When doctors, hospitals, insurers, and their captive lawmakers howl about how unfair malpractice lawsuits allegedly can be for modern medicine, patients who have suffered harms while seeking medical services should require loved ones, friends, and members of their community to view Bleed Out.

This new HBO documentary details the decade-long quest by comedian Steve Burrows and his family for justice for his mother, Judie. She was an energetic, retired teacher when she fell from her bike and needed emergency hip surgery. Before she had recovered, she fell again and needed a second operation. But this time, something went wrong: She lost more than half her blood, fell into a coma, and suffered irreversible brain damage that meant that she would spend the rest of her life in institutional care in rural Wisconsin.

drunkdriving-300x122Don’t be tempted over the next few days of new year’s revelry to drive while distracted or intoxicated — whether under the influence of alcohol, marijuana, or prescription drugs.

It’s a myth that the start of the year is the deadliest time for motorists across the country. But Jan. 1, statistically and without great explanation, has been most lethal for pedestrians nationwide. Pedestrians also are in greater harm’s way than they should be here in Washington, D.C.

Drunk driving poses significant problems in the nation’s capital, where alcohol-related fatalities increased 33 percent in 2017. Officials in the District of Columbia need to crack down even more on an issue that puts motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists alike in peril.

juulcig-300x159When the reviews of 2018 get written, here’s hoping that health experts castigate the federal Food and Drug Administration and Scott Gottlieb, its chief, for a major blunder that continues to harm the well-being of the nation’s teenagers and young adults.

That’s because Gottlieb and his agency held a regulatory door wide open as the maker of the e-cigarette device Juul stormed through, campaigning to hook teen-agers and collegians on vaping. That’s the practice of using e-cigarettes to catalyze commercially prepared solutions to get a high, typically from nicotine, a powerfully addictive substance that carries a range of risks, especially for the young.

Big Tobacco loves Juul so much that, as a holiday gift, Altria, a major player in the industry, has cut a $12.8 billion deal with the e-cigarette maker that includes a $2 billion bonus to be split by the company’s 1,500 employees.

davincirobot-300x176When surgeons insist on cutting on patients using the million-dollar da Vinci robot system, patients should demand to know why — and to be skeptical to the nth degree whether the device-based operation will be beneficial to them, or if it is yet another way for doctors and hospitals to make medical care exorbitantly expensive and to boost their profits.

NBC News, as part of a global investigation of medical devices and their harms, deserves credit for adding yet more disturbing disclosures with a detailed story about the da Vinci. The report clearly seeks to be balanced and doesn’t deliver as hard-hitting a point of view as The Bleeding Edge, a recent and important HBO documentary on the surgical robot system.

Still, there are plenty of disturbing items that ought to stop lawmakers, regulators, safety advocates, and patients, and force a hard re-thinking about da Vinci:

chickenwash-300x107Here’s hoping the season stays merry for all and that holidays are relaxing, restful, and healthful. A few tips to stay on the right side of health and safety:

  • Be sure to follow best practices when it comes to food hygiene and safety. Do wash fruits and vegetables to rid them of surface contaminants, including dirt and pesticides. This isn’t foolproof and doesn’t clear these products of all bacteria that can cause foodborne illness — far from it. But washing does help. As for raw meat and poultry, don’t for cleanliness’ sake rinse it, then pat it dry. This just spreads contaminants all around the kitchen, food scientists have found. And, tempting though it may be, don’t eat that cookie or cake dough, and don’t think that baking recalled products might make them safe.
  • Don’t give necklaces, bracelets, or anklets to ease the tooth discomfort experienced by babies or children with special needs: The federal Food and Drug Administration has warned this jewelry can be risky for the vulnerable, noting instances in which they have experienced “choking, strangulation, injury to the mouth and infection.” The agency also cautioned that amber teething necklaces contain “succinic acid, which allegedly may be released into an infant’s blood stream in unknown quantities. Manufacturers of these products often claim succinic acid acts as an anti-inflammatory and relieves teething and joint pain. The FDA has not evaluated these claims for safety or effectiveness and recommends parents not use these products.” The agency issued its warning after a 7-month old choked to death on a wooden teething bracelet while under parental supervision, and an 18-month old was fatally strangled by his amber teething necklace during a nap. The FDA also reminded that it urges caregivers to “avoid using teething creams, benzocaine gels, sprays, ointments, solutions and lozenges for mouth and gum pain. Benzocaine and other local anesthetics can cause methemoglobinemia, a serious condition in which the amount of oxygen carried through the blood is reduced. This condition is life-threatening and can result in death.” Pediatricians say that discomfort to teething can be eased with adults offering a gentle gum massage with a clean finger or by giving babies a hard rubber ring to chew.

dumbrella-300x256They look like nursing homes, but they’re not. And for the health and safety of our elderly loved ones, we must know the difference.

These so-called assisted living facilities, operating with much less regulation and oversight than nursing homes, are raising concerns about the safety and quality of their dealings with a growing number of elderly Americans. That’s because they’re full not only of older residents but also difficult — and costly to care for — seniors with dementia.

Jordan Rau, of the independent, nonpartisan Kaiser Health News Service, deserves credit for diving deep into rising complaints and documented harms to residents of facilities “originally designed for people who were largely independent but required help bathing, eating or other daily tasks.” These places, “unlike nursing homes … generally do not provide skilled medical care or therapy, and stays are not paid for by Medicare or Medicaid.”

genericfda-237x300To paraphrase what a one-time colleague once wrote about her bosses: Never trust Big Pharma, never trust Big Pharma, never trust Big Pharma. Here’s some of the latest evidence why: Even the industry’s so-called “white hats,” makers of supposedly less expensive and more patient-accessible “generic” drugs, now are ensnared in an ever-expanding investigation of illegal price fixing.

As the Washington Post reported:

What started as an antitrust lawsuit brought by states over just two drugs in 2016 has exploded into an investigation of alleged price-fixing involving at least 16 companies and 300 drugs, Joseph Nielsen, an assistant attorney general and antitrust investigator in Connecticut who has been a leading force in the probe, said in an interview. His comments … represent the first public disclosure of the dramatically expanded scale of the investigation.

prostate-300x173A large, long-running study on treating prostate cancer, a leading killer of men, has supported both “watchful waiting” with most men diagnosed with the disease, and aggressive therapies — especially surgery — for patients at higher risk of the disease’s spread.

Parsing the results of this research, however, may send men to a key source of information: Their own doctors, with whom they should consult closely.

That’s because the study’s duration and the information it produced requires nuanced interpretation, depending on patients and their specifics. Just consider how news organizations differed in the headlines for their stories on the research:

jjbabypowder-300x300Johnson & Johnson, now facing thousands of lawsuits asserting ties between its famed baby powder and patients’ cancers, has campaigned for decades to keep from wide public view information that its talc was tainted with asbestos, a naturally occurring substance and an established cause of some cancers, news media reports say.

Reuters news service published its investigation of J&J’s long efforts to deny and downplay scientific evidence it had about asbestos in a product that has helped to create and define the company as one of the nation’s family friendly consumer product and pharmaceutical giants.

Tens of millions of Americans grew up, with grown-ups dusting them as infants with Johnson’s baby powder, now contributing just “$420 million to J&J’s $76.5 billion in revenue last year,” Reuters reported.

acasite-300x160If you’re a resident of the District of Columbia and you qualify for help with your health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, don’t wait, you have until Jan. 31 to enroll in Obamacare. It’s still the law of the land and could benefit you and your loved ones, despite a sad and expected federal court ruling out of Texas that threatens the ACA and health coverage for tens of millions of Americans, yet again.

Eleven states and the District have extended Obamacare enrollment deadlines. Those deadlines have already passed in Virginia and Maryland. So, many in the area — along with the rest of the nation — will have to wait for what might be a while to see how the Texas case, brought by a group of Republican attorneys general and opposed by a group of their Democratic counterparts, gets resolved.

The legal elements of the case may be of interest to lawyers and policy wonks.

Patrick Malone & Associates, P.C. listed in Best Lawyers Rated by Super Lawyers Patrick A. Malone
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