Public Health News Roundup: August 15
Malpractice Worries Mean More Tests, Higher Costs for Patients
Concern over malpractice suits increases the number of diagnostic tests ordered by physicians and referrals to emergency rooms, which in turns adds significantly to the costs of health care, according to a new study in the journal Health Affairs. This problem of “defensive medicine” cost the nation approximately $55.6 billion in 2008, or 2.4 percent of all U.S. health care spending. "It's an area where we can chip away at healthcare costs without causing pain to the patient, since these are services ordered not primarily because doctors think they're medically necessary," said Michelle Mello, senior author and professor of law and public health at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston. Researchers examined the records of approximately 29,000 people who experienced chest pain, lower back pain or headache, but were not later diagnosed with a serious illness related to the complaint. The found that physicians with high levels of concern over malpractice suits ordered additional testing for people with headaches about 11 percent of the time (compared to 6 percent for doctors with low levels of concern) and for patients with lower back pain ordered additional tests about 30 percent of the time (compared to 18 percent). Read more on access to health care.
Poll: 10% of Americans Take Drugs Prescribed for Someone Else
Approximately 1 in 10 Americans has taken prescription drugs prescribed to somebody else, according to a new Reuters/Ipsos poll. About 6 in 10 say they did it for pain relief, while 1 in 5 said it was to sleep or manage stress and anxiety. The poll also found that it was generally not difficult to for people to get their hands on non-prescribed medications, with two-thirds of users saying they were given the drugs by a family member, friend or acquaintance. With prescription drug misuse already the second most abused category of drugs in the United States, this ease of access and casual approach to taking major narcotics is a serious public health issue with severe potential problems. Wilson Compton, MD, a division director at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said that because prescription drugs are tailored to a person’s particular needs, it can be dangerous for someone else to take them. "Simply because it's a medicine that comes from a pharmacy does not mean it is without risk," he said. "There's a reason they require a prescription." Read more on prescription drugs.
Drug for Enlarged Prostate, Baldness Improves Ability to Identify Prostate Cancer Early
A recently completed study on the effects of a drug used to treat enlarged prostates and male pattern baldness also reduces the risk of prostate cancer by making it easier to identify and treat early, according to a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine. It also refutes concerns that finasteride, found in the prostate drug Proscar and the hair-loss drug Propecia, promotes more virulent prostate cancers."You take Proscar for six months to a year and it halves the size of your prostate, but the cancer inside your prostate does not shrink," said Otis Brawley, MD, chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society. "If I'm performing a biopsy on a smaller prostate, I'm more likely to hit that cancer than if I am sticking into a larger prostate. This drug wasn't causing more prostate cancer. It's causing more prostate cancer to be diagnosed." Approximately 1 in 6 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime, with 3 to 5 percent dying from the disease. Read more on cancer.