Category Archives: Technology
Massachusetts Now Has the Nation’s Strongest Paid Sick Leave Requirements
Massachusetts now has the nation’s strongest requirement for providing paid sick leave. Under a ballot question passed yesterday, people who work for businesses with 11 or more employees are now entitled to up to 40 hours of paid sick time each year. Workers at smaller companies will receive 40 hours of annual unpaid sick time. NewPublicHealth has previously written on the benefits of paid sick leave, including about an American Journal of Public Health study which found that a lack of paid sick leave can be a significant factor in the spread of disease. Read more on business.
Study: Fast Food Marketing to Children Disproportionately Affects Certain Communities
Fast food marketing directed toward children disproportionately affects black, middle-income and rural communities, according to a new study out of Arizona State University (ASU). Researchers studied the marketing practices of 6,716 fast food restaurants, determining that “while most fast food restaurants sampled were located in non-Hispanic and majority white neighborhoods, those situated in middle-income neighborhoods, rural communities and majority black neighborhoods had higher odds of using child-directed marketing tactics.” “Marketing food to children is of great concern not only because it affects their current consumption patterns, but also because it may affect their taste and preferences,” said ASU researcher Punam Ohri-Vachaspati, an associate professor of nutrition in the School of Nutrition and Health Promotion. “We know that consumption of fast food in children may lead to obesity or poorer health, and that low income and minority children eat fast food more often.” Read more on nutrition.
Study: No Link Between Media Violence and Real-Life Violence
Despite the popular notion that media violence is a factor in real-life crime, homicide rates have actually fallen over the past several decades as media violence—in movies, on television and in video games—has increased, according to two new studies in the Journal of Communication. One of the studies examined the level of violence in 90 movies from 1920 to 2005, while the other looked for links between violence in video games and real-life violence among American young people from 1996 to 2011. "The idea that media has big effects on us or shapes our society is probably untenable," said author Christopher Ferguson, chair of the psychology department at Stetson University in Florida. "This doesn't mean media has no effect at all, of course, only that we need to try to move media research out of these culture wars if we're going to make any progress." Read more on technology.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) awarded prizes this week for four new online applications to help consumers track product recalls. Earlier this year, the CPSC challenged developers to create apps to help consumers track recall announcements and safety incidents involving consumer products. Nine developers submitted proposals, using the CPSC’s SaferProducts.gov website.
The CPSC’s research finds that recalls impact both consumers who purchase new products and consumers who purchase products—such as cribs and high chairs, whose safety standards change over the years—at yard sales and thrift stores. The products’ bar codes can be used by some of the apps to determine whether there has been a recall. Others check user emails for information on products purchased online.
The four new apps:
- Safety Checker usually needs just three fields filled in or the bar code scanned to find recall data. The app works with iOS and Android devices.
- Recall Pro uses Google Chrome to help consumers find recall information before making an online purchase.
- The “Slice” app checks purchases via email inboxes against the CPSC’s recall list and is available for iOS and Android users.
- Total Recall 101 checks a user’s email inbox and archives for references to purchased products, including product receipts and conversations with friends (but emails remain private to the user). The app matches products against the CPSC’s recall list and alerts users to any problems.
>>Bonus Link: Injuries cause tens of thousands of deaths in the United States each year. Find more information on product safety advice from the CPSC.
Just about every think tank, school of public health and infectious disease association has held a conference on Ebola in the last few weeks, but two coming up are still absolutely worth tracking.
Now that New York City has seen is first diagnosis of Ebola, an already scheduled conference next week at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health has taken on added importance. Presenters include ABC News Chief Health and Medical editor and former acting U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Richard Besser, MD, as well as Irwin Redlener, MD, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University's Earth Institute. While the conversation surrounding the Ebola cases in Dallas focused on the need for health care workers to receive better guidance and training, hours into the first case in New York City the focus is on the challenge of containing the disease in a huge urban setting—a topic the presenters will discuss at length.
And on November 7, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy will host a simulcast workshop together with Texas A&M, the Worcester Polytechnic Institute and the University of California, Berkeley to discuss proposals to dispatch robots to aid in the care of Ebola patients and people who have succumbed to the disease. The idea is to augment — and not replace — health workers. Robots could spray disinfectant, respond to commands given by health workers in a remote location and even help bury the dead.
The conference will include not just engineers, but also public health officials and health care personnel who can speak to the human needs that need to be considered when design the robots. For example, Texas A&M engineering students are working on a robotic attachment that would pick up a dead body in movements that mimic compassion, rather than in another way that may be efficient but does not show sensitivity for the dead and their families.
>>Bonus Link: Read an interview with the conference conveners.
EBOLA UPDATE: First U.S. Case of Ebola Diagnosed in Dallas
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed the first Ebola case to be diagnosed in the United States. The patient flew from Liberia—at the time not showing symptoms—and fell ill several days later, seeking treatment at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas. He was admitted on Sept. 28. The CDC is monitoring people he came in contact with and feels confident that the disease will not spread further. “Ebola can be scary. But there’s all the difference in the world between the U.S. and parts of Africa where Ebola is spreading. The United States has a strong health care system and public health professionals who will make sure this case does not threaten our communities,” said CDC Director, Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. “While it is not impossible that there could be additional cases associated with this patient in the coming weeks, I have no doubt that we will contain this.” Read more on Ebola.
FDA: New Recommendation to Protect Patients from Cybersecurity Risks
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is taking steps to ensure patient safety and security with the finalization of recommendations to medical device manufacturers for managing cybersecurity risks. Potential risks include malware infections on network-connected medical devices or computers, smartphones, and tablets used to access patient data; unsecured or uncontrolled distribution of passwords; failure to provide timely security software updates and patches to medical devices and networks; and security vulnerabilities in off-the-shelf software designed to prevent unauthorized access to the device or network. “There is no such thing as a threat-proof medical device,” said Suzanne Schwartz, MD, MBA, director of emergency preparedness/operations and medical countermeasures at the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health. “It is important for medical device manufacturers to remain vigilant about cybersecurity and to appropriately protect patients from those risks.” Read more on technology.
HUD: $112M in Grants to Protect Kids, Families from Lead-Based Paint and Other Housing Dangers
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has awarded more than $112 million in grants to help protect children and families from the dangers of lead-based paint and other home health and safety hazards. The grants will go to 39 local and state government agencies and research institutions, helping almost 7,000 low-income homes while also supporting research to improve safety efforts. "Millions of families and children are seeing their hope for the future threatened by poor health simply because of where they live," noted Matthew E. Ammon, Acting Director of HUD's Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes. "Every child deserves to grow up in a healthy home and yet far too many continue to be exposed to potentially dangerous lead and other health hazards in the home." Read more on housing.
Recently NewPublicHealth shared an interview from AlleyWatch, a Silicon Valley technology blog about SenseHealth, a new medical technology firm that has created a text message platform that health care providers can use to communicate with patients. In May, SenseHealth was picked to be part of the New York Digital Health Accelerator, which gives up to $100,000 in funding to companies developing digital health solutions for patients and providers. The accelerator is run by the Partnership Fund for New York City and the New York eHealth Collaborative. SenseHealth engaged in a clinical trial last year that used the technology to help providers engage with patients who are Medicaid beneficiaries.
Health conditions supported by the SenseHealth platform range from diabetes to mental health diagnoses, while the messaging options include more than 20 customizable care plans, such as medicine or blood pressure monitoring reminders. There are also more than 1,000 supportive messages, such as a congratulatory text when a patient lets the provider know they’ve filled a prescription or completed lab work. The platform couples the content with a built-in algorithm that can sense when a user has logged information or responded to a provider, and providers are able to set specific messages for specific patients. Early assessments show that the technology has helped patient manage their conditions, with data showing more SenseHealth patients adhered to treatment plans and showed up for appointments than patients who didn’t receive the text program.
We received strong feedback on the post, including a question from a reader about whether Medicaid beneficiaries lose contact with their providers if they disconnect their cell phones or change their numbers, a common occurrence among low-income individuals who often have to prioritize monthly bills. To learn more about SenseHealth and its texting platform, NewPublicHealth recently spoke with the company’s CEO and founder, Stan Berkow.
NewPublicHealth: How did SenseHealth get its start?
Stan Berkow: We got started about two to two-and-a-half years ago. I met one of the other founders while I was working at the Columbia University Medical Center in New York City. We were both clinical trial coordinators and were seeing—first hand—the difficulties in getting participants in our studies to actually follow through on all the exercise and nutritional changes they needed to make in order to complete the research project. That led us to step back and look at the bigger health care picture and recognize the challenges for providers to help patients manage chronic conditions, and recognizing that there’s a huge time limitation on the providers. That pushed us toward finding a way through technology to help those providers help the patients they work with more effectively to prevent and manage chronic conditions.
EBOLA UPDATE: Canada to Donate Experimental Drug for Ebola Treatment
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
Canada announced late yesterday that it will donate 800 to 1,000 doses of its experimental Ebola vaccine for the World Health Organization (WHO) to use in West Africa. WHO declared yesterday that it was ethical to use untested drugs to combat the Ebola outbreak. "We see this as a global resource, something we need to put on the global table to say...how can we make best use of this asset? We're looking to do that as fast as we can,” said Greg Taylor, MD, deputy chief public health officer of the Public Health Agency of Canada, according to Reuters. Read more on Ebola.
CDC: 40 Percent of Americans Will Develop Diabetes
An estimated 40 percent of Americans will develop diabetes at some point in their lives, according to a new study in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology. Researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed data on 598,216 adults from 1985 to 2011, finding that the increase in the diagnosis of diabetes and overall declining mortality means that people are also living longer with diabetes; years spent with diabetes increased by 156 percent in men and 70 percent in women. Researchers said the findings demonstrate a need for effective interventions to reduce the incidence of diabetes. Read more on diabetes.
FDA Approves Device that Could Increase the Number of Transplantable Lungs
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a new device to preserve donated lungs that do not initially meet the standards for transplantation, but that might be transplantable given more time to evaluate their viability. Only approximately one in five donated lungs meet transplantation criteria. There were 1,754 lung transplants in the United States in 2012, with 1,616 potential patients remaining on the recipient list at the end of the year. “This innovative device addresses a critical public health need,” said Christy Foreman, director of the Office of Device Evaluation at the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health. “With this approval, there may be more lungs available for transplant, which could allow more people with end stage lung disease who have exhausted all other treatment options to be able to receive a lung transplant.” Read more on technology.
EBOLA UPDATE: CDC Increases Deployments to West Africa
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has announced an increase in its deployments and efforts in West Africa in response to the ongoing Ebola outbreak, which is the largest in the history of the disease. The public health agency has activated its Emergency Operations Center to its highest response level and plans on adding 50 disease control experts to the region within the next month.
As of Monday, CDC deployments are:
- Guinea: 6 currently deployed,
- Liberia: 12 currently deployed
- Nigeria: 4 currently deployed
- Sierra Leone: 9 currently deployed
“The bottom line with Ebola is we know how to stop it: traditional public health. Find patients, isolate and care for them; find their contacts; educate people; and strictly follow infection control in hospitals. Do those things with meticulous care and Ebola goes away,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, in a release. “To keep America safe, health care workers should isolate and evaluate people who have returned from Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone in the past 21 days and have fever or other symptoms suggestive of Ebola. We will save lives in West Africa and protect ourselves at home by stopping Ebola at the source.” Read more on Ebola.
Study: About Half of All Physicians Utilize EHRs
Electronic health records (EHRs) are increasingly being utilized by physicians and hospitals, according to two new studies in the journal Health Affairs. Researchers from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology determined that in 2013 approximately 78 percent of office-based physicians used some form of EHRs and about 48 percent of all physicians used an EHR system with advanced functionalities. They also found that 59 percent of hospitals in 2013 were using an EHR system with certain advanced functionalities. “Patients are seeing the benefits of health IT as a result of the significant strides that have been made in the adoption and meaningful use of electronic health records,” said Karen DeSalvo, MD, MPH, national coordinator for health information technology. “We look forward to working with our partners to ensure that people’s digital health information follows them across the care continuum so it will be there when it matters most.” Read more on technology.
Number of Suicide Attempts Using Prescription Drugs Up Dramatically
Suicide attempts involving prescription medications and other drugs climbed 51 percent among people ages 12 and older from 2005 to 2011, according to two new reports from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The greatest increase was seen in people between the ages of 45 and 64, with a 104 percent increase, followed by adults younger than 30, with a 58 percent increase. "We probably are seeing an increase in overall suicide attempts, and along with that we are also seeing an increase in drug-related suicide attempts," said Peter Delany, director of the agency's Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, in a release. "People have access to medications, and they are using both prescription and over-the-counter meds. It is clear that there are more drugs out there." Read more on prescription drugs.
Study: EHRs Don’t Increase the Risk for Medicare Fraud
The use of electronic health records (EHRs) does not increase the risk of Medicare fraud, according to a new study from the University of Michigan Schools of Information and Public Health and the Harvard School of Public Health. In the study, scheduled to be published in the journal Health Affairs, researchers analyzed longitudinal data to determine whether U.S. hospitals that recently adopted EHRs also saw increases in the severity of patients’ conditions and payments from Medicare; they determined that adopters and non-adopters saw rates increase approximately equally. "There have been a lot of anecdotes and individual cases of hospitals using electronic health records in fraudulent ways. Therefore there was an assumption that this was happening systematically, but we find that it isn't," said Julia Adler-Milstein, U-M assistant professor of information, as well as an assistant professor of health management and policy in the U-M School of Public Health. Read more on technology.
Fist Bumps May Be the Best Greeting for Reducing Germ Transmission
Want to meet society’s hand-to-hand greeting expectation while also reducing the transmission of germs? Try a fist bump. Researchers from the Institute of Biological, Environmental, and Rural Sciences at Aberystwyth University in the United Kingdom used a germ-covered glove test to determine that handshakes transmit nearly twice as many bacteria as high-fives, which in turn transmit more bacteria than fist bumps. The study in the American Journal of Infection Control determined that duration and grip of a physical greeting also increased the number of bacteria transmitted. “Adoption of the fist bump as a greeting could substantially reduce the transmission of infectious diseases between individuals,” said author, David Whitworth, PhD. “It is unlikely that a no-contact greeting could supplant the handshake; however, for the sake of improving public health we encourage further adoption of the fist bump as a simple, free, and more hygienic alternative to the handshake.” Read more on infectious disease.
Fear a Greater Motivator than Data When it Comes to Using Sunscreen
Fear over developing skin cancer is a larger motivator for people’s usesof sunscreen than actual data that quantifies their risk, according to a new study in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine. Researchers analyzed data on approximately 1,500 people with no history of skin cancer, finding that for people who reported “never” using it and those who reported “always” using it, worry was a greater factor than education about risk, and the greater the worry, the more likely the use. “Most health behavior studies don’t account for the more visceral, emotional reactions that lead people to do risky behaviors, like eat junk food or ignore the protective benefits of sunscreen,” says Marc Kiviniemi, MD, lead researcher and assistant professor of community health and health behavior in the UB School of Public Health and Health Professions. “This study is important because most of what we do in public health communications focuses on spreading knowledge and information. By not addressing emotions, we are potentially missing a rich influence on behavior when interventions do not address feelings.” Read more on cancer.
During this week’s Spotlight: Health at the annual Aspen Ideas Festival, Cleveland Clinic CEO Toby Cosgrove, MD, will be talking about the future of academic medicine. The topic has received a great deal of attention recently, including a white paper from the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) and a pilot program from the American Medical Association (AMA) to give $1 million each to eleven medical schools redesigning their teaching programs—many of which include a focus on prevention, wellness and population health.
Teamwork is a recent and critical emphasis at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine, said Cosgrove in a conversation with NewPublicHealth ahead of the Aspen conference.
“When a lot of us went to medical school we were all taught to be rugged individuals, and so [now] we’re trying to teach teamwork...at the very beginning of health care education,” he said. To that end, instruction at the medical school now emphasizes team-based learning and the students will begin doing some of their work with nursing and dental students in the same physical facility “so we begin to break down the silos that are going on right now and encourage team play.”
The 11 medical schools that received the recent AMA grants were chosen from among 119 schools that submitted proposals. “Their bold, transformative proposals [are] designed to close the gaps between how medical students are trained and how health care is delivered,” said former AMA President Jeremy A. Lazarus, MD, when the AMA awarded the grants last year. Among the winners:
- The Alpert Medical School of Brown University, which has proposed establishing a dual MD-MS degree program in primary care and population health. A clerkship during the third year of medical school will integrate care of the individual patient and population health, and the fourth year will include population health course content and require a Master's thesis. The admissions process will include required interviews with stakeholders and patients.
- The University of California-Davis School of Medicine is partnering with Kaiser Permanente to create the Accelerated Competency-based Education in Primary Care (ACE-PC) program, which will require all students to work in the Kaiser Health system so that they can learn by experiencing the patient-centered medical home model. Changes to curriculum include population management, chronic disease management, quality improvement, patient safety, team-based care and preventive health skills, with a special emphasis on diverse and underserved populations.
The eleven schools won’t be working in silos, either. Susan Skochelak, MD, the AMA’s group vice president for medical education, told NewPublicHealth that the initiative was designed “very specifically to bring the schools together in a consortium, because we wanted to disseminate the best practices rapidly.”
NIH Researchers Publish Review of Key Marijuana Adverse Health Effects
As more states consider legalizing marijuana, researchers at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)—a division of the National Institutes of Health—have published a review of adverse health effects of the drug, including impaired driving. The review was published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine and the study authors consider a number of key concerns including:
- Rising marijuana potencies
- Possible health consequences of secondhand marijuana smoke
- Long-term impact of prenatal marijuana exposure
- According to the reviewers, research suggests that marijuana impairs critical thinking and memory functions during use and that these deficits persist for days after using
- A long-term study showed that regular marijuana use in the early teen years lowers IQ into adulthood, even if users stopped smoking marijuana as adults.
“It is important to alert the public that using marijuana in the teen years brings health, social, and academic risk,” said lead author and NIDA Director Nora D. Volkow, MD. NIDA offers additional information on the consequences of marijuana here. Read more on substance abuse.
Social Media is a Largely Untapped Communications Tool for Health Policy Researchers
As social media use continues to expand, it also presents a growing opportunity for health policy researchers to communicate with both the public and policy makers. However, few of these researchers appear to be using social media to the best of its potential in this field, according to a new study in the journal Health Affairs. The study, which was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, examined 325 health policy researchers, finding that only 14 percent of participants reported tweeting and only 21 percent noted blogging about their research in the past year. Many cited fears that social media would not be compatible with their research, the creation of professional risks and the lack of respected it is given by their peers or their academic institutions as obstacles to social media use. “Historically, the communication gap between researchers and policy makers has been large,” concluded the authors. “Social media are a new and relatively untested tool, but they have the potential to create new communication channels between researchers and policy makers to help narrow that gap.” Read more on technology.
Study: Many Preschool-aged Children Spending Too Much Time in Front of TVs, Computers
Many three- and four-year-olds are spending more than twice the recommended amount of time—two hours—in front of computers and television screens, according to a new study in the journal Child Indicators Research. Utilizing data on 2,221 preschool-aged children from the 2007 Head Start Family and Child Experiences Survey, researchers found that 55.7 percent of children had a television in their bedroom and 12.5 percent had high home screen time, defined as more than four hours each weekday. They also found that 56.6 percent of children had access to a computer at home and 37.5 percent had used it on the last typical weekday. In addition, 49.4 percent of children used a classroom computer for more than one hour each week and 14.2 percent played computer games at school for more than five hours each week. “This research should be used as a foundation for additional studies-- particularly those that look at educational screen time versus entertainment screen time,” said Erica Fletcher, a PhD student at Ohio State’s College of Public Health and lead on the project. “It’s a critical time to dive deeper into that. Since the data were collected, devices with screens like tablets and smart phones have become more affordable and are increasingly being used in the classroom. That has helped narrow the economic ‘digital divide’ on accessibility.” Read more on pediatrics.