Category Archives: Access to Health Care
EBOLA UPDATE: NIH to Begin Human Trials of Experimental Vaccine
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
Following an expedited review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health will this week begin human testing of an experimental Ebola vaccine. This will be the first safety trial for this type of vaccine, which was developed by GlaxoSmithKline and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). The vaccine will first be given to three people to determine its safety, and then to 20 volunteers ages 18 to 50. “Today we know the best way to prevent the spread of Ebola infection is through public health measures, including good infection control practices, isolation, contact tracing, quarantine, and provision of personal protective equipment,” said NIAID Director Anthony Fauci, MD. “However, a vaccine will ultimately be an important tool in the prevention effort. The launch of Phase 1 Ebola vaccine studies is the first step in a long process.” Read more on Ebola.
Study: Low-Carb Diets May Be Better than Low-Fat Diets for Losing Weight, Reducing Heart Disease Risk
Low-carbohydrate diets may be more effective than low-fat diets for both losing weight and reducing the risk of heart disease, according to a new study in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Researchers assigned 148 patients either a low-carbohydrate or a low-fat diet, collected data at the start of the study, then again at three, six and 12 months. Of the people who completed the study—59 in the low-carbohydrate group and 60 in the low-fat group—researchers determined that the low-carbohydrate diet was the more effective of the two, concluding that “[r]estricting carbohydrate may be an option for persons seeking to lose weight and reduce cardiovascular risk factors.” Read more on obesity.
Study: Many People Have Difficulty Understanding their Electronic Health Records
While electronic lab results are increasingly used to keep patients up to date on their health, a new study out of the University of Michigan’s schools of Public Health and Medicine found that many people have difficulty understanding the information. The researchers pointed to people with low comprehension of numerical concepts and low literacy skills as the most likely to have difficulty understand their results, make them less likely to use the data to decide whether a physician follow-up might be needed. "If we can design ways of presenting test results that make them intuitively meaningful, even for people with low numeracy and/or literacy skills, such data can help patients take active roles in managing their health care," said Brian Zikmund-Fisher, associate professor of health behavior and health education at the university’s School of Public Health, in a release. "In fact, improving how we show people their health data may be a simple but powerful way to improve health outcomes." Read more on access to health care.
It’s no secret that kids perform better in school when they are healthy and feel motivated to learn. But not all kids have access to the quality health care that can help them get healthy, stay healthy or treat any chronic health conditions they have. That’s where school-based health centers come in.
School-based health centers are partnerships between schools and community health organizations. They help students get the preventive care they need—including flu shots, annual physicals, dental exams, vision exams and mental health counseling—right where they spend most of their daytime hours: On school grounds. There are currently more than 2,000 school-based health centers across the country. Besides removing barriers to health care that many families face, school-based health centers help reduce inappropriate visits to emergency departments by up to 57 percent, research has found. They also help lower Medicaid expenditures, decrease student absences from school and do a better job of getting students with mental health issues the services they need.
Moreover, with growing recognition that health disparities affect academic achievement, school-based health clinics help close the gap by providing crucial access to health care for students who might not otherwise get it. A study by researchers at the University of Washington, Seattle, found that high school students who used school-based health centers experienced greater academic improvements over the course of five semesters than students who didn’t use these centers; the effect was especially pronounced among those who took advantage of mental-health services. Another study found that high school students who were moderate users of school-based health centers had a 33 percent lower dropout rate in an urban setting that has a high dropout rate.
The exact services offered by these centers vary by community. At Santa Maria High School in Santa Maria, Calif., the health center’s offerings include crisis intervention sessions; a grief group for students dealing with loss; and ongoing opportunities for students to build important social skills and skills that will help them maintain a healthy lifestyle. In Oakland, Calif., the Native American Health Center offered at a middle school and a high school provides medical care, dental care, mental health services and a peer health education program in one setting. At the Maranacook Health Center in central Maine, kids can get support for chronic health problems (such as asthma, diabetes, or seizures), medications they need, counseling or other mental-health evaluations and services.
The ultimate goal behind these centers is for all children to enjoy and benefit from good health and school success.
“Children and adolescents are at the heart of the mission,” said John Schlitt, president of the School-Based Health Alliance, based in Washington, D.C. But the “scope of the health center’s influence extends beyond the clinic walls to the entire school, its inhabitants, climate, curriculum, and policies. The school is transformed as a hub for community health improvement.”
EBOLA UPDATE: CDC Issues Travel Warning for Three African Countries
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa)
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a Level 3 Travel Warning for Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, calling for Americans to avoid nonessential travel to the West African countries due to the growing Ebola outbreak. CDC officials are also on the ground:
- Tracking the epidemic including using real-time data to improve response
- Improving case finding
- Improving contact tracing
- Improving infection control
- Improving health communication
- Advising embassies
- Coordinating with the World Health Organization and other partners
- Strengthening Ministries of Health and helping them establish emergency management systems
“This is the biggest and most complex Ebola outbreak in history. Far too many lives have been lost already,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. “It will take many months, and it won’t be easy, but Ebola can be stopped. We know what needs to be done. CDC is surging our response, sending 50 additional disease control experts to the region in the next 30 days.” Read more on global health.
FDA Takes Steps to Improve Diagnostic Testing
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is taking new steps to ensure that patients have access to accurate, consistent and reliable diagnostic testing. The agency announced today that it was issuing a final guidance on the development, review and approval or clearance of companion diagnostics, which are used to determine whether patients should receive certain drugs. The FDA is also notifying Congress that it will publish a proposed risk-based oversight framework for laboratory developed tests. “Ensuring that doctors and patients have access to safe, accurate and reliable diagnostic tests to help guide treatment decisions is a priority for the FDA,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, MD, in a release. “Inaccurate test results could cause patients to seek unnecessary treatment or delay and sometimes forgo treatment altogether.” Read more on the FDA.
CDC: New Online Resource on Opportunities in U.S. Health System
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Office for State, Tribal, Local and Territorial Support (OSTLTS) has launched a new website, Health System Transformation and Improvement Resources for Health Departments, to provide information, resources and training opportunities related to ongoing efforts to improve efficiency and effectiveness in the U.S. health system. This includes the public health, health care, insurance and other sectors. Topics covered by the new site range from shared services, community benefit assessment and accountable care organizations to public health law, workforce, return on investment and financing. Read more on access to health care.
HHS: $83.4M to Improve Community Access to Primary Health Care
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is awarding $83.4 million to 60 Teaching Health Centers as part of the Affordable Care Act. The funds will go toward training more than 550 residents during the 2014-15 academic year, with the goal of strengthening primary care and improving access to health care in U.S. communities. Areas covered will include family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics, gynecology, psychiatry, geriatrics and general dentistry. “This program not only provides training to primary care medical and dental residents, but also galvanizes communities,” said Health Resources and Services Administration Administrator Mary K. Wakefield, PhD, RN. “It brings hospitals, academic centers, health centers, and community organizations together to provide top-notch medical education and services in areas of the country that need them most.” Read more on access to care.
Community Preventive Services Task Force Recommends Universal Motorcycle Helmet Laws
Universal motorcycle helmet laws can prevent injuries and save lives while also saving communities the high health care costs associated with collisions, according to a new review of 69 studies and a separate economic review of 22 studies by the Community Preventive Services Task Force. Based on the conclusions, the task force—an independent, nonfederal, unpaid panel of public health and prevention experts—recommends all U.S. communities adopt universal helmet laws, with are more effective than no law or partial helmet laws at preventing severe injuries. The study found that the United States and other high-income communities saw substantial decreases in motorcycle-related deaths and injuries after enacting universal helmet laws, but the inverse when universal laws were repealed or replaced with other laws. Read more on injury prevention.
Study: Fungus Behind 2013 Yogurt Recall a Larger Threat than Previously Believed
The fungus behind an outbreak that led to the September 2013 recall of Chobani brand Greek yogurt is more dangerous than first believed, according to a new study in mBio, the online journal of the American Society for Microbiology. Initially the company believed that the Murcor circinelloides fungus was only a potential danger to people with compromised immune systems. However, as additional gastrointestinal were reported researchers continued their study, concluding that the “harmless” fungus was actually a strain with the ability to cause disease. “When people think about food-borne pathogens, normally they list bacteria, viruses, and maybe parasites. Fungal pathogens are not considered as food-borne pathogens. However, this incidence indicates that we need to pay more attention to fungi. Fungal pathogens can threaten our health systems as food-borne pathogens” said Soo Chan Lee of Duke University, an author on the study. Read more on food safety.
CDC: Mixed Progress in Food Safety Efforts
A new food safety progress report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows mixed results for the country’s safety efforts. While the rate of salmonella infections was down approximately 9 percent in 2013 compared to the previous three years, campylobacter infections—often linked to dairy products and chicken—are up 13 percent since 2006-2008. The CDC also found that vibrio infections, which are often linked to raw shellfish, were at the highest level since tracking began in 1996. “This year’s data show some recent progress in reducing salmonella rates, and also highlight that our work to reduce the burden of foodborne illness is far from over,” said Robert Tauxe, MD, MPH, deputy director of CDC’s Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Diseases. “To keep salmonella on the decline, we need to work with the food industry and our federal, state and local partners to implement strong actions to control known risks and to detect foodborne germs lurking in unsuspected foods.” The report’s data comes from the Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (FoodNet), a group of experts from CDC; ten state health departments; the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS); and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Read more on food safety.
FDA: Common Procedure to Remove Uterus, Uterine Fibroids Can Spread Cancer
A common procedure to remove the uterus or uterine fibroids can unintentionally spread cancerous tissue—such as uterine sarcomas—according to a new safety communication from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is discouraging the use of laparoscopic power morcellation. The procedure divides the uterine tissue into smaller fragments in order to remove them via a small abdominal incision. “The FDA’s primary concern as we consider the continued use of these devices is the safety and well-being of patients,” said William Maisel, MD, MPH, deputy director for science and chief scientist at the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health. “There is no reliable way to determine if a uterine fibroid is cancerous prior to removal. Patients should know that the FDA is discouraging the use of laparoscopic power morcellation for hysterectomy or myomectomy, and they should discuss the risks and benefits of the available treatment options with their health care professionals.” Read more on cancer.
Approximately 12M U.S. Outpatients Misdiagnosed Each Year
Approximately 12 million U.S. adults are misdiagnosed each year in doctors’ office and other outpatient settings, with an estimated half of those mistakes potentially leading to serious harm, according to a new study set to be published in the journal BMJ Quality & Safety. The overall total means about one in every 20 patients are misdiagnosed. For the study researchers used data from three studies covering a sample pool of approximately 3,000 medical records. "It's important to outline the fact that this is a problem," said Hardeep Singh, MD, the study's lead author and a patient safety researcher at Baylor College of Medicine and at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center, both in Houston, according to Reuters. "Because of the large number of outpatient visits, this is a huge vulnerability. This is a huge number and we need to do something about it.” Read more on access to care.
Urban Gardeners May Be Unaware of Harmful Soil Contaminants
In their quest to consume healthier foods, urban gardeners may actually be unaware of the presence of soil contaminants and how to deal with the issue, putting both gardeners and consumers at risk, according to a new study in PLOS One. Potential contaminants include heavy metals, petroleum products and asbestos, which can result when urban soil is near pollution sources, such as industrial areas and roads with heavy traffic. “Our study suggests gardeners generally recognize the importance of knowing a garden site’s prior uses, but they may lack the information and expertise to determine accurately the prior use of their garden site and potential contaminants in the soil,” said Keeve Nachman, PhD, senior author of the study and director of the Food Production and Public Health Program with the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. “They may also have misperceptions or gaps in knowledge about how best to minimize their risk of exposure to contaminants that may be in urban soil.” Read more food safety.
Study: 1 in 10 U.S. Adults Have Diabetes
Nearly one in 10 U.S. adults had diabetes in 2010, nearly double the percentage a little more than two decades ago, in 1988, according to a new study in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The study determined that 21 million American adults—or 9.3 percent of all American adults—had either type 1 or type 2 diabetes in 2010. As many as 95 percent of diabetes cases are type 2 cases. "This study also highlights that the increase in diabetes really tracks closely with the epidemic of obesity,” said Elizabeth Selvin, the study's lead author and an associate professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “The diabetes epidemic is really a direct consequence of the rise in obesity.” However, the report did find that cases of undiagnosed diabetes were down, indicating new screen techniques are effective. It also found that overall blood sugar control was improved. Read more on obesity.
U.S. Health Care Costs Climbed 3.2% in 2013, to $329.2 Billion
The cost of new medicines, price increases on some branded drugs and patent expirations helped cause the first rise in the overall cost of health services in the United States in three years, according to a new report from IMS Health Holdings Inc., a health care information company. Americans spent a total of $329.2 billion on health services in 2013, up from 3.2 percent from 2012, which had seen a 1 percent decline. However, the report noted that expanded use of cheaper generic drugs—86 percent of all prescription drugs—did help costs from rising even higher. Read more on access to health care.
Sebelius to Step Down as Head of HHS
Kathleen Sebelius is resigning as secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The formal announcement is expected to come at 11 a.m. this morning, with President Obama to name Office of Management and Budget Director Sylvia Mathews Burwell as the replacement for the former Kansas governor. Sebelius assumed the HHS position in April 2009. Read more on the HHS.
FDA Expands Approved Use of Certain Pacemakers, Defibrillators
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has expanded the approved application of certain pacemakers and defibrillators, allowing them to also be used for patients with atrioventricular (AV) block and less severe heart failure. Previously the devices—which provide electrical impulses to the heart through implanted leads in the ventricles—were approved only for people with more severe heart failure as evaluated by their physician using specific criteria. The expansion covers two cardiac resynchronization pacemakers (CRT-P) and eight cardiac resynchronization defibrillators produced by Medtronic. Approximately 5.1 million people in the United States have heart failure. Read more on heart health.
Study: Doctor’s ‘Bedside Manner’ Has Real Effect on Patient Health
The doctor-patient relationship can have a real and significant impact on patient health, with doctors with better “beside manner” also having patients who fare better in efforts to lose weight, lower their blood pressure or manage pain, according to a new study in the journal PLOS One. Researchers reviewed 13 clinical trials, finding that improved patient outcomes were linked directly to doctors who had undergone training to hone their people skills. "I think that intuitively, people think that if you have an open, caring relationship with your provider, that's beneficial," said Helen Riess, the senior researcher on the new study, according to HealthDay. Read more on access to health care.
HHS Releases Data Giving Consumers Greater Transparency on Costs of Medical Procedures
The U.S. Department of Health and Human (HHS) services has released of new, privacy-protected data on services and procedures provided to Medicare beneficiaries by physicians and other health care professionals. The new data—which includes payment and submitted charges, or bills, for those services and procedures by provider—provides consumers with more information on how physicians and other health care professionals practice medicine, according to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “This data will help fill that gap by offering insight into the Medicare portion of a physician’s practice,” she said. “The data released today afford researchers, policymakers and the public a new window into health care spending and physician practice patterns.” The release includes information for more than 880,000 distinct health care providers who collectively received $77 billion in Medicare payments in 2012, under the Medicare Part B Fee-For-Service program. Read more on access to care.
HUD Grants $1.6B to Support 7,100 Local Homeless Housing and Service Programs
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has announced approximately $1.6 billion in grants to continue support for 7,100 local homeless housing and service programs in all 50 states, as well as Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The grants, which come through HUD’s Continuum of Care Program, support programs such as street outreach; client assessment; and direct housing assistance to individuals and families with children who are experiencing homelessness. "Whether it's helping to rapidly re-house families with young children or finding a permanent home for an individual with serious health conditions, HUD is working with our local partners to end homelessness as we know it," said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. Read more on housing.
Study: Concussion Symptoms May Be Worse For Girls than for Boys
Concussions may have a more severe and longer-lasting effect for girls than they do for boys, according to new research. Shayne Fehr, MD, a pediatrician at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, tracked 549 patients who sought treatment at a pediatric concussion clinic, finding that girls on average reported more severe symptoms than boys and needed an additional 22 days to recover (56 days for girls, compared to 34 for boys). Approximately 76 percent of the injuries were sports related and the top five reported symptoms were headache, trouble concentrating, sensitivity to light, sensitivity to sound and dizziness. More research is needed to determine the cause of the disparity. Read more on injury prevention.
In January 2008, the Texas Health Institute received support from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a policy think tank with a particular focus on people of color, to track progress on efforts to advance racial and health equity through provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Shortly after the ACA became law, new support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the California Endowment has led to a series of four reports that have assessed how well the law has been implemented in a way that addresses racial and ethnic health equity across five topic areas:
- Health insurance and exchanges;
- Health care safety net;
- Workforce support and diversity;
- Data, research and quality; and
- Public health and prevention.
To learn more about the reports’ findings, NewPublicHealth recently talked with Dennis Andrulis, PhD, MPH, the Senior Research Scientist at the Texas Health Institute and an Associate Professor at the University of Texas School of Public Health.
NewPublicHealth: How have the reports produced by the Texas Health Institute helped advance what we know about the ability of the Affordable Care Act to advance health equity?
Dennis Andrulis: The reports have provided an update of the progress, or lack thereof, in implementing race, ethnicity, language and equity provisions in the law. Did Congress appropriate dollars to support these provisions? If so, did the appropriations match the original requests and will they continue in future years?
The result is we have mapped out what we believe is a comprehensive overview of about 60 provisions related to health equity. Additionally, we have reported on the content and shape of related new initiatives, innovations, program support and other health care efforts.
NPH: What are some short-term and long-term efforts that your work indicated will help improve some health disparities?
Dennis Andrulis: First we need to have accurate and well-disseminated information about what’s in the law and the opportunities to change disparities that it provides.
FDA’s ‘The Real Cost’ Multimedia Campaign to Graphically Depict the Health Consequences of Smoking
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has launched a new national public education campaign combating youth tobacco use. “The Real Cost” multimedia campaign—with television, radio, print, online and out-of-home advertising—brings together vivid imagery and compelling facts to graphically depict the health consequences of smoking, such as tooth loss and skin damage. The new campaign, which will run in 200 U.S. markets for at least 12 months, targets the 10 million kids ages 12 to 17 who have never smoked, but are at risk, as well as kids who have experimented with smoking. “We know that early intervention is critical, with almost nine out of every ten regular adult smokers picking up their first cigarette by age 18,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, MD. Each day, more than 3,200 youth under ages and younger try their first cigarette and more than 700 become daily smokers. Read more on tobacco.
HHS Expands Patient Access to Lab Records
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is expanding patient access to health records by allowing patients, or their designated “personal representative,” access complete test reports from laboratories. The final rule also eliminates the exception under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 Privacy Rule to a patient’s right to access protected health information when it is held by a CLIA-certified or CLIA-exempt laboratory. “The right to access personal health information is a cornerstone of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “Information like lab results can empower patients to track their health progress, make decisions with their health care professionals, and adhere to important treatment plans.” Read more on access to health care.
Study: Climate Change Could Mean Significantly More Heat-related Summer Deaths
The combination of climate change and the growing elderly population could mean a dramatic increase in the number of heat-related summer deaths over the next decades, according to a new study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. Using data on weather patterns and death rates from 1993 to 2006, researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and Public Health England, concluded that if no preventive measures are taken then the number of 2,000 annual heat-related deaths in England and Wales will climb 257 percent by the 2050s, while the number of 41,000 deaths related to cold will fall two percent. People ages 75 and older are at the greatest risk. Preventive measures could air conditioning, as well as more sustainable options such as shading and changes in building insulation and construction materials. Read more on the environment.