Category Archives: Technology
MERS Unlikely to Cause Pandemic; Global Cooperation Still Needed
Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), which emerged last year in Saudi Arabia, was compared to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and found to be less infectious, in a new study published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases. The study examined the question of whether MERS has the potential to cause a pandemic, and how quickly. The study authors concluded that MERS does not yet have pandemic potential, and in fact appears to be less infectious than SARS. There have been 81 laboratory-confirmed cases of MERS infections, 45 of which were fatal. MERS is more likely to affect older men with chronic disease, and were most often transmitted in health care settings—but unlike SARS, the virus was less likely to also infect healthy health care workers. Researchers call for healthcare facilities to prepare to provide safe care for patients with acute respiratory infections, and take measures to help prevent the spread of the disease. Read more on infectious disease.
CDC: HPV Vaccination Rates for Adolescent Girls Remain Stagnant
Just over half (53.8%) of girls age 13-17 years old received the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine in 2012, with no increase over the rate in 2011. Since 2006, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has recommended routine vaccination of adolescent girls at ages 11 or 12 years with 3 doses of HPV vaccine. HPV causes 70 percent of cervical cancers. If HPV vaccine had been offered during healthcare visits when girls were already in the office to get a different vaccine, HPV vaccination coverage could have reached 90 percent. Approximately 79 million persons in the United States are infected with HPV, and approximately 14 million will become newly infected each year. Each year, 26,000 new cases of cancer are diagnosed that can be traced back to HPV infection. Read more on vaccines.
New Breathalyzer-like Device Tells You If Your Workout is Working
New technology being prototyped in Japan measures how well you're burning body fat and help you gauge the success of your diet and exercise program, using a smartphone and pocket-sized, bluetooth enabled device. The device measures exhaled breath for acetone, a metabolite produced from fat burning. The researchers tested the device in 17 healthy men and women, reporting their findings online July 25 in the Journal of Breath Research, and finding that the device was as effective as more established "gold standard" measures. Further research is needed on larger, more diverse populations, but if it pans out, "Enabling users to monitor the state of fat burning could play a pivotal role in daily diet management," Hiyama said in a journal news release. Read more on technology.
Up to 80 percent of family physicians are expected to use electronic health records (EHRs) by the end of this year, and experts across the country are talking about ways to leverage this influx of data to inform better health. A pre-conference workshop at the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) Annual Meeting focused on Beacon Communities, which are part of a pilot to demonstrate how meaningful use of EHRs can lead to better health and better health care at a lower cost. The HHS Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT is providing $250 million over three years to 17 selected communities throughout the United States where numerous institutions are sharing data to inform quality improvement and other data-informed efforts.
The NACCHO meeting highlighted Beacon communities that are partnering with public health in different ways to forge data-informed population health activities.
Health departments in North Carolina have been required to do community assessments since 2002 as part of a statewide health department accreditation program and are very experienced with working with this data, whereas hospitals are just now beginning to be required to do similar assessments under the affordable care act, according to John Graham, PhD, PMP, Senior Investigator for the NC Institute for Public Health at the Gillings School for Global Public Health, which plays an integral role in the Southern Piedmont Beacon Community.
“Health assessment planning and communication are tools that can be leveraged to foster more collaboration,” said Graham. “We really try to coordinate public health prevention and health care. We can do a lot with clinical interventions, looking at it from a population health perspective.”
Much Like Television, Excessive Cell Phone Use Lowers Fitness Levels
Are you reading this on your smartphone? If so, it’s probably not doing your weight any good. A new study in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity has linked cell phone use by college students to decreased physical activity and fitness levels. Much like watching television, cell phone use is a largely sedentary activity that is easy to get lost in. It can also lead to casual overeating. Researchers found the average student spent about five hours on the phone each day and sent hundreds of text messages. "We have to look at this similar to what happened in the industrial revolution and how it changed us," said Nancy Copperman, director of public health initiatives at North Shore-LIJ Health System, in Great Neck, N.Y. "A study like this raises the importance of how this technology affects how we move, eat and sleep. We have to look at the impact of technology on our health." Read more on technology.
Study Links Bipolar Disorder, Early Death
A new study showing that people with bipolar disorder are more likely to die early and from a variety of causes also illustrates the difficulty of treating the physical effects of the illness. "Whatever we're doing, these people are not dying (just) because of suicide. That's not the reason for increased mortality. That's a hard thing to get across," said David Kupfer, PhD, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, who was not a part of the study. The study found that people with bipolar disorder—an estimated 1 to 5 percent of the global population—die about nine years earlier and are at higher risk for heart disease, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, the flu and pneumonia. However, people who knew they were bipolar had the same death rates as those who were not, which suggests "that timely medical diagnosis and treatment may effectively reduce mortality among bipolar disorder patients to approach that of the general population," according to the study. Read more on mental health.
One Dose of ADHD Medication Improves Balance in Older Adults
A single dose of an attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medication can improve the balance of older adults who have difficulty walking, according to a new study in The Journals of Gerontology. Methylphenidate (MPH) is also used to treat narcolepsy. Researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev found that it can reduce the number and rate of step errors in both single and dual tasks. "Our results add to a growing body of evidence showing that MPH may have a role as a therapeutic option for improving gait and reducing fall risk in older adults," said Itshak Melzer of BGU's Schwartz Movement Analysis and Rehabilitation Laboratory, Department of Physical Therapy, Faculty of Health Sciences. "This is especially true in real-life situations, where the requirement to walk commonly occurs under more complicated, 'dual task' circumstances with cognitive attention focused elsewhere (e.g., watching traffic, talking) and not on performing a specific motor task." Read more on aging.
Study: The Longer People Are Obese, the Greater Their Risk for Heart Disease
At a time when obesity rates for both U.S. adults and children are rising, new research indicates that the longer someone is obese, the greater their risk for heart disease. The study appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association. "Each year of obesity was associated with about a 2 to 4 percent higher risk of subclinical coronary heart disease," said study lead author Jared Reis, an epidemiologist with the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. "Those with longest duration of both overall obesity and abdominal obesity tended to have the highest risk [for subclinical disease].” Subclinical heart disease includes arterial damage indicated by markers such as calcium buildup on arterial walls, but which “has not yet developed into symptomatic illness,” according to HealthDay. The study is yet more evidence of the need to focus on the prevention and treatment of childhood obesity, according to the researchers. Read more on heart health.
EHRs Would Help Doctors’ Offices Cut Costs Slightly
Doctors’ offices that utilize electronic health records (EHRs) will spend less per patient than offices that use traditional paper records, according to a new study in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine. While the savings is expected to be small—about $5 per patient per month—they will add up over time. With a government commitment of about $30 billion for the widespread adoption of EHRs, the hope is the decrease in inefficiencies, incorrect care and errors will lead to better, cheaper health care. Previous studies have shown conflicting results. Rainu Kaushal, MD, who wrote an editorial that accompanied the study, said that while she does not expected the EHRs to contribute significantly to cost savings, their adoption is still vital. "EHRs may or may not directly contribute to those savings… but without investing in them you cannot achieve new models of healthcare delivery," said Kaushal, director of the Center for Healthcare Informatics and Policy at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York. Read more on technology.
No Evidence of Benefits of Community-wide Dementia Screening
New research has found no proof that there are any clinical, economic or emotional benefits to programs that use community-wide screening to identify people with dementia. "We found no evidence that population screening would lead to better clinical or psychosocial outcomes, no evidence furthering our understanding of the risks it entails and no indication of its added value compared to current practice," said author Carol Brayne, a professor of public health medicine from Cambridge Institute of Public Health, in the United Kingdom. The debate over the strategy’s efficacy has been going on for quite some time, with one side noting that there isn’t even a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, and the other noting that as many as half of the people with dementia remain undiagnosed. The researchers, however, did emphasize that family and friends should be aware of the warning signs of dementia so they can help loved ones get treatment. Read more on community health.
NCI Releases Massive Data Set to Help Cancer Researchers
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) has released a massive data set of cancer-specific genetic variations to help the cancer research community gain a better understanding or both drug response and drug resistance to cancer treatments. The data set was published in Cancer Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research. The database—the largest worldwide—includes 6 billion data points connecting “drugs with genomic variants for the whole human genome across cell lines from nine tissues of origin, including breast, ovary, prostate, colon, lung, kidney, brain, blood, and skin,” said Yves Pommier, MD, PhD, NCI’s chief of the Laboratory of Molecular Pharmacology. “Opening this extensive data set to researchers will expand our knowledge and understanding of tumorigenesis [the process by which normal cells are transformed into cancer], as more and more cancer-related gene aberrations are discovered,” he said. “This comes at a great time, because genomic medicine is becoming a reality, and I am very hopeful this valuable information will change the way we use drugs for precision medicine.” Read more on cancer.
FDA Approves Device that Uses the Brain’s Electrical Impulses to Diagnose ADHD
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the marketing of the first medical device that will look at a brain’s electrical impulses to help determine whether children and adolescents have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The 15-20 minute test for people ages 6 to 17, which utilizes electroencephalogram technology, can be used to confirm an ADHD diagnosis or help health professionals decide whether further testing should focus on ADHD. “Diagnosing ADHD is a multistep process based on a complete medical and psychiatric exam,” said Christy Foreman, director of the Office of Device Evaluation at the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health. “The NEBA System along with other clinical information may help health care providers more accurately determine if ADHD is the cause of a behavioral problem.” Read more on technology.
Study: Divorce When a Child is Young Negatively Impacts Later Parental Relationship Security
Young children whose parents divorce may have more difficult and less secure relationships with their parents later in life, according to a new study in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Researchers looked at date from 7,335 men and women with the average age of 24, finding those whose parents divorced when they were age 5 or younger had less secure parental relationships as adults. A secure relationship means that the child feels “they can trust them and depend on them and that the parent will be available psychologically,” according to HealthDay. The negative effect was especially true for relationships with the father. The study found that participants were more likely to have a “strained” relationship with the parent they did not live with after the divorce; about 74 percent of the participants lived with their mothers and only 11 percent lived with their fathers. Omri Gillath, an associate professor of social psychology at the University of Kansas, said the results demonstrate the need for divorcing parents to be as civilized as possible. Read more on pediatrics.
Employer Mandate to Provide Health Insurance for Workers Delayed One Year
The U.S. Department of the Treasury announced yesterday that implementation of the rule under the Affordable Care Act requiring employers with more than fifty workers to provide health insurance or pay penalties beginning January 1, 2014, will be delayed by one year. Read more on access to health care.
Pharmacist-guided Home Hypertension Monitoring Shows Significant Results
Home blood pressure monitoring augmented by partnering with a pharmacist can lead to greater improvements in hypertension than the traditional treatments, according to a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. People in the study intervention group received a home blood pressure monitor, training and lifestyle advice. The monitor automatically sent updates to the pharmacists, who could adjust treatment accordingly. About 72 percent of the study participants who underwent the new care combination had their hypertension under control after six months, compared to 45 percent for the participants who underwent the usual care. This control also persisted months after the interventions. “The reason that only about half of people with [high] blood pressure have it under control is that usual care isn't working. We combined two interventions that we thought would be very powerful together—home monitoring and pharmacist managements—and this is one system that we've shown works very well for blood pressure control," said senior investigator Karen Margolis, MD, from the HealthPartners Institute for Education and Research in Minneapolis. About 30 percent of U.S. adults suffer from high blood pressure. Read more on heart health.
HHS Issues Final Plan on Improving Patient Care Utilizing Health IT
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has issued its final “Health IT Patient Safety Action and Surveillance Plan” to utilize health information technology (IT) to better protect patients and improve the quality of care. “When implemented and used properly, health IT is an important tool in finding and avoiding medical errors and protecting patients,” said National Coordinator for Health IT Farzad Mostashari, MD. “This Plan will help us make sure that these new technologies are used to make health care safer.” The Office of National Coordinator for Health IT plan outlines the responsibilities of both HHS and the private sector. It includes making it easier to report health IT-related incidents and hazards using certified electronic health record technology; encouraging reports to Patient Safety Organizations and updating standardized reporting forms; encouraging the use of standardized reporting forms in hospital incident reporting systems; and training on how to use the forms to identify safe and unsafe health IT practices. Read more on technology.
Hospital Inpatient Discharge Data Can Help Prepare for Future Patient ‘Safety Events’
Hospital administration data—specifically inpatient discharge data—can be used to track the incidence of patient “safety events” now so that physicians and other health care providers are better able to treat them in the future, according to a new study in the Journal of Healthcare Risk Management. The study found that an average of 9 percent of inpatient discharges in the sample experienced a safety event, which increased the cost of a hospital stay by about $35,000. “While this figure may be a bit startling, it is not a cause for alarm, in that many of the events that we found are adverse events for which there are no known prevention strategies,” said Jennifer Taylor, MD, an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health in Drexel University’s School of Public Health. “While such events may not be deemed to be preventable now, we need to start tracking them so our research and development colleagues know what’s next in the prevention pipeline.” Read more on research.
Over-Testing of Cholesterol Levels Wastes Time, Money
One-third of people with heart disease have their cholesterol levels checked too often, which can waste time, cost unneeded money and not actually improve their health, according to a new study in JAMA Internal Medicine. Possible reasons for the over-testing include the desired to reach or exceed American Heart Association performance measures, as well as the additional payment that comes with running a cholesterol panel. "I think a lot of it is because of the habit of (ordering) labs on patients…without really thinking about, ‘What am I going to do with this information with someone who is at target for cholesterol?'" said Salim Virani, MD, of the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Houston. Michael Johansen, MD, of The Ohio State University in Columbus, said physicians might be better off placing patients with heart disease on a statin, while ensuring they eat properly and get the right amount of exercise. Read more on heart health.
‘Active’ Video Gaming Boosts Kids’ Physical Activity
While playing most video games is not more physically stimulating than watching television, newer-generation “active” games may in fact boost a kid’s physical activity in the home, according to a new study in the journal BMJ Open. The study first removed all games from the home for eight weeks, then had eight weeks of passive gaming followed by eight weeks of active gaming. While the positive findings were only minor, the researchers said they could prove significant because of kids’ increased exposure to technology. "Therefore small changes across a variety of these platforms could result in a more substantial clinical impact. While our study focused on the home setting, school offers another opportunity for more active technologies such as sit-stand desks or active-input electronic media as part of lessons.” Read more on technology.
Millions of cell phone customers might have heard their phones let out a high pitched alarm and spontaneously shake yesterday afternoon. The mobile siren is an indication that the severe weather is threatening the area—and roughly 62 million Americans were in the path of severe weather along the East Coast yesterday, as the region was wracked with severe thunder storms, tornados and flooding.
The mobile shake, rattle and siren is a free service from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and many nationwide cell phone carriers. You can find out if you’re covered by pressing 6-1-1 on your cell phone, which is your carrier’s customer service line. Earlier this week a NewPublichealth reporter, unaware of the service, suddenly felt his phone shake and was alerted to potential life-threatening flooding along his commuting route.
The service is actually two years old, but to get consumers to pay attention to the alerts, and the threats they’re warning about, FEMA recently partnered with the Ad Council on a new public service announcement.
The specific warnings come through as text messages with no more than 90 characters. Categories of alerts include extreme weather, AMBER alerts indicating a child has been abducted, and Presidential alerts during a national emergency.
One of the best features of the service is that it automatically tunes to weather where you are, not where you’re from. Go on vacation to the Outer Banks of North Carolina from Missouri, for example, and you will get alerts, if needed, about whether out on the barrier island. That’s important. Gary Cox, health director of Oklahoma City, which recently saw devastating tornadoes that killed and injured scores of people, said among those killed and injured were travelers to the area who hadn’t tuned into weather forecasts and didn’t know to take cover.
>>Bonus Link: Read an FAQ from FEMA on the wireless alerts.
May is Stroke Awareness Month, a good time to bump up the percentage of Americans who recognize the most common symptoms of a stroke from only 38 percent, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) survey. Speedily identifying stroke symptoms and calling for an ambulance is essential because people who get to an emergency room for treatment within three hours are healthier three months later than people for whom stroke care was delayed, according to the CDC.
New this year to help increase symptom awareness is a free smartphone app from the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association called F.A.S.T. The acronym stands for common stroke symptoms and a critical call to action: Face drooping; Arm weakness; Speech difficulty; and Time to call 9-1-1. The app also includes a link to additional symptoms that bystanders and caregivers can access and a 9-1-1 button to call an ambulance. Using the 9-1-1 button saves time by not having to back out of the app to dial the number manually. And using the button also generates an automatic time stamp, which gives emergency room staff a good indication of when symptoms began. Some treatments can only be given within a specific time window.