Articles Posted in Testing

holick-214x300Media coverage of diet and nutrition topics, for their abundance of hype and sheer bunk, may take the cake. Some recent, solid reports not only offer examples of the scope and scale of this public tomfoolery and its costs but also the reasons why it persists.

Let’s start with reporter Liz Szabo’s deep, detailed take-down of Michael Holick, a Boston University endocrinologist and unabashed pusher of a widespread medical myth that many of us may be deficient of Vitamin D, the so-called sunshine supplement.

Szabo, investigating for the independent, nonpartisan Kaiser Health News Service and the New York Times, reported that Holick has advocated for Vitamin D sufficiency guidelines that created in 2017 alone a $936 million market for its supplementation, with Americans spending another $365 million for more than 10 million vitamin deficiency tests paid for by Medicare.

hennepin-300x200Big Pharma howls often about the federal Food and Drug Administration path to get prescription drugs approved for markets, complaining current regulatory processes take too long and, with their requirement for rigorous clinical trials, are too tough.

Even as drug makers seem to be finding sympathetic officials to make these regimens faster and laxer, some voices want the FDA to consider costlier and what they say is more realistic and useful scrutiny of drugs that goes beyond current attempts  to find if they are safe and effective.

Shouldn’t regulators — at the FDA or elsewhere in the federal bureaucracy — help consumers much more to know the answers to “two crucial questions: How do … new therapies compare with already known ones? What are the relative benefits and harms in a particular situation, for a person like you?”

kaisertavr-300x175When big hospitals and their doctors jostle with competitors in smaller and medium-sized facilities over who gets to perform an important and booming kind of surgery, it’s not a pretty sight — nor might it be obvious with which institutions patients ought to side.

Phil Galewitz of the independent, nonpartisan Kaiser Health News Service does consumers a service with his reporting on recent bureaucratic brawling in Baltimore before federal regulators charged with determining where surgeons may replace leaky valves without open heart procedures.

As Galewitz explains, surgeons and medical device makers for a few years now have worked together to develop a new way to fix defective valves for tens of thousands of patients too frail to undergo open heart operations that, among other things, involve getting their chests cracked open. Surgeons, instead, can snake a catheter through patients’ blood vessels, into their heart, and shove aside the leaking valve, replacing it with a new model.

MRI-300x142The health policy wonks and those who purport to “reform” the U.S. health care system may be long on academic and other fancy credentials. But they also persist in demonstrating they can be short on old-fashioned common sense, especially about the way most of us lead our lives.

That’s a point emphasized in a recent column in the evidence-based “Upshot” feature of the New York Times, written by Austin Frakt. He directs the Partnered Evidence-Based Policy Resource Center at the VA Boston Healthcare System and is an associate professor with Boston University’s School of Public Health and an adjunct associate professor with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Frakt looked at some recent research to dissect a question that occupies many experts: Could Americans cut their health care costs by shopping around more for medical services? This is a fond notion held by a slice of health care “reformers,” whom Frankt proceeds to disabuse.

colonoscopy-300x214More than 15 million Americans each year undergo an invasive medical test, roughly once a decade and starting at age 50. If some medical experts had their way, more patients would get this cancer checkup, beginning at an even younger age. But as Emily Bazar, a senior editor and consumer columnist (Ask Emily) for the independent, nonprofit Kaiser Health News service, points out, physicians may want to heal themselves and their hygiene practices before pushing even more patients to get colonoscopies and endoscopies (procedures to examine the upper gastrointestinal tract).

That’s because a growing body of research shows that the switch by doctors, hospitals, and specialty centers to reusable scopes to peer into various parts of the body have resulted in rising infection rates among colonoscopy and endoscopy patients, among others.

Inspections show that the reused scopes don’t get cleaned properly and all the time. The more complex the medical device, the greater the risk, as clinicians and patients learned when complex and dirty duodenoscopes were tied to the deaths of 35 patients since 2013 and the sickening of dozens of others, leading to congressional investigations, lawsuits, and product recalls.

debtyoungmed-300x177Big Data may be a business buzzword that puts most consumers into a big sleep, but big alarms are sounding for Americans about Big Brother intrusions into their lives via the collection and analysis of vast amounts of highly personal information. Of course, Big Pharma and medical insurers are at the fore of invasive practices — some of which patient-consumers themselves are helping, likely without knowing they’re doing so.

Millions of Americans may be little aware, for example, that they’re now working for GlaxoSmithKline, a global pharmaceutical conglomerate with $9 billion in revenues in just the most recent quarter. GSK just struck a $300-million deal with 23andMe, the company that has persuaded roughly 5 million consumers to spit in a test tube to get a glimpse of their genetic information, notably information about their ancestry and purportedly some of their genomic health risks.

Firms like 23andMe, with promotions at events like Baltimore Ravens pro football games, also have amassed highly personal genetic and medical data on millions of patient-consumers, promising to protect the information but also offering, casually and by the way, that this vital information could be shared — ostensibly for the betterment of public health.

arches-300x263Americans hoping for relaxed, healthful summer days, instead may be getting steady and unwelcome reminders that, despite much publicized claims about regulators’ protective programs, the safeguarding of the nation’s food and water supplies remains a flawed work in progress.

The list only keeps growing of well-known commercial brands affected by tainted food claims, now including:

nuplazid-300x169Big Pharma has thrown a billion-dollar biscuit at the nation’s prescription drug watchdog, and with the admirable goal of possibly getting sick Americans faster pharmaceutical help, the federal Food and Drug Administration may be rushing risky, unsafe medications to market.

ProPublica, the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative site, has posted a deep dig into the increasing warning signs that the FDA may be on a dangerous track with its plan to answer rightful criticisms that the agency for too long was too pokey in reviewing and approving prescription drugs for sale in the United States.

But the agency may be putting patients at grave risk with its plans to step on the gas, including allowing drug makers to pay for costs of reviews in exchange for ensuring they will be speedy. Big Pharma has forked over $905 million in 2017 — 75 percent of the agency budget for scientific reviews of branded and generic drugs — as compared with 27 percent funding in 1993.

cancertest-294x300
Breast cancer patients may get a welcome respite from one of the disease’s dreaded aspects — its aggressive and costly treatments. New research suggests that thousands of women with early-stage breast cancer who now are told to get chemotherapy don’t need it, while a larger, significant number of patients can benefit by halving the time they’re told to take an expensive drug with harsh side-effects, especially for the heart.

Although this information should be taken in a positive light, patients should consult with their doctors about appropriate treatment for their individual case.

The prospective shifts in breast cancer treatment, based on new findings, may add to rumblings and criticisms about over-treatment and whether doctors have taken too lightly the toll — physically, mentally, and financially — that this and other forms of cancer inflict on patients.

banyan-300x173Federal officials offer a glimmer of hope in caring for head injuries, especially the sharp, repeated, and often damaging blows that  afflict athletes and which millions worldwide are witnessing, yes, as part of the Winter Olympic Games.

The federal Food and Drug Administration has announced that it has approved a long-awaited blood test that can help doctors determine the severity of traumatic brain injuries. This test will provide a cheaper, easier, more convenient, and likely faster way to handle the rising health bane of concussions, rather than relying on computed tomography or CT scans using big machines and a form of X-rays.

As the New York Times reported:

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