Category Archives: Health disparities
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.
EBOLA UPDATE: Death Toll at 1,013 as Two More Doctors are Set to Receive an Experimental Treatment
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
Two more Ebola-infected doctors are set to receive the experimental ZMapp drug that was given to two American health workers and a Spanish priest. The Americans continue to receive treatment in an Atlanta hospital, while the 75-year-old missionary died early this morning. The death toll of the West African outbreak—the largest Ebola outbreak in history—now stands at 1,013, according to the World Health Organization. Read more on Ebola.
FDA Approves New Colorectal Screening Test
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the first stool-based colorectal screening test to identify cancers such as colon cancer or precursors to cancer. The test can detect red blood cells and DNA mutations that can indicate certain types of abnormal growths. Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer among those that affect both men and women, and regular screening tests for all people ages 50 and older could reduce related deaths by at least 60 percent, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “This approval offers patients and physicians another option to screen for colorectal cancer,” said Alberto Gutierrez, PhD, director of the Office of In Vitro Diagnostics and Radiological Health at the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, in a release. “Fecal blood testing is a well-established screening tool and the clinical data showed that the test detected more cancers than a commonly used fecal occult test.” Read more on cancer.
Study: Women, Blacks Affected Most by Heart Disease and Stroke
Women and African-Americans are affected the most by chronic diseases linked to increased risk of heart attack or stroke, according to a new population-based study in the journal Circulation. Researchers analyzed the five major risk factors for heart disease—high cholesterol, smoking, high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes—in more than 13,500 Americans from 1987 to 1998, finding that while the combined risk for women dropped from 68 percent to 58 percent, it was still higher than the risk for men, which dropped from 51 percent to 48 percent. The study also found that diabetes more than doubled the risk of heart disease for African-Americans when compared to whites—28 percent versus 13 percent. Researchers said the difference could be because heart disease has been traditionally viewed as a disease of white men, affecting how it is treated. Read more on health disparities.
Vital Healthcare Capital (V-Cap) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) have announced a $10 million investment in Commonwealth Care Alliance (CCA), based in Boston, Mass., to help fund the organization as it rapidly expands its model of care for patients who are dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid.
The non-profit care delivery system provides integrated health care and related social support services for people with complex health care needs covered under Medicaid and for those eligible for both Medicaid and Medicare. CCA’s expansion comes as Massachusetts continues to pioneer integrated, patient-centered care for people who are eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid though the newly created “One Care: MassHealth plus Medicare” program, one of several financial alignment initiatives for people with dual eligibility established by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that are launching nationwide.
The loan—the first to be made by Vital Healthcare Capital, a new social impact fund based in Boston, through support from RWJF—provides funds needed by CCA for financial reserves required by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as the agency expands the number of beneficiaries in its programs.
According to CCA Director Robert Master, the social impact goals are to:
- Scale a person-centered integrated care model for high-needs populations.
- Demonstrate what are known in public health as “triple aim” outcomes in health status, care metrics and cost effectiveness.
- Train, develop and create frontline health care workforce jobs, including health aides, drivers and translators.
- Create innovations in health care workforce engagement in coordinated care plans to better integrate into the care plan the staff members who most directly touch the lives of its members.
Over the next five years, Vital Healthcare Capital plans to establish a $100 million revolving loan fund, leveraging $500 million of total project capital for organizations working on health care reform for patients in low-income communities.
NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Steven Weingarten, CEO of Vital Healthcare Capital, about the inaugural loan and the firm’s expansion plans going forward.
NewPublicHealth: How did Vital Healthcare Capital get started and what are its overarching goals and investment criteria?
Steven Weingarten: Vital Healthcare Capital has been formed as a new non-profit financing organization to invest in quality health care and good health care jobs in low-income communities. The organization came about after a couple of years of research and development with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, as well as from the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations and support from SEIU, the health care union. Healthcare reform is really part of a broader restructuring of health care that has enormous implications for low-income communities, and for the health care providers and plans that have been focused on these communities. Having financial capital to be able to transform health care to a better delivery model will be a critical challenge in upcoming years. So we are coming in to serve that need.
While more than 30 million children receive free or reduced-cost meals through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National School Lunch Program during the school year, only about 3 million of those kids sign on for summer meals through the USDA’s Summer Food Service Program, according to agency statistics. While not all 30 million need the summer meals—many are enrolled in summer programs that offer food or have parents that are able to take responsibility for providing meals—USDA and hunger experts know that millions are going hungry each summer, impacting their day-to-day lives, the learning gains of the previous year and learning readiness for the next grade.
“Most of the reason eligible kids aren’t getting meals in the summer is simply because parents don’t know about them,” said Audrey Rowe, head of the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, which runs the meal programs.
Last year, USDA made increasing the number of kids getting summer meals (sites typically serve one meal and a snack or two meals) a top priority, according to a the report Summer Doesn’t Take a Vacation, published by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit aimed at ending child hunger. According to the report, the summer of 2013 marked the first major increase in the number of low-income children eating sponsored summer meals in 10 years, and the program grew last year to serve nearly three million children, an increase of 161,000 children or 5.7 percent from 2012. This represents the largest percentage increase since 2003.
To reach those increases, the USDA worked with organizations including FRAC, Feeding America, Share Our Strength, the YMCA and other national, state and local stakeholders to target states with high rates of poverty, food insecurity and low participation rates in summer food programs. Efforts ran from high-level conversations with state governors—some of whom had known nothing about summer meal programs—to dozens of webinars to teach officials and private partners the nuts and bolts of running the programs. For example, sites are eligible in communities where more than half the area children receive subsidized school meals.
Study: Common Asthma Treatment Suppresses Growth in Children
A common treatment for asthma may suppress growth in children, according to a new review of two studies that was published in The Cochrane Library journal. The studies included 45 trials on corticosteroid drugs, which are delivered via inhalers to both children and adults with asthma and generally used as first-line treatments for persistent asthma. "The evidence... suggests that children treated daily with inhaled corticosteroids may grow approximately half a centimeter less during the first year of treatment," said Linjie Zhang at the Federal University of Rio Grande in Brazil, according to Reuters. "But this effect is less pronounced in subsequent years, is not cumulative, and seems minor compared to the known benefits of the drugs for controlling asthma." The World Health Organization estimates that there are approximately 235 million people living with asthma. Read more on pediatrics.
Study: Busiest ERs Often Provide the Best Care
People with life-threatening emergencies have better odds of survival when treated at busier emergency departments, according to a new study in the Annals of Emergency Medicine. The study found that patients admitted to a hospital after an emergency had a 10 percent lower chance of dying in the hospital if they initially went to one of the nation's busiest emergency departments; that people with sepsis had a 26 percent lower death rate at the busiest emergency centers; and that lung failure patients had a 22 percent lower death rate. The researchers behind the study estimate that if all emergency patients received the level of care provided by the busiest emergency departments then approximately 24,000 fewer people would die each year. "It's too early to say that based on these results, patients and first responders should change their decision about which hospital to choose in an emergency," said Keith Kocher, MD, MPH, the lead author of the new study and a University of Michigan Health System emergency physician, in a release. "But the bottom line is that emergency departments and hospitals perform differently, there really are differences in care and they matter." Read more on health disparities.
HHS: $11M Toward Integrating HIV Services into Primary Care
As part of the ongoing National HIV/AIDS Strategy, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is making $11 million available for the integration of HIV services into primary care services in Florida, Massachusetts, Maryland and New York. The funds will go toward innovative partnerships between health centers and those states’ health departments. They are part of Partnerships for Care: Health Departments and Health Centers Collaborating to Improve HIV Health Outcomes, a multi-agency project that includes the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Health Resources and Services Administration. Read more on HIV/AIDS.
There are an estimated 7,350 homeless people living in San Francisco, yet there are only eight facilities in the city at which the homeless can shower. At each of these facilities, there are at most two shower stalls—meaning that there is at most one shower for every 460 homeless people.
Lava Mae developed a mobile approach to target this public health issue.
The refurbished San Francisco MUNI bus outfitted with two full-service bathrooms successfully made its first rounds on June 28. The bus will travel around the city providing the homeless with mobile public utilities and giving them much-needed access to clean water and sanitation. Without the limitations of stationary locations, Lava Mae is able to aide people across the city while also staying free from high real estate prices, rising rent and potential eviction.
"For at least a decade, bathrooms have stood in for the city's anxieties about homelessness, public utilities, and the changing economy," wrote Rachel Swan in a piece on public bathrooms in SF Weekly. Lava Mae founder Doniece Sandoval hopes that the program will take big steps in improving the health of the homeless and public sanitation by increasing the number and scope of available public restrooms.
The relationship between the health and wellbeing of the homeless population correlates directly with the health of the community as a whole. As the homeless population strives for a better quality of life, so does the community—one shower at a time.
Read the full story, “A Refurbished Bus Will Bring Showers to the Homeless in San Francisco.”
Late last month several organizations in Washington, D.C., and suburban Maryland—including CASA de Maryland, the Urban Institute, Prince George’s County Public Schools and other Langley Park Promise Neighborhood partners—released the Langley Park Community Needs Assessment Report, a year-long community assessment supported by the U.S. Department of Education Promise Neighborhoods program.
The assessment found that few of Langley Park’s 3,700 children—nearly all of whom were born in the United States—are currently on track for a strong future and that their lives are severely impacted by poverty; poor access to health care; high rates of neighborhood crime; chronic housing instability and school mobility; and low levels of parent education and English proficiency. Fewer than half of the community’s children graduate high school in four years, often because of high rates of early pregnancy and early entry into the work force to help support their families.
Following the release of the report, NewPublicHealth spoke with Zorayda Moreira-Smith, the Housing and Community Development Manager at CASA de Maryland.
NewPublicHealth: One factor in students not finishing high school in Langley Park is that many high schools students ages 16-19 drop out so that they can go to work and help support their families. Is this especially an issue of concern in the Latino community?
Zorayda Moreira-Smith: There are a number of reasons people drop out at that age. One of them is that 35 percent are working because of family need. The safety nets that are generally there for individuals aren’t there for immigrant communities. Most of the parents in these families probably left school after 8th or 9th grade. And once you reach a certain age, you’re also seen as an adult, so there’s an expectation that you help out with the family needs. For most of the families in the area, there’s a high unemployment rate or they have temporary jobs or are day laborers. So, as soon as children reach a certain age, there’s the expectation to start helping out financially and I think it’s very common.
And most immigrant families not only support the people that make up their household here in the United States, but also support their family in the countries of their origin. And while our data doesn’t show it, some of these individuals and kids in households could be living with family members who aren’t their parents—they could be their aunts or their uncles or what not. So, also as soon as they’re working, they’re often supporting their siblings or their parents or their grandparents in their origin countries.
Older Hispanics Taking their Medicines Because of Medicare Prescription Drug Plans
Hispanics have reduced the gap with whites in taking prescribed heart medicines since the 2006 launch of Medicare’s prescription drug benefit—Medicare Part D. The findings were reported in a study presented at the American Heart Association’s Quality of Care and Outcomes Research 2014 Scientific Sessions earlier this month. Researchers reviewed prescription drug data from Medicare’s national Medical Expenditure Panel Survey for white, African-American and Hispanic Medicare seniors for the years 2007-10. After Part D, adherence rates increased among all racial groups, with the highest increase in whites and Hispanics, but increased only slightly among African-Americans.
- Hispanics’ total group adherence rate improved about 60 percent.
- Whites’ adherence rate improved 47 percent.
- African-Americans’ adherence rate improved about 9 percent.
Read more on heart health.
USDA Announces Grants to Help Repair Houses in Rural Areas
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced it is seeking applications for grants of about $4 million to preserve and repair housing for very-low- and low-income families living in rural areas. The funds are being made available by the USDA Rural Development's Housing Preservation Grant program. Eligible applicants include town or county governments; public agencies; federally recognized Indian Tribes; and non-profit and faith-based organizations. Applications are due July 28. Examples of previous grants include a 2012 award to Habitat for Humanity Lake County (Calif.), which received a $55,000 Housing Preservation Grant to help 12 low-income homeowners repair their homes. One person helped was a Vietnam veteran who used a wheelchair and could not leave his home without assistance. Habitat for Humanity widened his doorway and installed a wheelchair lift. Read more on housing.
Many U.S. Cancer Survivors Face Serious Financial Burdens
Many U.S. cancer survivors face significant economic burdens due to growing medical costs, missed work and reduced productivity, according to a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Cancer survivors face physical, emotional, psychosocial, employment and financial challenges as a result of their cancer diagnosis and treatment,” said Donatus U. Ekwueme, PhD, a senior health economist at CDC’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Control. The number of cancer survivors is expected to increase by more than 30 percent in the next decade—to 18 million Americans. Researchers analyzed data from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s 2008-2011 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey to estimate annual medical costs and productivity losses among cancer survivors aged 18 years and older, and among persons without a cancer diagnosis. Among those employed, more than 42 percent had to make changes to their work hours and duties. The report also found that about 10 percent of survivors aged 65 years and younger were uninsured and likely to have a larger financial burden compared to survivors with some source of payment for medical services. Read more on cancer.
Study: Medicaid Patients Receive Poorer Cancer Care
People on Medicaid receive poorer cancer care than people with private insurance, according to three new studies presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting in Chicago. Researchers determined that Medicaid patients are less likely to have their cancer caught at an earlier, more treatable phase, as well as far more likely to die from cancer. One of the factors contributing to this disparity is the fact that Medicaid patients have less experience navigating the health care system. "Research has shown that we can screen more patients, but that they get dropped along the way to treatment. We don't give them full access into curative therapy," said Jyoti Patel, MD, an oncologist at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University in Chicago, who's also a spokeswoman for the American Society of Clinical Oncology. "We need to do a better job to make sure that people who aren't savvy or can't advocate for themselves have that helping hand." Read more on health disparities.
CDC: Norovirus is the Leading Cause of Disease Outbreaks from Contaminated Food
Norovirus is the leading cause of disease outbreaks from contaminated food in the United States, according to the latest Vital Signs report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Approximately 20 million people in the United States are sickened by norovirus annually. According to the CDC, because infected workers are often the source of these outbreaks, the food service industry can help prevent outbreaks by enforcing safety practices, including:
- Making sure food service workers practice proper hand washing and use utensils and single-use disposable gloves to avoid touching ready-to-eat foods with bare hands
- Certifying kitchen managers and training food service workers in food safety practices
- Establishing policies that require food service workers to stay home when sick with vomiting and diarrhea and for at least 48 hours after symptoms stop
Read more on food safety.
N.C. Program Successful in Expanding Dental Care to Young, Low-income Children
A North Carolina program to reduce cavities in young, low-income children, has significantly increased the number of children under the age of four receiving preventive dental care since the program began in 2000, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics. The program works to train physicians in basic dental screening and preventive techniques that can be provided quickly and effectively during regular office visits. “Evaluation studies conducted since the initiation of the program in 2000 have found it to substantially increase access to preventive dental services for young, high-risk children who otherwise would be unlikely to use these services in dental offices, reduce caries-related treatments and costs, avert hospitalizations and improve oral health status,” said study was co-author R. Gary Rozier, DDS, MPH, professor of health policy and management at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, in a release. Read more on pediatrics.
“I don’t miss my family. I miss the family I never had.” That’s the text of a postcard written by a former foster child—one of hundreds of postcards that are a project of the Foster Care Alumni of America to help create a better understanding about life in foster care. May is National Foster Care Month—an annual effort to raise attention about the 400,000 children in foster care.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), most of those 400,000 children will be reunited with their families or find a permanent home with relatives, guardianship, or adoption. But each year 24,000 youth “age out” of foster care without a permanent legal family and many of them have shared their lives in a postcard.
New initiatives on foster care announced by the HHS Children's Bureau in 2014 include:
- Awards for agencies to test new strategies for recruiting resource families for children in foster care.
- Grants to states, localities and tribes to build the capacity of child welfare systems to prevent long-term homelessness among youth and young adults who have been involved with child welfare.
- Funding for states, localities and universities to develop initiatives that will improve the social and emotional well-being of children who are involved with child welfare and have mental and behavioral health needs.
- The National Foster Care Month initiative. This year’s theme is “Building Blocks Toward Permanent Families” in order to promote awareness of children in foster care.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) defines children in foster care as children with special health care needs because of the very high prevalence of physical, mental, developmental, educational, dental and family relationship problems. Children in foster care have many of the same health problems as other children—they just seem to have more of them more often, according to the AAP.
Among the reasons why medical conditions are so prevalent in foster children:
- Health conditions might be the direct result of trauma or medical neglect.
- Birth parents may seek foster care because they are unable to care for the child’s health problems.
- Emotional stressors may precipitate ﬂares in underlying conditions, such as asthma.
According to the AAP, treating and improving these conditions also improves the chances for reunification with parents or adoption, and is therefore a priority for foster children.