Category Archives: Investigator Awards in Health Policy Research

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 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 7 2014
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RWJF Scholars in the News: The ACA and mental health treatment, HIV training for nurses, the rise of superbugs, 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:

An Affordable Care Act (ACA) provision that allows parents to keep adult children on their health insurance plans under they reach age 26 has resulted in millions more young people with mental-health and substance-abuse problems getting treatment, according to a study led by Brendan Saloner, PhD. Time reports that over two years, young adults ages 18 to 25 who had screened positive for mental health or substance abuse disorders increased their use of mental-health treatment by 5.3 percent compared to a similar group who were not eligible for their parents’ coverage. Vox and HealthDay were among the outlets to report on the study. Saloner is an RWJF Health & Society Scholar.

Infection Control Today quotes Jason Farley, PhD, MPH, CRNP, on the growing need to train nurses to provide HIV care. An RWJF Nurse Faculty Scholar, Farley developed new HIV curriculum for the John Hopkins School of Nursing, where he is an associate professor. “For many years these specialty training programs in HIV have been available for physicians,” he says. “This is the first time we’re offering them to non-physician providers. It’s quite an important development. When you look at data comparing patient outcomes with physician care and with nurse practitioner care in HIV, whether in the United States or in sub-Saharan Africa, those outcomes are the same.”

Magda Cerdá, PhD, MPH, an RWJF Health & Society Scholars program alumna, explores the stressors that lead to high numbers of returning National Guard soldiers abusing alcohol, reports Science Codex. Cerda is the lead investigator of the study, which examined 1,095 Ohio National Guard soldiers who served primarily in Iraq or Afghanistan in 2008 and 2009, and found that having just one civilian stressor such as job loss, or legal or financial problems, raised the odds of alcohol use disorders. Medical Daily and Medical Xpress also cover Cerda’s work.

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Jul 31 2014
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RWJF Scholars in the News: Cesarean sections, hospital readmissions, nurse practitioners, 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:

RWJF Clinical Scholar Chileshe Nkonde-Price, MD, shared her experiences with the medical system  during the last week of her recent pregnancy in a video featured on Nasdaq.com. Despite have given birth via Cesarean section earlier, Nkonde-Price wished to deliver vaginally with this pregnancy if she could do so safely. C-section has become the nation’s most common major surgery, the piece says. It examines some of the factors behind the sharp increase in the number of women delivering via C-section in the United States.

In a Health Affairs Blog, José Pagán, PhD, analyzes Medicare’s Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program (HRRP), which penalizes hospitals with excessive 30-day readmissions for conditions such as pneumonia and heart failure. While Pagán says that not all readmissions can be avoided, hospitals can improve their performance through effective discharge planning and care coordination. With more incentive programs on the horizon, Pagán suggests that health care organizations “seek and monitor collaborative partnerships and, more importantly, strategically invest in sustaining these partnerships” so they can survive and thrive. He is an RWJF Health & Society Scholars program alumnus and recipient of an RWJF Investigator Award in Health Policy Research.

A study led by RWJF Nurse Faculty Scholar Lusine Poghosyan, PhD, RN, looks at how Nurse Practitioners (NPs) rate their work environments. It finds that those working in Massachusetts fared better that those working in New York on every topic in the survey: support and resources, relations with physicians, relations with administration, visibility and comprehension of their role, and independence of practice. The survey also found that NPs working in community health clinics and physicians’ offices rated their work experiences better than NPs working in hospital-affiliated clinics. Poghosyan told Science Codex the findings suggest “the practice environment for NPs in New York can improve once the state’s NP Modernization Act,” which will expand NPs’ scope of practice, takes effect.

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Jul 17 2014
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RWJF Scholars in the News: Gun violence, suicide, ‘structural’ versus ‘cultural’ competency, 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:

An NPR story quotes RWJF Health & Society Scholars program alumnus Andrew Papachristos, PhD, citing his extensive research on gun violence. Papachristos criticizes the lack of context in media coverage of violence, noting that incidents such as the series of shootings over the Fourth of July weekend in Chicago tend to be treated simply as a long stretch of violent incidents. “Treating Chicagoland violence as merely a tally necessarily dehumanizes its victims, but it also obscures so much of the larger story about that violence. It's data without context.” Not only is the murder rate steadily declining in Chicago, but there is a massive disparity in victims of these crimes: “Eighty-five percent of violence—any shootings—happens among 5 percent of people,” Papachristos says.

In an article about libertarianism and state laws related to guns and other topics, the Economist cites a study about the social costs of gun ownership by RWJF Investigator Award in Health Policy Research recipients Philip Cook, PhD, and Jens Ludwig, PhD. It finds that “more guns empirically lead to more gun-related violence, largely because legally purchased guns somehow end up in the hands of criminals via theft,” gun shows, and online sales, which are largely unregulated. To address these issues, Cook and Ludwig suggest making it costlier to buy guns in high-crime areas, and improving the records used to screen gun buyers by including more information on possible mental-health problems, among other proposals. (Free registration required to view article.)

A study co-authored by RWJF Health & Society Scholars program alumnus Alexander Tsai, PhD, MD, finds that men who are more socially connected are half as likely to commit suicide as men considered loners, NBC News reports. The study looks at data on nearly 35,000 men, ages 40 to 75, and finds that those who are more isolated are at greater risk, even if they are not mentally ill. “Public health practitioners think about things like cardiovascular disease as warranting public health attention,” says Tsai, suggesting that suicide may also need attention.

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Jul 10 2014
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RWJF Scholars in the News: Healthcare.gov, depression and mortality, stress among nurses, 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:

Young adult users of Healthcare.gov, the health insurance marketplace established under the Affordable Care Act, recommend that the site offer better explanations of terminology, more clarity about the benefits various plans offer, and checkboxes and other features that make it easier to compare plans. Those are among the findings of a study conducted by RWJF Clinical Scholar Charlene Wong, MD, along with alumni David Asch, MD, MBA, and Raina Merchant, MD, that looked at the experiences of young adults who used the website. The scholars write about their findings in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Wong told the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics blog that these users “may not know what insurance terms mean but they have a lot of expertise and insights about maximizing the usability of the digital platforms that have always been such an integral part of their lives.”

Major depression (also known as “clinical depression”) is associated with an elevated risk of death from cardiovascular disease, according to research covered by Kansas City InfoZine. The study, co-authored by Patrick Krueger, PhD, an RWJF Health & Society Scholars program alumnus, also found that the relationship between depression and early non-suicide mortality is independent of such factors as smoking, exercise, body mass, education, income, and employment status. The authors say the findings indicate that the relationship between depression and mortality is not due solely to the interplay between depression and health-compromising risk factors.

Expanding scope of practice for advanced practice nurses and implementing better management practices could alleviate some stress factors for nurses and improve patient care, Matthew McHugh, PhD, JD, MPH, FAAN, tells Healthline News. For example, in some medical facilities, nurses are empowered to decide if a patient’s urinary catheter should be removed without consulting a doctor, thus preventing delays in care. “Lots of things that don’t require policy change” can have an important impact on patient outcomes and nurses’ job satisfaction, said McHugh, an RWJF Nurse Faculty Scholars alumnus.

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Jun 26 2014
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RWJF Scholars in the News: Unemployment and suicide, prescription painkiller abuse, veterans’ care, 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:

More generous unemployment benefits can lead to lower suicide rates, according to a study co-authored by RWJF Health & Society Scholars program alumna Maria Glymour, MS, ScD. The Huffington Post covers the study, describing it as the first of its kind to reach that conclusion. Glymour and colleagues speculate that higher benefits help mediate some of the stressors that contribute to suicide.

A survey of licensed nurses in Wyoming examines factors involved in their decisions about whether to continue their education. In a Wyoming Business Report story, Mary Burman, PhD, RN, an alumna of the RWJF Executive Nurse Fellows program, notes that the Institute of Medicine’s Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health report recommends that 80 percent of nurses have baccalaureate degrees or higher by 2020. She says findings from the new survey point to strategies that might help achieve that goal, noting “the positive role that employers can play by encouraging and supporting nurses to return to school for their baccalaureate degree.” Burman is dean of the University of Wyoming’s Fay W. Whitney School of Nursing, which collaborated on the survey.

Nicholas King, PhD, MA, an RWJF Health & Society Scholars program alumnus, investigates the sharp increase in deaths from prescription painkillers in the United States and Canada over the past 20 years, reports Medical Xpress. King and colleagues analyzed research about the “epidemic,” concluding that Internet sales and errors by doctors and patients have not played a significant role in the increase. Rather, they “found evidence for at least 17 different determinants of increasing opioid-related mortality, mainly, dramatically increased prescription and sales of opioids; increased use of strong, long-acting opioids like OxyContin and methadone; combined use of opioids and other (licit and illicit) drugs and alcohol; and social and demographic factors.” Outlets covering King’s work include the Toronto Sun, Fast Company, and the National Pain Report

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Jun 23 2014
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RWJF Milestones, June 2014

The following are among the many honors received recently by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) leaders, scholars, fellows, grantees and alumni:

Emery Brown, MD, PhD, an alumnus of the Harold Amos Medical Faculty Development Program has been elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

RWJF Investigator Award in Health Policy Research recipient James Perrin, PhD, is the new president of the American Academy of Pediatrics. He took office on January 1, 2014, beginning a one-year term.

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) has named Deborah E. Trautman, PhD, RN, as its new chief executive officer, effective June 16. Trautman, an RWJF Health Policy Fellows program alumna, currently serves as executive director of the Center for Health Policy and Healthcare Transformation at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

The American College of Physicians (ACP), the nation’s largest medical specialty organization, has voted Wayne Riley, MD, MPH, MBA, its president-elect. Riley is a former RWJF senior health policy associate.

Kenneth B. Chance, Sr., D.D.S. has been appointed dean of the Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine and will begin his duties on July 1, 2014. He is an alumnus of the RWJF Health Policy Fellows program, and served on its national advisory committee. His is a current member of the national advisory committee of the RWJF Summer Medical and Dental Education Program.

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Jun 19 2014
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RWJF Scholars in the News: Debt and health, tax exemption controversy, peer influence on adolescent smokers, 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:

In the context of the Obama administration’s efforts to ease student loan debt, TIME reports on a study by RWJF Health & Society Scholars program alumna Elizabeth Sweet, PhD, that explores the toll debt takes on the borrower’s physical health. Past studies have focused on mental health issues, TIME writes, but Sweet’s research links debt not just to mental health, but also to high blood pressure and general health problems. Sweet says the problem has long-term implications. “These health issues are a warning for more health problems down the road,” she says, “so we have to think about this as a long-term phenomenon.” Forbes also highlights her research.

A Medscape story about a study that shows a direct correlation between vaccinating health care personnel against influenza and reducing cases of flu in the community quotes Mary Lou Manning, PhD, RN, CPNP, an RWJF Executive Nurse Fellows alumna. “We now actually have evidence indicating that higher health care worker vaccination rates in hospitals are having a community effect; they’re actually resulting in lower rates of influenza in the community. That’s remarkably exciting,” says Manning, who is president-elect of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology. The article is available here (free login required).

Modern Healthcare reports on federal efforts to address concerns about tax exemption for certain nonprofit hospitals, citing research by Gary Young, JD, PhD, recipient of an RWJF Investigator Award in Health Policy Research. In order to obtain tax-exempt status, the Affordable Care Act requires nonprofit hospitals to track and report the charity care and community benefits they provide. Young found wide variation in the contributions of nonprofit hospitals. “The current standards and approach to tax exemption for hospitals is raising concerns about a lack of accountability for hospitals,” he says, and creating problems because “hospitals don’t really know what’s expected of them.” The Internal Revenue Service has proposed a rule to address the issue. (Free registration is required to view the article.)

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Jun 16 2014
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Should There Be Public Access to Data from Clinical Trials?

Michelle Mello, JD, PhD, is a professor of law and public health at the Harvard School of Public Health, and a fellow with the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University. She is a recipient of a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Investigator Award in Health Policy Research.

Michelle Mello

For years, pharmaceutical companies have been lambasted in the media and government prosecutions for concealing information about the safety and efficacy of their products. In one particularly splashy example, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) agreed to pay $3 billion in 2012 to settle criminal charges that it failed to report safety data concerning its antidepressant drug, Paxil, and its diabetes drug, Avandia, and engaged in unlawful marketing of these products and one other drug. One mechanism proposed for avoiding such problems is to establish a system through which participant-level data from clinical trials, stripped of identifying information about patients, would be available to the public.

A potential benefit of sharing clinical trial data would be that independent scientists could re-analyze data to verify the accuracy of reports prepared by trial sponsors, which might deter sponsors from mischaracterizing or suppressing findings. Data sharing would also allow analysts both within and outside drug companies to pool data from multiple studies, creating a powerful database for exploring new questions that can’t be addressed within any given trial because the sample is too small to support such analyses. 

The potential value of shared data in improving our understanding of the safety and efficacy of drugs, medical devices, and biologics has sparked considerable discussion about how to make data sharing happen. Earlier this year, the European Medicines Agency—the counterpart to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the European Union—decided to start making data from trials of approved products available in 2014. This begs the question, should the FDA follow suit?

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