Category: Health Care

Weekly News Roundup: The Science of Layoffs

By Melissa Lafsky | December 5, 2008 1:46 pm

• It’s no surprise that Americans are losing sleep (though the label “sleep epidemic” is a bit extreme). So cue the comprehensive guide to insomnia treatments.

• The implosion of media spares no one: CNN cuts science and tech unit, bloggers mourn.

Greening Mexico City? If it happens, color us impressed.

• Michigan legalizes medical marijuana, but patient’s can’t use it ’til April. Ah government bureaucracy.

• The Facebook virus is coming! The Facebook virus is coming!

• Is the Bureau of Land Management holding a “fire sale” for Utah’s oil-and-gas drilling leases?

• Um, duh. Seriously, is this even a question?

Clinic to Reveal All Doctor-Drug Industry Ties on the Web

By Melissa Lafsky | December 4, 2008 2:32 pm

Doctors and drug company money have gone together like peas and carrots for as long as most of us can remember. By now, it’s become almost a cliche to note that Big Pharma continues to spend billions every year “influencing” docs, some of whom are pocketing seven-figure checks for notoriously-nebulous “consulting fees.”

All of which makes it pretty remarkable that major medical centers are now planning to disclose the drug company ties of every one of their doctors. While criticism of the chummy relations between the medical and pharmaceutical communities has been on the rise in recent years, a move like this is unprecedented—and has the potential to set a new standard in the industry.

The leader of the disclosure charge is none other than medical behemoth the Cleveland Clinic, which will announce this week that it plan to disclose every physician and researcher tie to the pharmaceutical industry… on its Web site no less. Granted, the number of other hospitals that plan to take such a public and widespread approach to disclosure isn’t huge, according to ABC News, but it includes some pretty big names, including the University of Iowa and Duke University’s Clinical Research Institute.

But is it enough?

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The Shaken Baby Debate: When Law and Medicine Collide

By Melissa Lafsky | December 3, 2008 6:11 pm

This month in DISCOVER, Mark Anderson has a feature story on the medical controversy surrounding shaken baby syndrome (SBS). The crux of the debate is this:

On one side of the courtroom, representing mainstream medical opinion, are those who believe shaken baby syndrome (SBS) is a valid diagnosis. They say that decades of clinical experience and criminal confessions—in which a parent has admitted to shaking a child with symptoms of SBS—bolster their case to the point of near-certainty. On the other side, a growing number of skeptics are now claiming that the evidence for the syndrome rests on dubious medical ground with questionable biophysical models supporting it.

The confusion centers around the trio of symptoms that lead to an SBS diagnosis: bleeding between the brain and skull, bleeding behind the retinas, and brain swelling. Conventional medical wisdom holds that some or all of these mean a baby is suffering from SBS. But a growing number of skeptics say the symptom list could come from any number of other sources, from infections to diet to a fall.

While the final medical verdict is still up in the air, the issue highlights the tricky—and potentially devastating—fallout when medical uncertainty headbutts the legal system. SBS presents a clear dilemma: If a baby has it, the “fact” that the baby’s death or injuries were caused by SBS is in and of itself evidence that a parent, caretaker, or other handler intentionally committed a crime.

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MORE ABOUT: children, crime, medicine

Bad Idea of the Day: Governments Prescribing Heroin

By Melissa Lafsky | December 1, 2008 2:53 pm

What would happen if the U.S. government announced a new obesity-fighting initiative whereby every chronically obese person in the country was given up to two federally-funded Big Macs a day? That’s basically the plan of attack Switzerland is taking with its heroin addicts. The BBC reports that the Swiss have passed a “radical” health policy that allows long-term addicts to receive the drug at government clinics, free of charge.

A whopping sixty-eight percent of voters supported the policy, which would allow addicts to inject the drug up to twice a day under medical supervision. Granted, the scheme has some benefits: it increases control of needle use and disposal, provides incentives for addicts to come into clinics regularly and be treated for other medical or psychological problems, and removes the need for them to resort to crime to pay for their habit. Part of the bill’s popularity also comes from the fact that the scheme has already been underway in Zurich for 14 years, and many consider it successful.

Still, at the end of the day, the bill is exactly what it sounds like: a plan to have the government pay to shoot its citizens up with expensive and extremely dangerous drugs.

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Weekly News Roundup: Thanksgiving Edition

By Melissa Lafsky | November 26, 2008 12:08 pm

• The New York Times advises us to approach the Thanksgiving meal “the way a CEO might.” Uhh, not even sure where to start on that one.

• Some good news this holiday: Cancer diagnoses are on the decline.

• The newest in medical technology: A barcode chip that tests your blood for disease.

• The latest in climate change research: A shrimp on a treadmill. Seriously.

• You know it’s bad out there when gaming companies are seeing their stock take a hit.

• And to top it off, the financial crisis hits Google. It’s official: No one is immune.

• Sketchy study finds that more people believe in aliens and ghosts than God. Or perhaps they just think God is an alien?

• And here’s a fun idea in the obesity era: health waivers for Thanksgiving dinner guests. More casserole, anyone?

Insult to Injury: Katrina Kids Widely Sickened by FEMA Trailers

By Melissa Lafsky | November 25, 2008 3:03 pm

Newsweek reports that the children displaced by Hurricane Katrina who spent the longest amount of time in government-provided temporary housing—a.k.a. FEMA’s toxic trailers—are “the sickest I have ever seen in the U.S.,” according to Irwin Redlener, Children’s Health Fund president and a professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

The ailments, according to a study of 261 post-Katrina kids, range from mental health disorders to anemia, and are astonishingly widespread: Forty-one percent of the children are anemic—twice the rate found in minors in New York City homeless shelters—and 42 percent have respiratory infections and other problems likely linked to the excessive formaldehyde in the trailers.

As we’ve discussed on Discoblog, formaldehyde is a probable carcinogen as well as an allergen, and is used in many products, including the wood used to build these disaster homes. The formaldehyde gas levels in FEMA’s trailers were so toxic that Katrina victims began complaining of illnesses, including breathing difficulties, bloody noses, and even gas-linked deaths, almost immediately after they moved into them.

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MORE ABOUT: children, katrina

Weekly News Roundup: Hawking Drugs on the Radio

By Melissa Lafsky | November 21, 2008 1:39 pm

• Just when you thought it was safe to put the abortion debate to rest: Bush tries to sneak in additional “protections” for hospital employees who don’t wish to perform the procedure.

• Practicing physicians aren’t the only ones on the take from drug companies; now it’s radio hosts as well.

• A new survey finds bad news for China’s soil—and its food supply.

• All that technology love can work both ways: Verizon employees are caught peeking at Obama’s private cell phone records.

• Could HIV prevention come in the form of a pill?

• And are “climate-smart chickens” worthy of their name?

• And finally, one of the best, and most honest, run-downs of what’s really happening with women in science.


Is Bobby Kennedy Really the "Anti-Science" Choice for EPA Head?

By Melissa Lafsky | November 20, 2008 4:51 pm

Now that the worldwide euphoria over Obama’s victory is abating, it’s time to look at some dismal facts: The air is still thick with pollution, the globe is still warming, and the science community is in a frenzy over who the president-elect will choose to head up the battered, broken EPA.

The short and distinguished list of candidates includes include former Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection head Kathleen McGinty; California Air Resources Board chairwoman Mary Nichols; Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection head Ian Bowles; Kansas governor Kathleen Sibelius; New Jersey environmental commissioner Lisa Jackson; and, finally, environmental lawyer, activist, and prolific blogger Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

While all are talented and have the potential to breathe life into the foundering agency, the one receiving the biggest pounding is Kennedy. Across the Internet, science writers have lambasted the longtime environmentalist for his alleged “anti-science” views—in particular, his public criticism of vaccines.

There’s no question that Kennedy has been vocal in his campaign against the CDC, particularly regarding its stance on Thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative. In 2005, he published a controversial piece in Salon charging that the government had concealed data showing that Thimerosal-containing vaccines were harmful. Critics excoriated the article, and Kennedy has since been labeled a traitor to science and affixed with the anti-vaxer label.

Still, the reality isn’t quite so simple. While Kennedy has indeed pointed accusatory fingers at certain vaccine practices—and has fallen victim to the “hand-picked studies” effect on at least one occasion—the charges that he’s a full-on anti-vaxer are incorrect and arguably irrelevant.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Climate Change, Energy, Health Care

Another Facet of the Health Care Crisis: Miserable Doctors

By Melissa Lafsky | November 19, 2008 4:26 pm

Not only are doctors becoming increasingly, frighteningly scarce, but they’re also hating life. A recent survey of 11,950 primary care docs and specialists done by the Physicians’ Foundation found that 60 percent would not recommend medicine as a career, while 42 percent said professional morale is either “poor” or “very low.”

The reasons for all this depression can be boiled down to insurance companies and policy headaches:

“The reported reasons for the widespread frustration among physicians include increased time dealing with non-clinical paperwork, difficulty receiving reimbursement and burdensome government regulations. Physicians say these issues keep them from the most satisfying aspect of their job: patient relationships.”

Food for thought, Obama? As for all those Medicare cut proposals being thrown around, 82 percent said their practices would be “unsustainable” if pay cuts were made. A whopping 94 percent reported that the time they spend on non-clinical paperwork has gone up in the past three years, with 63 percent saying the paperwork leads to less time spent on each patient.

And of course, there’s the shortage, which is already alive and well: 78 percent of the physicians surveyed believe there’s an existing dearth of primary care doctors, while 49 percent say they plan to reduce the number of patients they see, or even stop practicing over the next three years. Yikes.

RB: Get Thee to Medical School!

MORE ABOUT: doctors, economy, happiness

Weekly News Roundup: The Military Hates Whales, Warming to Bloggers

By Melissa Lafsky | November 14, 2008 8:46 am

• Transition! Transition! (Insert music here). So here’s the question of the day: Will Obama create a National Energy Council?

• Just in time for winter: A complete history of the flu through the ages.

• The military fought the whales and won.

• What, “Global Warming Poobah” was already taken? Gore offered (but turned down) job as White House “Climate Czar.”

• We can’t decide if this is heartening (drivers are being safe!) or mortally depressing: California air pollution kills more people per year than car crashes.

• A soldier-blogger gets his moment in the spotlight—though the real question is, what does he think of Trooptube?

MORE ABOUT: flu, gore, military, obama, pollution
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