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Aug 21 2014
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RWJF Scholars in the News: Costs for blood tests, dentists testing for hypertension and HIV, fudging medical history, and more.

Around the country, print, broadcast, and online media outlets are covering the groundbreaking work of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) leaders, scholars, fellows, alumni, and grantees. Some recent examples:

A new study uncovers vast variation in pricing for common blood tests by California hospitals, reports the Washington Post. Renee Hsia, MD, MSc, an RWJF Physician Faculty Scholars program alumna, says she was “very surprised” to see such variation among more than 160 hospitals studied. Hsia’s research found that during 2011, some hospitals charged as little as $10 and others as much as $10,169 for a basic cholesterol test. The study found no clear explanation for the price differences for what Hsia categorized as ten “simple and standard” tests in which blood samples are inserted into a machine that performs the analysis. Time magazine, the Boston Globe and Kaiser Health News also cover Hsia’s research.

Dentists could offer a variety of medical tests in the future, including diagnostic tests for health problems such as diabetes, hypertension and HIV, Harold Pollack, PhD, tells Ozy.com. The mouth, Pollack says, “is the gateway to the human body.” He is an RWJF Investigator Award in Health Policy Research recipient.  

“There’s an overabundance of evidence that shows hospitals that have better staffing have better outcomes when we look at things like mortality,” Matthew McHugh, PhD, JD, MPH, FAAN, tells the Santa Fe New Mexican. In an article about nurse staffing ratios, McHugh, an RWJF Nurse Faculty Scholars program alumnus, says hospital readmissions, failure to rescue patients in distress, and patient satisfaction also correlate with increased staffing. “If you compare any two hospitals—one that’s good at staffing and one that has not as good staffing, but are similar in other factors—the hospital with better staffing is much less likely to be penalized” for bad patient outcomes by Medicare and Medicaid, McHugh notes. 

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Aug 20 2014
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The Importance of Emphasizing Healthy Habits for All Children

Carolyn Montoya, PhD, PNP, is associate professor and interim practice chair at the University of New Mexico College of Nursing and a recent graduate of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Nursing and Health Policy Collaborative at the University of New Mexico College of Nursing.

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Human Capital Blog: Congratulations on your award from the Western Institute of Nursing! The award honors new nurse researchers. What does it mean for you and for your career?

Carolyn Montoya: In addition to being quite an honor, receiving the Carol Lindeman Award for new researchers from the Western Institute of Nursing motivates me to continue to pursue my research. I am sure people can relate to the fact that being in the student mode is so very intense that once you finish you need some recovery time. Then you start wanting to use the research skills you worked so hard to obtain, and this award has helped to re-energize my commitment to research.

HCB: The award recognizes your study on children’s self-perception of weight. Please tell us what you found.

Montoya: I was very interested to see if there was a difference between how Hispanic children viewed their self-perception in regard to weight compared with white children. Seventy percent of my study population was Hispanic, and my overall response rate was 42 percent. I found that Hispanic children, ages 8 to 11, are not better or worse than white children in their ability to accurately perceive their weight status. Most surprising, and a bit concerning, was the fact that one-third of the sample expressed a desire to be underweight.

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Aug 20 2014
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Aug 19 2014
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Nurse Practitioners Make a Difference with Mobile Clinic

Nurse practitioners enjoyed prime time TV coverage when Sunday’s 60 Minutes program ran a segment about the Health Wagon, a mobile clinic serving six counties in an impoverished Appalachian coal-mining region in southwestern Virginia.

The segment, originally broadcast in April, highlighted the work of Teresa Gardner and Paula Hill-Meade, both doctors of nursing practice, who currently see approximately 20 patients a day in a converted RV, while also keeping up with up fundraising responsibilities related to the federal grants and corporate and private donations that keep the organization going.

Their patients “are people that are in desperate need,” Meade told 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley. “They have no insurance and they usually wait, we say, until they are train wrecks. Their blood pressures come in at emergency levels. We have blood sugars come in at 500, 600, because they can’t afford their insulin. ...They have nowhere else to go.”

However, Gardner said, as demanding as the work is, “we get more out of it than we ever give.”

Watch the 60 Minutes segment on CBS News online.

Aug 19 2014
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The Outlook for Less Educated Health Care Workers

Health care workers who have not attained bachelor’s degrees will have an opportunity for expanded roles and upward mobility in the changing health care landscape, which emphasizes increased efficiency and lower costs, according to a new Brookings Institution report. Less educated workers can take on more responsibility for screening, patient education, health coaching and care navigation, the report says, freeing up physicians and other advanced practitioners to focus on more complex medical issues.

The report examines health care occupations with high concentrations of pre-baccalaureate workers in the nation’s top 100 metropolitan areas. Those workers in the 10 largest occupations—including nursing aides, associate-degree registered nurses, personal care aides, licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses, medical assistants, and paramedics—number 3.8 million, accounting for nearly half of the total health care workforce in those metro areas. (The report notes that, “in the near future, the registered nurse may not be considered a ‘pre-baccalaureate’ occupation, given the Institute of Medicine’s recommendation that 80 percent of RNs have bachelor’s degrees by 2020.)

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Aug 18 2014
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Combating Suicide in the Population Most At Risk: Older, White Men

Briana Mezuk, PhD, is an assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center and an alumna of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Health & Society Scholars program (2007-2009). She recently earned the Best Early Investigator Award for the top research study from the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry. 

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Human Capital Blog: Congratulations on your award! What led to your interest in suicide risk in long-term care facilities?

Briana Mezuk: Older adults, particularly non-Hispanic white men, have the highest risk of suicide. This risk increases exponentially after age 75, and recent data suggest that men in the Baby Boomer generation have a higher suicide risk than previous cohorts. There are many risk factors for this group, including social isolation, feelings of disconnection to society, and lack of social supports and close confidantes. Older men are often unwilling to talk about mental health problems with their physicians; they think they are supposed to ‘grin and bear it.’

HCB: What was the goal of your study?

Mezuk: We were trying to understand the epidemiology of suicide in long-term care facilities, and in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities in particular. Suicide risk in these settings may be higher, or lower, than in the general community. For example, suicide risk may be lower in supervised settings because residents would have less access to a means to self-harm. But suicide risk might be higher because residents often have health problems and, frequently, depressive symptoms that are risk factors for suicide. We used data from the Virginia Violent Death Reporting System to identify suicides that occurred among residents of, and among individuals anticipating moving into, these types of facilities.

HCB: What did you find?

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Aug 15 2014
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Mentoring to Build a Culture of Health

Adefemi Betiku was a junior at Rutgers University when he noticed that he wasn’t like the other students.

During a physics class, he raised his hand to answer a question. “Something told me to look around the lab,” he remembers. “When I did, I realized that I was the only black male in the room.”

In fact, he was one of the few black men in his entire junior class of 300.

“There’s a huge problem with black males getting into higher education,” says Betiku, currently a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) student at New York University (NYU). “That has a lot to do not just with being marginalized but with how black men perceive themselves and their role in society.”

U.S. Department of Education statistics show that black men represent 7.9 percent of 18-to-24-year-olds in America but only 2.8 percent of undergraduates at public flagship universities. According to the Pew Research Center, 69 percent of black female high school graduates in 2012 enrolled in college by October of that year. For black male high school graduates, the college participation rate was 57 percent—a gap of 12 percent.

Betiku’s interest in the issues black men face, especially in education, deepened at Project L/EARN, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation-funded initiative with the goal of increasing the number of students from underrepresented groups in the fields of health, mental health and health policy research.

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Aug 14 2014
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RWJF Scholars in the News: Ebola fears, ER closures and mortality, and more.

Around the country, print, broadcast, and online media outlets are covering the groundbreaking work of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) leaders, scholars, fellows, alumni, and grantees. Some recent examples:

Bringing two American medical volunteers infected with the Ebola virus back to the United States for treatment triggered some criticism, particularly on social media. But Susan Mitchell Grant, MS, RN, CNAA-BC, who is treating the two patients at Emory Healthcare in Atlanta, writes that the criticism is “unfounded and reflect[s] a lack of knowledge about Ebola and our ability to safely manage and contain it.... We are caring for these patients because it is the right thing to do,” she says in a Washington Post op-ed. “Ebola won’t become a threat to the general public from their presence in our facility.” Grant, an RWJF Executive Nurse Fellows alumna, goes on to explain that “the insight we gain by caring for them will prepare us to better treat emergent diseases that may confront the United States in the future.”

Some hospice providers may not be serving patients in the way the end-of-life care should, according to research covered by the Washington Post. Joan Teno, MD, MS, recipient of an RWJF Investigator Award in Health Policy Research, is lead author of a study that analyzed more than 1 million records of Medicare patients across the country. Her research team found that some hospices, particularly those that are new and for-profit, have discharge rates of 30 percent or higher. That is double the standard discharge rate. Historically, some patients are discharged from hospice because their health unexpectedly improves. But Teno and colleagues say the higher discharge rates suggest two types of improper hospice practices: admitting patients who are not dying; and releasing patients when their care becomes expensive. She suggests that both practices may be driven more by “profit margins than compassionate care.”   

Chronic stress during adolescence can lead to adverse health outcomes later in life, says Keely Muscatell, PhD, an RWJF Health & Society Scholar, in an interview with NPR member station KALW (San Francisco). Based on her study, “How Stress Makes Us Sick,” Muscatell suggests that ongoing psychological stress during childhood triggers physiological inflammation throughout the body and could be a primary link to such conditions as major depression, cardiovascular disease, and rheumatoid arthritis. Muscatell explains that chronic stress can even change patterns of gene expression that lead to poor health later in life.

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Aug 13 2014
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Debt Takes Toll on Health, Study Finds

Elizabeth Sweet, PhD, is a biocultural anthropologist researching economic and racial disparities in health and an alumna of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Health & Society Scholars program (2008-2010). She was the lead author of a recent study exploring the impact of financial debt on health. 

Elizabeth Sweet

Human Capital Blog: You have published more than one study that looks at the impact of debt on health. What led to your interest in this topic?

Elizabeth Sweet: My interest is driven by both intellectual and personal reasons. As someone who studies the impact of social inequalities on health, I am interested in personal debt as a dimension of socioeconomic status, a site of racial and economic disparity, and a reflection of broader social, cultural, and political-economic forces. Also, as someone who completed education with a fair amount of debt, I am personally familiar with the profound stress that debt can cause.

HCB: College tuition is rising and more people are defaulting on student loan debt. How does student loan debt affect young people’s mental and physical health?

Sweet: This is such an important question. Our study suggests that financial debt indeed impacts the health and well-being of young people—leading to higher stress and depressive symptoms, worse general health, and higher blood pressure. The specific impact of student loan debt, vs. other kinds of debt, is an open question though; the Add Health data that we used did not have that level of detail regarding the types of debt that respondents had. 

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Aug 12 2014
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With IOM Report and More, Medical Education Is a Hot Topic

A new report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) criticizes an absence of transparency and accountability in the nation’s graduate medical education (GME) financing system, which was created in conjunction with the Medicare and Medicaid programs nearly five decades ago. The 21-member IOM committee behind the report says there is “an unquestionable imperative to assess and optimize the effectiveness of the public’s investment in GME,” and it recommends “significant changes to GME financing and governance to address current deficiencies and better shape the physician workforce for the future.”

Because the majority of public financing for GME comes from Medicare and is rooted in statutes and regulations from 1965 that don’t reflect the state of health care today, the committee’s recommendations include a modernization of payment methods to “reward performance, ensure accountability, and incentivize innovation in the content and financing of GME,” with a gradual phase-out of the current Medicare GME payment system.

Read the report, Graduate Medical Education That Meets the Nation’s Health Needs.

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