Category Archives: Prevention
HHS Updates Guidelines to Prevention Disease Transmission from Organ Transplants
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has updated its guidelines on reducing unexpected disease transmission through organ transplantation. The 2013 PHS Guideline for Reducing Human Immunodeficiency Virus, Hepatitis B Virus and Hepatitis C Virus Transmission through Organ Transplantation updates the 1994 U.S. Public Health Service guidelines designed to improve patient safety. The recommendations include additional screening, revised risk factors and more sensitive laboratory testing. “Transmission of infections through organ transplants is a critical concern for patients, their families and healthcare personnel involved in transplant procedures,” said HHS Assistant Secretary for Health Howard K. Koh, MD, MPH. “Putting these new recommendations into practice will allow doctors and patients to make better, more informed decisions when accepting organs for transplantation.” Read more on prevention.
HUD: $40M in Housing Counseling Grants to Improve Choices, Opportunities
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is providing $40 million in housing counseling grants to help people find housing, to make more informed choices and to improve their ability to keep their existing homes. The grants will help more than 1.6 million households via 334 national, regional and local organizations. “Make no mistake: these grants will do a lot of good,” said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan in a release. “The evidence is clear that housing counseling works. These grants are a smart investment to help families and individuals find and keep housing which helps promote neighborhood stability in the long term.” Read more on housing.
Majority of Adults Unaware of their Whooping Cough Vaccination Status
As the number of U.S. cases of pertussis—or whooping cough—rises, many adults are completely unaware of their need to remain up to date on their vaccinations. Only 20 percent say they’ve received the vaccine within the past decade and more than 60 percent do not even know their vaccination status. The lack of adult vaccinations can increase transmission rates to children; the majority of whooping cough deaths are children younger than 3 months. "Teens and adults who have received the [whooping cough] vaccine are less likely to get whooping cough themselves, and therefore less likely to spread whooping cough to other people, including infants who have not yet been protected by the recommended [whooping cough] vaccinations," said Matthew Davis, MD, director of the new University of Michigan National Poll on Children's Health. Read more on vaccines.
While the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and the Treasury jointly released rules about workplace wellness programs under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) last week, the financial and health improvement value of the programs has not yet been proven, according to several panelists at a briefing late last week co-sponsored by the Alliance for Health Reform and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
How effectively these programs work is especially important now: beginning in 2014, employers will be allowed to charge their workers up to 30 percent more for health insurance premiums if they don't meet certain health goals. Currently, nearly half of large companies offer wellness programs, which can range from smoking cessation programs to penalties for employees who don’t meet employer-defined health targets in such areas such as cholesterol, blood pressure, and Body Mass Index.
Federal Agencies Issue Final Rules on Workplace Wellness Programs Under the Affordable Care Act
The U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and the Treasury have issued final rules on employment-based wellness programs under the Affordable Care Act. Starting in 2014, the rules will allow companies to reward employees who participate in the programs by reducing their health insurance premiums up to 30 percent—up ten percent from current rules. Incentives for smoking cessation can be even higher. And employers can increase premiums for employees who don’t participate in workplace programs or don’t meet certain benchmarks. However, the rules require companies to provide "reasonable alternatives" to employees who can’t meet health benchmarks but still want the discounts. They also allow workers to involve their physicians to help tailor programs with their employers. "These rules will help ensure that wellness programs are designed to actually promote wellness, and that they are not just used as a back-door way to shift health-care costs to those struggling with health problems," said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, a health advocacy group. Read more on prevention.
CDC: 20 Percent of U.S. Adults Visited ERs in a Year
Approximately one in five U.S. adults took at least one trip to an emergency department over the past year, according to a new comprehensive government report based on a survey conducted in 2011. Health, United States, 2012 compiled health data from federal health agencies, state health agencies and the private sector and includes a wide array of U.S. health data. Among the other findings are the fact that 7 percent of people reported at least two emergency department visits, cold symptoms were the most common reason for emergency visits by children and people up to age 64 with Medicaid coverage were the most likely to visit emergency department. The full U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report is available here. Read more on access to health care.
Study: ADHD Drugs Don’t Increase the Risk of Adulthood Addiction
Taking medication for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) during youth does not increase the risk of adulthood addiction to substances such as alcohol, cocaine, marijuana and nicotine, according to a new study in JAMA Psychiatry. There has been debate over the issue for years in the medical community, with studies reaching different conclusions. "Our study provides an important update to clinicians," said study author Kathryn Humphreys, a doctoral student in psychology at University of California, Los Angeles. "Particularly for those who are concerned that stimulant medication is a 'gateway' drug or increases the risk for later substance use, there is no evidence at the group level for this hypothesis." Stimulants such as Ritalin and Adderall are commonly used to treat ADHD. Read more on prescription drugs.
As we learn more about the long-term effects of traumatic brain injuries (TBI), the public health focus is increasingly on prevention in youth sports. A recent study funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and published in the American Journal of Public Health found that while 44 states and Washington, D.C., have enacted youth sport TBI laws, they all deal with identifying and responding to the injuries—not preventing them.
NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Robert Faherty, VP and Commissioner of the Babe Ruth League Inc., about what the baseball league in particular—and youth sports in general—are doing to improve the prevention of and response to traumatic brain injuries. The league includes about 1 million players across its Cal Ripken and Babe Ruth divisions.
>>Read more in a related Q&A with the author of the youth sports TBI law study.
NewPublicHealth: How is the Babe Ruth League working to prevent primary traumatic brain injuries in youth baseball?
Robert Faherty: One of the things that we really pride ourselves on— and, first of all, our organizations are entirely made up of volunteers, from the league administration level right down to the coach—is providing that league with the best insurance program we possibly can. Through Babe Ruth League, you have the opportunity to buy accident, or liability insurance. That's because we wanted to make sure that there would be no reason that a player wouldn’t go get checked out or a league wouldn’t send a player to a doctor or to an emergency room. We weren’t worried about the parents having insurance, we weren’t worried about somebody’s liability being in question—you can go to the doctor and have it covered.
The second part of that would be our ongoing attempt to educate and prevent injuries right down to the simplest practices. In our coaching certification and coaching education courses, which are mandated, not only are there safety issues that we include that in our score books that we provide to the teams, but it’s also the smallest things about how to run a practice. One of the most common injuries is being hit by a baseball, but it’s not the batter being hit by a baseball or a fielder being hit by a baseball—it’s an overthrow by kids warming up improperly, and not throwing all in the same direction.
IOM: Low Sodium Intake May Also Cause Adverse Health Effects
While multiple studies have shown that the average daily sodium intake for U.S. adults is far too high, lowering the intake too much could also lead to health problems, according to a new report from the Institute of Medicine. The average daily intake is 3,400 mg, or about 1.5 teaspoons. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans call for a maximum of 2,300 mg, and even 1,500 mg for certain demographics. However, there is also some evidence suggesting low sodium levels could be harmful to people such as those with mid- to late-stage heart failure. “These studies make clear that looking at sodium’s effects on blood pressure is not enough to determine dietary sodium’s ultimate impact on health,” said committee chair Brian Strom, George S. Pepper Professor of Public Health and Preventive Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. “Changes in diet are more complex than simply changing a single mineral. More research is needed to understand these pathways.” Read more on heart health.
CDC Guidelines Help Cut Bloodstream Infections from Dialysis
Following the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) prevention guidelines helped reduce overall bloodstream infection due to dialysis by 32 percent and vascular access-related bloodstream infections by 54 percent, according to a new study in the American Journal of Kidney Disease. There are approximately 37,000 bloodstream infections each year related to dialysis with central lines; in 2010 about 380,000 U.S. patients used hemodialysis for treatment of end-stage kidney disease, with 8 in 10 of utilizing central lines. "Dialysis patients often have multiple health concerns, and the last thing they need is a bloodstream infection from dialysis,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. “These infections are preventable. CDC has simple tools that dialysis facilities can use to help ensure patients have access to the safe healthcare they deserve.” Read more on prevention.
Study: Teen’s Use of Smokeless Tobacco Steady Over Past Decade
Despite a myriad of efforts to combat tobacco use by U.S. teens, their usage rate of “smokeless” tobacco products such as chew or snuff has remained steady since 2000, according to a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The rate was 5.3 percent in 2000 and just barely lower in 2011, at 5.2 percent. While younger teens in the 9-14 age range have decreased their use, those in the 15-17 range have increased. The study suggests that the relatively low prices of smokeless tobacco products may be a contributor. About 9 million Americans used smokeless tobacco in 2012. Read more on tobacco.
For anyone who has ever had a mammogram, reminded someone to have a mammogram or sported anything pink for breast cancer awareness month, the New York Times has a thought-provoking article well worth reading. The author battled breast cancer twice and raises the interesting and controversial question of whether the uber-awareness campaign about breast cancer led to more mammograms than were necessary. The author argues that mammograms can result in early treatment—which comes with its own risks—but ultimately doesn’t save many lives. Studies cited show many women died despite early detection and many others, who underwent years of treatment for breast cancer, might never have been bothered by their breast tumors at all.
The article arrives on the heels of a study in the journal Cancer that found that the proportion of women undergoing screening for breast cancer every year did not change after the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force advised that there was not enough evidence to support routine mammograms for women in their 40s.
Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, weighed in on the Times article on the ACS Press room Blog and agreed that it is recommended reading: “This is a powerful and important article, one I believe every breast cancer advocate, and frankly even advocates for prostate and other cancers, should read,” wrote Brawley. “ It lays out the challenge that lies before us in reducing death and suffering from breast cancer, while demonstrating the challenge that we in public health face in how to accurately and truthfully administer information.”
FDA Approves Plan B One-Step for Women 15 and Older
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved over-the-counter use of the Plan B One-Step emergency contraceptive for women age 15 years or older. The single dose pill previously required a prescription. “Research has shown that access to emergency contraceptive products has the potential to further decrease the rate of unintended pregnancies in the United States,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, MD “The data reviewed by the agency demonstrated that women 15 years of age and older were able to understand how Plan B One-Step works, how to use it properly, and that it does not prevent the transmission of a sexually transmitted disease.” Last month a federal judge in New York ordered the FDA to make Plan B available to all women and/or make Plan B One-Step available “without age or point of sale restrictions,” according to an FDA release. Read more on teen pregnancy.
Study: Amusement Rides Injure 4,000 U.S. Kids Annually
As the weather warms and families start to plan summer vacations, it’s important for parents to remember to use caution when selecting amusement park rides. More than 4,000 kids are injured on an amusement ride each year in the United States, according to researchers at the Center for Injury Research and Policy at the Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. Injuries sent about 93,000 children to emergency rooms between 1990 and 2010, with about 70 percent of those coming May through September. Researchers say the numbers demonstrate the need for standardized safety regulations. "Although the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has jurisdiction over mobile rides, regulation of fixed-site rides is currently left to state or local governments, leading to a fragmented system," said senior author Gary Smith, MD, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy, in a release. "A coordinated national system would help us prevent amusement-ride-related injuries through better injury surveillance and more consistent enforcement of standards." The study includes safety tips for parents. Read more on safety.
Prevention App Wins HHS Challenge
The winner of the a recent mobile app challenge from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion is the myfamily app developed by Lyfechannel, a company that translates evidence-based health behavior and adherence studies into mobile applications. App users can find prevention information and tips for each member of their family; create personal health alerts; and keep track of medical check-ups and vaccinations. HHS research shows that patients who are better engaged in their own health care have better health outcomes and that electronic tools can help them be better health consumers. Read more on prevention.
Each year hundreds of public health researchers and practitioners meet to share research and best practices on creating a stronger public health system at the annual Keeneland Conference in Lexington, Ky. The conference, which will be held this year April 8-11, is sponsored by the National Coordinating Center for Public Health Services and Systems Research, based at the University of Kentucky.
Paul Kuehnert, MS, RN, senior program officer and director of the Public Health Team at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), will speak at the opening lunch about threats and opportunities for public health, and how we can re-shape the system to create a healthier future for all. We caught up with him to get his insights before the conference on the evolving role of public health. Prior to joining the Foundation, he was county health officer and executive director for health for Kane County, Ill., where he led a partnership between the health department, hospitals and other partners to assess and address the community’s health needs. Kuehnert is a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and worked as a primary care provider in schools and other community settings in Missouri and Illinois.
NewPublicHealth: What are you going to talk about at Keeneland?
Paul Kuehnert: I think a lot of us are familiar with the data on our health care system, and the inter-twined issues of access, quality and cost. And the fact that younger Americans have a lower life expectancy than young people in other developed countries. We’re just not getting the health outcomes that one would expect from the amount we’re spending.
When you pit that against our legacy in public health, and what’s happening in the environment we operate in, I think there’s a real need to identify the threats and opportunities and re-imagine what we’re doing. We’re working from old models that need to be really questioned. What I’m hoping to do, and that others will do, is to provoke some creative thinking about where we need to go in public health to truly meet the challenges that face our communities and our nation.
NPH: What do you see as some of the major public health challenges today?
Kuehnert: For me, one of the first that comes to mind is that issue of life expectancy. With all the resources we have, we’re actually losing ground. It’s extremely concerning and has to do with a number of underlying dynamics—but particularly the epidemic of chronic disease, things such as obesity, heart disease, cancer, and all of those threats to our health. And there are also the incredible health disparities, the inequities that are reflected in our health across the country.
Yesterday, New York State Health Commissioner Nirav R. Shah, MD, MPH, released the 2013-17 Prevention Agenda: New York State’s Health Improvement Plan—a statewide, five-year plan to improve the health and quality of life for everyone who lives in New York State. The plan is a blueprint for local community action to improve health and address health disparities.
Dr. Shah was joined by New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley, MD, MPH, and representatives from leading health care and community organizations at the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center in Manhattan. Among the other speakers were Jo Ivey Boufford, MD, president of The New York Academy of Medicine, and Daniel Sisto, president of the Healthcare Association of New York State.
>>Read a related Q&A with Commissioner Nirav Shah.
“We’ve all heard the adage—an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” said Commissioner Shah. “We need to fundamentally change the way we think about achieving better health in our society.”
That fundamental shift toward prevention, said Dr. Shah, requires setting clear goals, promoting active collaborations, and identifying policies and strategies that create opportunities for everyone to live a healthy life.
The Prevention Agenda identifies five priority areas:
- Prevent chronic disease
- Promote healthy and safe environments
- Promote healthy women, infants and children
- Promote mental health and prevent substance abuse
- Prevent HIV, STDs, vaccine-preventable diseases, and healthcare-associated infections
A health improvement plan like the one released by the New York Department of Health is a critical prerequisite for public health department accreditation. Recently, the Public Health Accreditation Board awarded five-year accreditation to 11 public health departments. Those 11 are the first of hundreds currently preparing to become accredited, including New York state.
"Completing the accreditation application, which includes our Prevention Agenda 2013-17, provides the Department of Health a valuable opportunity to engage partners and community stakeholders in our ongoing efforts to improve public health, evaluate the effectiveness of our services and showcase our successes," Commissioner Shah said.
Today, New York State Health Commissioner Nirav R. Shah, MD, MPH, released the 2013-17 Prevention Agenda: New York State’s Health Improvement Plan—a statewide, five-year plan to improve the health and quality of life for everyone who lives in New York State. The plan is a blueprint for local community action to improve health and address health disparities, and is the result of a collaboration with 140 organizations, including hospitals, local health departments, health providers, health plans, employers and schools that identified key priorities.
Dr. Shah, the architect behind today’s prevention agenda, was confirmed as New York State’s youngest Commissioner of Health two years ago. The state’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, had three critical goals: reduce the state’s annual Medicaid growth rate of 13 percent, increase access to care and improve health care outcomes.
Shah, a former Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Physician Faculty Scholar and Clinical Scholar, has already made important inroads in all three goals and the prevention agenda builds on that. NewPublicHealth spoke with Dr. Shah about prevention efforts already underway in the state, and what it takes to partner health and health care to achieve needed changes in population health.
NewPublicHealth: How does improving the social determinants of health help you achieve your goals in New York State?
Dr. Shah: New York’s Medicaid program covers 40 percent of the health care dollars spent in the state. We were growing at an unsustainable rate, and we needed a rapid, but effective solution. So, we engaged the health care community, including advocates, physician representatives, the legislature, unions, management, and launched a process that enables continuous, incremental, but real change toward the Triple Aim—improved individual health care, improved population health and lower costs.
Collectively, these efforts resulted in a $4 billion savings last year in the State’s Medicaid program, increased the Medicaid rolls by 154,000 people, and resulted in demonstrable improvements in quality throughout the system.
NPH: What opportunities do you see for public health and health care to work together in New York State?