Category Archives: Recommended Reading
A national survey conducted in late October by the Harris Poll found that 49 percent of Americans see Ebola as a "moderate" or "major" public health threat to Americans. That’s down from 55 percent in a Harris poll conducted just a few weeks earlier. Experts at the World Health Organization worry that no new cases in the United States will negatively impact the country’s support for the funds and volunteers needed to help stem the outbreak still raging in several West African countries.
Today, the New York Times published the stories of two young boys in Liberia—one who survived the virus, and one who did not. Physicians still do not have accurate methods for predicting who will survive—and what treatment it takes to get them there—so for now the course of the disease, despite best available efforts, simply seems random.
Read the New York Times story.
The Washington Post reported this weekend on a website similar to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ official HealthCare.gov . The other site—HealthCare.com—lets people shop online for health insurance using a licensed broker or agent. However, according to the Post there is a potential for “massive confusion among consumers trying to find the government’s official site.”
Consumer health advocates worry that users who believe they’re actually signing up for coverage through the government site could miss out on subsidies. For example, the alternate site does not explain that catastrophic plans—low-cost plans that pay little for routine care—are not eligible for subsidies. A disclaimer that HealthCare.com is not the official Affordable Care Act website appears only in tiny print at the bottom of the home page.
Consumers are already plenty concerned about this year’s health insurance sign up period, which begins November 15. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that nine out of ten people asked did not know they had to reenroll each year in order to get health insurance coverage. And this year’s open enrolment period is shorter than last year, ending on February 15.
Read the full story from the Washington Post.
Bruce Katz, vice president and director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, recently spoke at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University about his thesis that in the absence of federal leadership, cities are taking the lead on public health innovation in many ways including passing new laws that address public health concerns and partnering with university research centers.
Mailman recently published an interview with Katz about belief that cities are driving public health changes and improvements. One topic Katz addressed was cities working together to improve population health:
Cities watch each other closely. When one innovates, others replicate the innovation or adapt and tailor it to their own circumstances. We used to think if you were going to have dramatic change in a country on any number of issues, you needed the scale of the national government. Today it's more likely that a city will innovate in such a way that other cities can say, “We can do that, and maybe we can do it better.”
For example, when Portland, Oregon, finds a way to promote itself as the place that builds green cities and exports sustainable products and services to growing cities in Latin America or Asia, other cities begin to think, "Wait a second, we have our own clusters of clean energy or clean economy. Perhaps we can do the same branding and marketing and export promotion.”
The success of individual cities, or what Michael Bloomberg has done with C40 [a city-centric climate leadership group] rests on this notion that cities can learn from each other, share with each other, and then replicate the best innovations to have impact in their locales. That's a very different, 21st century model of how society goes about solving its major problems.
Read the full interview.
The New York Times recently reported on the deaths of two pedestrians killed by bicyclists in the city’s storied Central Park. New York City has recently ramped up efforts to reduce pedestrian deaths—with a focus on car crashes—but anecdotal and police reports in the city find that the growing number of walkers, skaters, cyclists, pedibikers and other people heeding advice to get out and move is resulting in more injuries and deaths. Other cities have also reported increases in accidents linked to increases in physical activity. NewPublicHealth recently reported on efforts launched this year by the U.S. Department of Transportation to prevent and reduce pedestrian injuries.
Several conferences this year—including the annual meetings of the American Public Health Association, the Transportation Research Board and New Partners for Smart Growth—will have sessions looking at pedestrian safety in the wake of communities creating new opportunities for residents to get exercise outdoors. And Sunday Streets, a growing program across the country, shuts down main city streets to give walkers free reign, often with a booth set up by departments of public health or safety on staying safe when sharing the roads.
Read the full story from the New York Times.
Recommended Reading: Some Drugs—Especially Oncology Medicines—Have Been in Short Supply for Too Many Years
Health Affairs and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation recently released an issue brief on the continuing shortages of certain drugs, most frequently injectable drugs for cancer treatment. According to the issue brief, there have been fewer reports of newly unavailable drugs in the last few years, but problems remain, forcing many patients to skip some treatments or sometimes opt for a less-effective drug. U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) updates on drug shortages in just the first two weeks of September found sixteen injectable drugs in short supply, two of them new to the list.
Recent Government Accountability Office reports have found several reasons for the shortages, including:
- Difficulty acquiring raw materials
- Manufacturing problems
- A loss of drug products when factories are updated and modernized
- Low reimbursement by Medicare and other government payment programs
- FDA regulations that may slow down new drug approvals
The authors of the issue brief say that it is unlikely that Congress will act, and that the industry has and will make changes likely to help bolster some supplies. Also, thorough reviews such as the current issue brief help remind policymakers that some drug shortages remain.
Read the full issue brief.
In the last few days, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the medical aid group Doctors Without Borders have sounded alarms on the growing needs of several countries in West Africa fighting the Ebola outbreak. The groups have called for increased funding, equipment and expert health personnel to help stem the rapidly increasing numbers of infections.
As of last week, there have been more than 3,000 cases and more than 1,500 deaths, making it by far the largest outbreak since Ebola was discovered during the 1970s, according to the WHO. CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, who last week visited the main West African countries dealing with the Ebola outbreak, said the number of cases could spike to 20,000 if more isn’t done to stem spread of the disease in those countries.
In addition, a recent post on ForeignPolicy.com said that the epidemic must be controlled before it also poses a security threat. Liberia, which has seen the highest number of Ebola cases and deaths in the region so far, has been under the watch of an international United Nations (U.N.) peacekeeping force since a civil war ended in 2003. While the U.N. had planned to begin drawing down the force next year, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he’d like to delay any drawdown for at least three months because of the virus outbreak, which has needed troops to help secure order.
However, several countries want to pull out troops now in order to reduce the risk to their personnel and to citizens at home who they worry could be infected by returning soldiers. Ban has said that the nature of the illness poses little risk to the troops, who are unlikely to have contact with the bodily fluids of people who are ill—which is the way the virus spreads—and some of the countries involved are considering sending their own experts to assess the risks.
Earlier this year, Spokane County, Wash.,was chosen by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) as a Culture of Health Prize winner for its efforts to improve community health by increasing graduation rates. As part of a new ongoing series, Health Affairs blog has featured a piece by local Spokane leader Ben Smith on the community’s health successes.
Just eight years ago, the high school graduation rate for Spokane Public Schools was below 60 percent and 18 percent of the county’s students lived in poverty. In addition, the students who did attend college or technical school often failed to earn their degree, leaving them unprepared to fill available positions in the county’s more technical fields.
To address these issues, Priority Spokane emerged from a collaboration of local businesses, educators, health organizations and community nonprofits—all committed to improving the future of Spokane County residents by improving education. A report linking lack of education to poorer health helped spur a dramatic change. Over the next several years, the county emphasized increased collaboration and a clear vision to improve the high school graduation rate to 79.5 percent overall.
Spokane County’s efforts include:
- Training teachers and childcare workers to mentor children who experience traumatic home events.
- Developing an early warning system for at-risk students.
- Establishing community attendance support teams that reengage truant students in school.
- Starting Spokane Valley Tech, a high school designed to help students build careers in science, technology, engineering and math.
To learn more about Spokane’s prize-winning efforts to improve health, read the Health Affairs blog post.
>>Bonus Content: Watch a NewPublicHealth video on Spokane's efforts to build a Culture of Health.
Better communication means better patient engagement, and better patient engagement means better health outcomes. Understanding this, Sense Health has developed an app to promote interactive, text-message-based communications between health care professionals and high-needs patients. Stan Berkow, CEO of the New York City-based company, said in a recent interview with AlleyWatch that the focus thus far has been on Medicaid patients with chronic conditions because they represent “an underserved population with a huge unmet need both considering the human element as well as the cost-burden.”
The app allows providers to create message-based conversations tailored to the particular needs of their patients. In a two-month randomized control trial with Montefiore Medical Center, which included 67 high-needs patients and 15 care managers, providers saw a 40 percent increase in self-reported patient adherence to appointments, a 12 percent increase in adherence to medications and a 7 percent increase in adherence to care plan goals.
“Our business is built on our belief that it is not only possible, but essential to personalize healthcare through the use of technology,” said Berkow. “The prevention and management of chronic health conditions requires behavior change, something that technology alone cannot provide. Sense Health is amongst those who realize that technology in health works best when there is a human touch behind the system and patients feel supported by their providers.”
The company recently joined the New York Digital Health Accelerator, which offers up to $100,000 in funding to companies engaged in developing digital health solutions. The accelerator is run by the Partnership Fund for New York City and the New York eHealth Collaborative.
Read the full interview at AlleyWatch.
Since March, several African countries have reported more than 1,000 cases of Ebola virus and more than 670 deaths. During a United Nations Foundation briefing in Washington, D.C., earlier this month, public health experts from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization raised concerns about airline passengers from these countries spreading Ebola well beyond Africa. This week that fear became a reality when a U.S. citizen, Paul Sawyer, who had been in Liberia very recently as a consultant to the country’s finance ministry, fell ill on a flight from Liberia to Nigeria. Sawyer was hospitalized in Lagos, Nigeria, and died there of Ebola.
Several West African nations have responded by planning to set up monitoring stations at airports to identify people with fevers before they board planes. On a CDC conference call this week with reporters, Martin Cetron, MD, the CDC's director for Global Migration and Quarantine, said it makes more sense to put checkpoints in West African countries than to scan incoming passengers in the United States because there are few direct flights from West Africa, and fevers found among passengers entering the United States are unlikely to be Ebola.
“Ebola is contagious only when symptomatic, so someone unknowingly harboring the virus would not pass it on, “ said Stephan Monroe, deputy director of the CDC’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, during the conference call, also adding that even passengers showing symptoms are unlikely to pass the disease on to fellow travelers because blood and stool carry the most viruses. Cetron also said that those at highest risk for Ebola infection are family members who care for sick loved ones and health care workers who treat patients or accidentally stick themselves with infected needles.
"We do not anticipate [Ebola] will spread in the U.S. if an infected person is hospitalized here," CDC Director Tom Frieden told reporters. "We are taking action now by alerting health care workers in the U.S. and reminding them how to isolate and test suspected patients while following strict infection-control procedures."
The National Geographic recently took an in-depth look at the Ebola virus in Africa and the risk of it spreading to the United States. Read the full article.
Recommended Reading: Life Expectancy Gains Threatened When Older Americans Have Multiple Medical Conditions
A new study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health finds that nearly four in five older Americans are living with multiple chronic medical conditions. That’s very concerning, say the researchers, because their work shows that the more ailments a person has after retirement age, the shorter their life expectancy. The researchers say the new study is one of the first to look at the burden of multiple chronic conditions on life expectancy among the elderly and may help explain why increases in life expectancy among older Americans are slowing.
“Living with multiple chronic diseases such as diabetes, kidney disease and heart failure is now the norm and not the exception in the United States,” said Eva H. DuGoff, PhD, a researcher at the school of public health and the lead author of the new study. “The medical advances that have allowed sick people to live longer may not be able to keep up with the growing burden of chronic disease. It is becoming very clear that preventing the development of additional chronic conditions in the elderly could be the only way to continue to improve life expectancy.”
The study found that a 75-year-old American woman with no chronic conditions will live to be an average of 92, but a 75-year-old woman with five chronic conditions will only live to an average age of 87 and a 75-year-old woman with 10 or more chronic conditions will only live to the age of 80. Women continue to live longer than men and white people live longer than black people, based on data from annual U.S. surveys.
On average, life expectancy is reduced by 1.8 years with each additional chronic condition, the researchers found. But while the first disease shaves off just a fraction of a year off life expectancy for older people, the impact grows as the diseases add up. The study is based on an analysis of the records of 1.4 million Medicare enrollees and was published in the journal Medical Care.
Other groups are also beginning to look at this issue. Healthy aging will be this year’s focus of the President’s Initiative of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officers. A year-long focus on healthy aging will begin during the association’s annual conference in September.
Read the full study.