Category Archives: Disease Prevention and Health Promotion

Oct 14 2014
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Crusader Against Cancer

For the 25th anniversary of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (SMDEP), the Human Capital Blog is publishing scholar profiles, some reprinted from the program’s website. SMDEP is a six-week academic enrichment program that has created a pathway for more than 22,000 participants, opening the doors to life-changing opportunities. Following is a profile of Jacqueline Barrientos, MD, a member of the 1994 class.

Jacqueline Barrientos Jacqueline Barrientos, MD

As far back as Ancient Egypt, cancer has frustrated medical practice. Papyri written around 1600 BC describe various cases, with one concluding that “there is no treatment.”

But there’s hope for patients diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)—a cancer that attacks the blood and bone marrow—thanks to Jacqueline Barrientos, MD, who isn’t intimidated by the history surrounding the disease.

She’s busy helping to rewrite it.

Barrientos is part of a team researching new CLL therapies at the North Shore-LIJ Cancer Institute’s CLL Research and Treatment Center on Long Island. In clinical trials, the pioneering drug treatments produced unprecedented results—considerably better than those achieved with chemotherapy, and minus the brutal side effects.

“We’ve never seen response rates like this before,” says Barrientos. “It’s astonishing.” When the FDA approved the use of the new treatments earlier this year, she and her team were elated. “We’re giving life to patients who once had no hope of surviving because the cancer was so aggressive.”

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Sep 24 2014
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Helping ‘Care Partners’ Help Patients with Diabetes

Ann-Marie Rosland, MD, MS, is a research scientist at the VA Ann Arbor Center for Clinical Management Research, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan Medical School, and an alumna of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Clinical Scholars program (2006-2009). She recently received a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Merit Award to test a family engagement intervention for patients with diabetes.

Ann Marie Rosland

Human Capital Blog: Congratulations on your Veterans Health Administration (VA) Merit Award! The award recognizes your research into a family engagement intervention in the context of the VA’s patient-centered medical home program. How did your study work, and what did you find?

Ann-Marie Rosland: This study is unique in that we work with family member/patient pairs in managing diabetes. We call these family members “care partners.” This study asks the question:  “How we can best recognize and support the vital roles that patients’ family members often take in the care of chronic illnesses, so these care partners can have the largest positive impact on patients’ health and medical care?”

Our prior work has shown that the majority of people with diabetes, heart disease and other chronic conditions have a family member who is regularly involved with the care of these conditions. Some help to keep track of medications and refill them, some help to track and manage symptoms or sugar readings, many come to medical appointments and help patients communicate with their medical teams, and some help patients navigate the health care system. In general, patients who have support from family members tend to be more successful at managing chronic illness, particularly with eating healthier and exercising more. Yet patients and family tell us that care partners face barriers in helping with the medical side of care; for example, they can’t easily find out what medications or tests the patient’s medical team is recommending, or what health system programs are available to the patient.

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Sep 12 2014
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Changing the Culture of Health to Prevent Suicide

Alexander Tsai, MD, PhD, is an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, a staff psychiatrist in the Massachusetts General Chester M. Pierce, MD Division of Global Psychiatry, and an honorary lecturer at the Mbarara University of Science and Technology in Uganda. He is an alumnus of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Health & Society Scholars program (2010-2012), and a member of the core faculty in the Health & Society Scholars program at Harvard University.

Alexander Tsai

When Robin Williams ended his life last month, his suicide sparked a raft of online and print commentary about the dangers of depression and the need to inject more resources into our mental health care system. I strongly agree with these sentiments. After all, as a psychiatrist at the Massachusetts General Hospital, I regularly speak with patients who have been diagnosed with depression or who are actively thinking about ending their lives.

But what if suicide prevention isn’t just about better screening, diagnosis and treatment of depression? What if there were a better way to go about preventing suicides?

It is undeniable that people with mental illnesses such as depression and bipolar disorder are at greater risk for suicidal thinking or suicide attempts. But not everyone with depression commits suicide, and not everyone who has committed suicide suffered from depression. In fact, even though depression is a strong predictor of suicidal thinking, it does not necessarily predict suicide attempts among those who have been thinking about suicide. Instead, among people who are actively thinking about suicide, the mental illnesses that most strongly predict suicide attempts are those characterized by anxiety, agitation and poor impulse control.

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Aug 29 2014
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Pediatricians Need to Take Community-Based Approach to Addressing Chronic Conditions in Children

James Perrin, MD, FAAP, began a one-year term as president of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in January. A professor in the department of pediatrics at MassGeneral Hospital for Children and Harvard Medical School, Perrin received a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Investigator Award in Health Policy Research in 1997.

James Perrin

Human Capital Blog: Congratulations on your new role as president of the American Academy of Pediatrics! What is your vision for the organization?

James Perrin: We are focused on addressing three main areas, which have really driven a lot of our thinking and, more importantly, our activity and change in the last several years.

First, we are working to help pediatric practices take on more community-based interventions to help young families raise their kids more effectively. There is a tremendous growth in the number of chronic diseases among children in four major areas: asthma, obesity, mental health, and neurodevelopmental disorders. We recognize these are not classic health conditions; they arise from and within communities, and both their prevention and their treatment are really community-based endeavors, as opposed to office-based activities.

Our second, and highly related priority, is an increased focus on early childhood development. We have understood the tremendous importance of early childhood for years, but there is now so much more science behind it. We know a lot more about how negative experiences and toxic stress can affect child development and how it can affect brain growth and neuroendocrine function. On the positive side, we also have more knowledge about the importance of reading to children, increasing language in the home, and other early-childhood interventions.

Thirdly, we have a better understanding of the tremendous impact of poverty on child health. Almost a quarter of American children live in households below the federal poverty line, and almost 45 percent live in households with incomes less than twice the federal poverty line. So a large number of American children are poor or near poor, and we know that poverty affects essentially everything related to child health. It makes those four categories of chronic conditions—asthma, obesity, mental health, and neurodevelopmental disorders—more prevalent and more serious, and it affects children’s responses to treatment. Lower-income kids with leukemia or cystic fibrosis, for example, have higher death rates than kids with the same diseases who are middle class. It’s impossible not to see on a daily basis how poverty affects child health.

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Aug 26 2014
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An Expanded Role for Nurses in Chronic-Condition Care

As health reform increases access to care for people with chronic conditions at a time when the supply of primary care physicians is decreasing, one viable alternative is nurse-managed protocols for outpatient treatment of adults with diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, according to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The research team reviewed 18 studies on the effectiveness of registered nurses (RNs) in leading the management of those three chronic conditions. In all 18 studies, nurses could adjust medication dosage; and in 11 studies, they could independently start patients on new medications. The review showed that patients with nurse-managed care had improved A1C levels, lower blood pressure and steeper reductions in LDL cholesterol.

“The implementation of a patient-centered medical home model will play a critical role in reconfiguring team-based care and will expand the responsibilities of team members,” the researchers wrote. “As the largest health care workforce group, nurses are in an ideal position to collaborate with other team members in the delivery of more accessible and effective chronic disease care.”

Read the study, Effects of Nurse-Managed Protocols in the Outpatient Management of Adults With Chronic Conditions.

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 11 2014
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Physician Characteristics Can Affect Prostate Cancer Treatment

Management of low-risk prostate cancer varies widely among urologists and radiation oncologists, with characteristics of the physicians who provide treatment playing a significant role in decisions about care, according to a study published online by JAMA Internal Medicine.

Researchers found that urologists who did not graduate from medical school recently, and who care for patients with higher-risk prostate cancer, are more likely to pursue up-front treatment for patients with low-risk prostate cancer than other urologists, who choose to observe and monitor the disease. In many cases, low-risk prostate cancer does not cause symptoms or affect survival if left untreated.

The prevailing approach in the United States, the study says, for men with low-risk prostate cancer is treatment with prostatectomy or radiotherapy, which can cause complications such as urinary dysfunction, rectal bleeding, and impotence. 

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Jul 24 2014
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Sharing Nursing’s Knowledge: The July 2014 Issue

Have you signed up to receive Sharing Nursing’s Knowledge? The monthly Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) e-newsletter will keep you up to date on the work of the Foundation’s nursing programs, and the latest news, research, and trends relating to academic progression, leadership, and other essential nursing issues. Following are some of the stories in the July issue.

Nurses Lead Innovations in Geriatrics and Gerontology
As the nation becomes older and more diverse, and more people are living with chronic health problems, nurses are developing innovations in geriatric care. They are finding new ways to improve the quality of care for older adults; increase access to highly skilled health care providers with training in geriatrics; narrow disparities that disproportionately affect older minorities; avoid preventable hospital readmissions; and more. Nurse-led innovations are underway across the nation to improve care for older Americans.

Improving Care for the Growing Number of Americans with Dementia
By 2050, 16 million Americans—more than triple the current number—will have Alzheimer’s disease. RWJF Nurse Faculty Scholars are working now to get ahead of the problem. “We’re all well aware of our aging population and how we’re going to see more individuals with Alzheimer’s disease or some other form of dementia,” says alumna Elizabeth Galik, PhD, CRNP, who is researching ways to improve functional and physical activity among older adults with dementia.

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Jul 15 2014
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The Impact of Seasonal Birth-Rate Fluctuations on Measles, Other Vaccine-Preventable Diseases

Audrey Dorélien, PhD, is a 2012-2014 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Health & Society Scholar studying demography, infectious diseases, and maternal and child health.

Audrey Dorélien

Reoccurring outbreaks of measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases are a major killer of children, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2012, more than 226,000 cases of measles were reported worldwide, with a little less than half of those in Africa.[1] For the World Health Organization to meet its global measles eradication goal and implement more effective supplemental vaccination programs, public health officials will need a better understanding of the mechanism driving seasonal and episodic outbreaks.

Infectious disease ecologists have demonstrated the importance of human demography, and in particular the influence of the birth rate on the dynamics of acute childhood immunizing (ACI) diseases. For instance in London, in the few years prior to 1950, the city experienced annual measles epidemics, but the dynamics changed to biennial epidemics as a result of a decline in the birth rate between 1950 and 1968.[2] How can the birth rate influence disease outbreaks? An outbreak can only occur when the fraction of the susceptible population exceeds a critical threshold. In the case of ACI disease, the majority of the susceptible population are young children; therefore the birth rate influences the rate at which the pool of susceptibles is replenished.

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Jul 11 2014
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How Stress Makes Us Sick

Keely Muscatell, PhD, is a social neuroscientist and psychoneuroimmunologist. She is a post-doctoral scholar in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Health & Society Scholars program at the University of California (UC), San Francisco and UC, Berkeley.

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Results from the recent NPR/RWJF/Harvard School of Public Health poll suggesting that Americans are living under high levels of stress probably don’t surprise anyone. In a way, I’ve been taking an informal version of this poll for the last six years, since when I tell people I meet on airplanes or at local bars that I study stress and health, I am unfailingly met with knowing glances and stories about stressors people are facing in their lives. Given that stress is pervasive (and problematic) in modern life, lots of current research in psychology and neuroscience is focused on understanding exactly how stress can get “into our brains” and “under our skin” to make us sick.

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When we think of illness, one of the first things that comes to mind is the immune system, with its lymph nodes, white blood cells, and antibodies hanging around to help us fight off infections and heal our injuries. An especially important component of the immune system involves inflammation. If you’ve ever gotten a paper cut, you’ve probably noticed that the area of skin around the cut tends to turn red and warm up shortly after the injury. This happens because proteins called “pro-inflammatory cytokines” swim through your blood stream to the site of the wound, where they call out to other immune cells to come to the area and help heal the cut. In the short term, this is a good thing; those little cytokines are a key part of healing. But if inflammation becomes widespread throughout the body, cytokines can lead to depression and even physical diseases, like arthritis and heart disease.

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