resisted the growing reality that game-related head blows can cause major harms to its players, may be providing yet new and unintended warnings about the sustained damages of concussions.

The Los Angeles Times reported that pro football’s pay-outs, as part of its billion-dollar head-injuries settlement with NFL players and their union, have been surprisingly high in cases where retirees have claimed damages due to Parkinson’s and ALS.

Parkinson’s, the newspaper noted, is a “progressive movement disorder that produces tremors, impaired movement, and slurred speech.” It is “marked by the buildup of proteins called Lewy bodies in brain cells.” ALS, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a condition affecting “nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord and ultimately results in a fatal inability to initiate and control muscle movement.”

mock-high-school-car-crash-300x169How outraged and motivated to political action might you be if an avoidable disaster in a week claimed the lives of all the youngsters in your kids’ school?  How upset might Americans be if a calamity wiped out in 24 hours  seven NBA professional basketball teams, or two pro NFL squads?

David Leonhardt, associate editor of the New York Times Editorial Page, threw a powerful jab in his Op-Ed at lawmakers and regulators who, as always, seem to be shrugging off not only the summer deadliest season but also the rising annual toll of road deaths. The carnage has made America’s streets and highways the most dangerous in the industrialized world.

As Leonhardt points out, federal data show that 100 people die daily in US vehicle wrecks. Many are young. They’re killed by drunken, distracted, and drugged drivers, or they die due to their own bad decisions, including poor maintenance of their vehicles, or because of bad luck.

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