Articles Posted in Testing

urine-sample-cup-263x300With opioid drugs now the leading cause of death for Americans 50 and younger and killing more than 64,000 people last year, was it inevitable that some shady characters are profiteering off the miseries of those struggling to get off potent painkillers?

And is it predictable that key politicians keep talking big but still haven’t backed up their boasts with the money and means to attack a public health crisis that is claiming more lives than cars or guns and at a faster pace than HIV-AIDS did at the peak of that epidemic?

Americans have plenty cause to be — forgive the vulgar word play — pissed off at the doctors and labs that are raking in profits on urine testing for drugs. This business has exploded but with little or no oversight. As reporters Fred Schulte and Elizabeth Lucas have written:

heart-300x190Hospitals and heart doctors may need to rethink their common test to determine if their patients have suffered a heart attack, and whether a newer alternative open-heart procedure carries with it more risks than benefits.

Health News Review, a health information watchdog site, has raised interesting questions as to why mainstream media outlets haven’t paid much attention to the recommendation by the High Value Practice Academic Alliance (HVPAA), a blue-chip group of medical scientists and institutions (including Johns Hopkins), for the phase out of the creatine kinase-myocardial band. CK-MB is the “go-to blood test doctors used to determine if a patient’s heart muscle had been damaged by a heart attack (or myocardial infarction).”

To the tune of $400 million or so annually, doctors turn to CK-MB tests millions of times each year to distinguish, along with patient symptoms and EKGs, if the person before them has suffered a heart attack, HVPAA members write in the medical journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

spinning-300x200Although many sports enthusiasts relish the summer as a peak time to train hard to get especially fit, wise athletes for safety’s sake may wish to build their way up to exhausting workouts, and to ensure they’re staying hydrated in healthful ways, while also recognizing that endurance competitions may alter their bodies in ways that they should at least be aware of.

The New York Times has posted an eyebrow-raising story on the perils to hard-driving jocks, male and female, of “rhabdo,” aka rhabdomyolysis, a “rare but life-threatening condition often caused by extreme exercise. It occurs when overworked muscles begin to die and leak their contents into the bloodstream, straining the kidneys and causing severe pain.”

Two doctors say they treated three recent, severe rhabdo cases brought on when novices in not great shape leaped into intense spinning classes, demanding exercise regimens lasting around an hour and involving specialized stationery bicycles. They found in medical literature 46 other, documented rhabdo cases, with 42 tied to novices’ spinning.

ExpiredDrug-300x225Americans each year needlessly toss hundreds of millions of dollars in costly, valuable, and still potent drugs, a wasteful practice driven by a “myth,” the mistaken belief in and scrupulous adherence to already debunked product expiration dates.

Drug discards, including of medications that may be in short supply nationwide, occur all along the distribution chain, from corner druggists up to giant health system pharmacies.

The practice flies in the face of known evidence, much of it developed, verified, and shared by the same force that presses for expired meds to get tossed: Uncle Sam.

dna-208x300Pathologists are the medical specialists whom few patients ever meet, but they play increasingly important roles in treatment decisions. Some new reports raise concerns about systematic errors in the path lab.

The New York Times painted a surprisingly distanced picture of the work of pathologists in a recent report on these medical doctors who are trained to interpret an array of laboratory tests and often microscopic materials to determine the care for complex diseases.

The paper found that the specialists and their labs mislabeled and mixed up patient samples and results, as well as sometimes contaminating them—yes, rarely, but with potentially significant harms. Erroneous results could lead to misdiagnoses, resulting in patients getting wrong or ineffective treatment, especially for cancers, experts say.

acurian-300x175When consumers around the country started getting letters from a company that they had never heard of, inviting them to participate in clinical trials for medical conditions that they hadn’t disclosed to many or didn’t even have, the alarms started to sound, quietly at first but with increasing urgency. Were doctors, hospitals, or other providers breaching medical privacy laws? Had there been a serious but unpublicized leak or unwelcome disclosure of patient data?

Kudos to the information site Buzzfeed for digging in and finding out how Acurian Health, a firm with an address in a rural county outside of Philadelphia, exploits state-of-the-art Internet marketing and data-mining techniques to learn, in creepy fashion, about Americans and their illnesses.

It does this by buying marketing information that a range of companies collect on customers, some of it volunteered and others extracted from data points like zip codes, purchasing patterns, and available demographics: Do you live in an upscale or modest neighborhood? Are you and your neighbors most likely to be highly educated professionals or blue-collar laborers?

thyroid-300x222Check the neck? If you’re doing so routinely, especially if you lack worrisome symptoms or haven’t had past problems, please reconsider: Regular thyroid cancer screenings received a “D” grade from a blue-ribbon panel of experts. The exams can cause more harm than good, says the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which does periodic, evidence-based reviews of common medical screens.

Its most recent review finds cause for concern that doctors and hospitals, pushed by a prominent patient advocacy group that Big Pharma’s helping to underwrite, keep recommending and subjecting patients to unneeded thyroid cancer screens. The screens, with ultrasound and physician exams, too often lead to more tests, and then to painful, invasive, and costly procedures.

Doctors worldwide are detecting thyroid cancer at increasing rates, with the found incidences going up by 5 percent annually in this country. But at the same time, the relatively small numbers of thyroid cancer deaths haven’t budged. They’re neither rising nor falling. (See the diagram).

Prostate-e1492269148971-483x1024A burst of bad headlines and not so great news reports may have confused some men. But to put it in lay terms:  The use of the common test for routine prostate cancer screening got a dim grade of C for many men, up from a dismal D, in a re-evaluation by independent experts who assess the nation’s preventive medical services.

That blunt review of regular prostate-specific antigen (PSA) tests, despite some reports to the contrary, keeps with how the influential U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPTF) looked at annual  screening for this most common form of cancer for men when it issued its first guidelines in 2012, notes healthnewsreview.org.

The health information site says the USPTF earlier had surprised many, downgrading routine prostate cancer screening to a D, and noting, “There is moderate or high certainty that the service has no net benefit or that the harms outweigh the benefits.” It now says it rates a C for many men younger than 70, meaning physicians should “Offer or provide this service for selected patients depending on individual circumstances,” and that “There is at least moderate certainty that the net benefit is small.”

peanutsAlthough many of us would like nothing better than to dote on a favorite baby all day long, medical experts have offered some surprising turnarounds and concessions for the new year about what they do and don’t know about infant care-giving.

They have made a 180-degree reversal on their advice to parents on dealing with the rising problem of peanut allergies, while also suggesting that a familiar product may be more useful than thought to combat a common skin woe. And they have said that 90 percent of the medications given to newborns aren’t approved for such uses by the federal Food and Drug Administration.

Feed the baby peanuts, docs now say

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