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Managing your health, pain, medications, and health care costs

Broad categories below are

Managing Pain

Hospitals, Hospitalization, ER and Urgent Care: What You Need to Know

Medical Bills 101

Managing Health Care

MANAGING PAIN
Managing ordinary (not chronic) pain
Practical tips for easing specific types of pain
Managing back pain
Managing chronic pain
Managing pain medications
Organizations associated with pain management and relief
The medical use of marijuana

HOSPITALS, HOSPITALIZATION, ER and URGENT CARE: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
What you need to know about U.S. hospitals: report cards, watchdog sites, important sources of information
Urgent care and emergency care, What you should know about (they're not the same)
Managing hospitalization and after
Hospitals and hospital systems: issues within the industry



MEDICAL BILLS 101
Managing medical bills: hospital, ER, urgent care, and "extras"
Surprise medical bills
Outrageous medical bills (examples and case histories)
How to fight excessive medical bills
Government efforts to protect against wrongful medical billing



MANAGING HEALTH CARE
Basic healthcare explanations: How things (in the body) work
Online-resources for patients/consumers/patient advocates/caregivers
For your medical reference shelf
Books about how healthcare professionals train, think, and act
Making smart medical choices
Patients sharing info about health care services and costs
Dealing with rape and sexual assault
Women's reproductive health
Addressing maternal mortality in the U.S.
The crisis in rural and small town health care
Dental care: What you should know
Screening tests: which are worthwhile, when?
Complementary and alternative medicine
Improving health with yoga
Telemedicine and virtual medical visits
Vitamins and supplements, Shopping for
Your gut microbiome

 

SEE ALSO

Essential medical links for patients, families, caregivers
Infectious diseases, Understanding, treating, and controlling
Resisting overdiagnosis, overtesting, and overtreatment--and misdiagnosis
Buying drugs and procedures smartly, cheaply, safely
Fighting drug price gouging and making drugs more affordable
Finding prices for medical procedures
Managing medications, tests, procedures, and treatments
Medications, tests, procedures, and treatments to avoid
Questioning drug claims and managing medication side effects
Reducing medical costs
Why U.S. medical costs are so high and where the system needs fixing

MANAGING PAIN

Managing ordinary (not chronic) pain
Managing chronic pain
Managing pain medications

Practical tips for easing specific types of pain
Organizations associated with pain management and relief
The medical use of marijuana

Managing ordinary (not chronic) pain


Pain (MedlinePlus)
Words Matter When Talking About Pain With Your Doctor (Patti Neighmond, Shots, Morning Edition, NPR, 7-23-18) Rating pain on a numerical scale (1 to 10) may be too simplistic. "Treating by numbers" may not get patients the most effective treatment for their particular pain. For chronic pain, being clear can help clinicians choose the right mix of therapies or medications to allow you to stay as active as possible. And staying active can help manage chronic pain. A few alternatives. "Jeter typically asks patients to compare their current pain to the worst pain they ever had, such as childbirth or kidney stones."
• See full separate section on Managing chronic pain
A comprehensive guide to the new science of treating lower back pain (Julia Belluz, Show Me the Evidence series, Vox, 12-12-17) A review of 80-plus studies upends the conventional wisdom. Did you know that "Moving is probably the most important thing you can do for back pain"? or why exercise is helpful? What about spinal manipulation by chiropractors? massage? acupuncture? And which medications might help without causing addiction? Study up--a good overview.
A World Without Pain (Ariel Levy, New Yorker, 1-6-2020) Joanne Cameron, a seventy-two-year-old retired teacher who lives in the Scottish Highlands, has never experienced the extremes of rage, dread, grief, anxiety, or fear. “I see stress,” she continued, “and I’ve seen pain, what it does, but I’m talking about an abstract thing.” In sharp contrast to her near-inability to feel awful, Cameron has an expansive capacity for positive emotions. Scientists are studying her and others like her, to see what they can learn.
Crooked: Outwitting the Back Pain Industry and Getting on the Road to Recovery by Cathryn Jakobson Ramin
Pain Relief: What You Need to Know (Consumer Reports, 4-28-16) 125 million people are in pain, spending some $300 billion on pills, pot, procedures, and natural ‘cures’ to find relief, but are they worth it?
Pain Management: Which Treatment Is Right for You? (Consumer Reports, 4-28-16)
You’re wrong. Pain is not a vital sign. (Miles Gart, KevinMD, 5-15-17) Vital signs are clinical measurements, specifically: pulse rate, temperature, respiration rate and blood pressure, that indicate the state of a patient’s essential body functions. After years of exaggeration, misinformation and a national epidemic of opioid and heroin abuse, the nation is finally coming to terms with the fact that pain is not the fifth vital sign. As a result of equating pain as a vital sign, medical practitioners must come up with a reliable and effective treatment if and when a patient subjectively rates their pain high on the scale.
Try This Instead of Drugs to Treat Neck and Shoulder Pain (CR, 4-28-16) Strengthening weak neck muscles with exercise and applying heat can alleviate the pain
How to Get Rid of Lower Back Pain (Consumer Reports, 4-28-16) If you don't feel better after four weeks, see a doctor because it could be another condition, like osteoporosis
Best Ways to Treat Joint Pain (CR, 4-28-16) Stiff or swollen joints can result in pain, especially first thing in the morning and after resting. Here's what you can do to ease it.
Is Supercooling the Body an Effective Therapy? (Dina Fine Maron, Scientific American, 10-31-16) The market for cryotherapy "devices is beginning to burgeon in the U.S., with sports teams snapping them up to condition their players, and spas and wellness centers installing them for clients looking to relax, lose weight and fight signs of aging....Yet the science behind these devices is decidedly lackluster. In July the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a warning stating that there is no evidence these technologies help to ease muscle aches, insomnia or anxiety or provide any other medical benefit. Instead, it said, they may cause frostbite, burns, eye damage or even asphyxiation. In a statement to Scientific American the agency added, 'The FDA has not approved or cleared any whole-body cryotherapy devices, and we do not have the necessary evidence to substantiate any medical claims being made for these devices.'”
Tension Headache Treatment and Prevention (CR, 4-28-16) A few simple steps like drinking water and doing neck exercises can relieve your pain
Speak Up: What You Should Know about Pain Management (Joint Commission)
When Pain Remains (Jerome Groopman, New Yorker, 10-10-05) What should patients do when doctors can't figure out how to diagnose or treat reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), reclassified in 1994 as complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), the hallmark of which is excruciating pain.
When Pain Remains: Q & A (sidebar to the Groopman piece on CRPS). What should patients do when doctors can’t figure out how to treat their suffering?
Neuroplastix Change the Brain; Relieve the Pain; Transform the Person. Read the book free online.
The disturbing reason some African American patients may be undertreated for pain (Sandhya Somashekhar, Wash Post) African Americans are routinely under-treated for their pain compared with whites, according to research. Whites are more likely than blacks to be prescribed strong pain medications for equivalent ailments. Unconscious stereotypes about African Americans likely contribute to this problem, as well as physicians' difficulty empathizing with patients whose experiences differ from theirs.
Ways to Reduce Pain Naturally
Who Has a Right to Pain Relief? (Rebecca Davis O'Brien, The Atlantic, 8-18-14). The legal, medical, and pharmaceutical industries have all struggled to locate the line between analgesia and drug abuse.
Keith Wailoo on the politicization of pain (Book TV, C-Span, 3-3-15) Professor Keith Wailoo talked about his book, Pain: A Political History, about the politicization of treating pain in the U.S. since the 1950s. How do we decide who is or is not (really) in pain and how to treat that pain. Is chronic pain a disability that should be compensated? Are we exercising compassion in treating pain or creating a generation of dependents. It's the judges, not the doctors and not the scientists, who make significant decisions about pain. (Listen, watch, or read transcript.) A "well-rounded discussion of the politics of pain and pain relief in post WW II America." Wailoo examines how pain has defined the line between liberals and conservatives from just after World War II to the present. From disabling pain to end-of-life pain to fetal pain, the battle over whose pain is real and whose pain deserves relief has created stark ideological divisions at the bedside, in politics, and in the courts -- and the interests and arguments of media, politicians, and medical professionals often work against the voice of the individual suffering pain. What about managing pain in end-of-life care?

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Managing pain medications


Pain Medications (Web MD)

Practical information, clearly and succinctly presented.

Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers include:
---Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
---Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), including ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn) or diclofinac gel.
Both acetaminophen and NSAIDs reduce fever and relieve pain caused by muscle aches and stiffness, but only NSAIDs can also reduce inflammation (swelling and irritation). And so on, including possible side effects.

Prescription medications include
---
Corticosteroids
---Opioids
---Antidepressants
---Anticonvulsants (anti-seizure medications)
---Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
---Lidocaine patches

What's the Difference Between Tylenol, Advil and Aleve? All three medications can help alleviate a child's discomfort, but the active ingredient in each drug is different. In Tylenol, it's acetaminophen; in Advil and Motrin, it's ibuprofen; and in Aleve, it is naproxen. Read about the differences between them and administer the right dose!


Acetaminophen

Acetaminophen Is the Best Pain Reliever for Heart Patients (Orly Avitzur, Consumer Reports, 6-19-16) "Tylenol is a good choice for those needing relief from the physical pain caused by osteoarthritis in the joints or from headache pain and who also have heart troubles such as high blood pressure, heart failure, heart attacks, chest pain due to narrowed coronary arteries (angina), or stroke. Using acetaminophen is a much safer bet than most over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen (Advil and generic) and naproxen (Aleve and generic)....That’s because acetaminophen is unlike other common, over-the-counter pain medications, like ibuprofen and naproxen, which can aggravate high blood pressure, and in turn raise a person's risk of having a heart attack."
Pain Relievers: Understanding Your OTC Options (FamilyDoctor.org)

TYLENOL TOXICITY.

Pills or medicine labeled acetaminophen, "Tylenol," or "aspirin-free pain relief" may all contain acetaminophen. Combining such drugs is like taking poison: it may kill you or irreversibly damage your liver.
Acetaminophen Is Leading Cause of Acute Liver Failure ( Neil Osterweil, MedPage Today, 11-30-05)
Paracetamol poisoning (acetaminophen poisoning, Wikipedia entry)
Acetaminophen poisoning: an update for the intensivist (Paul I Dargan and Alison L Jones, Critical Care, 2002)

 

Addictive pain medication

Addictive Pain Medication: How to Protect Yourself (Theresa Carr, CR, 4-28-16) Many painkillers can be highly addictive.
Chronic Pain Medicines (FamilyDoctor.org).
Home medication safety guide–how to keep kids and pets safe (Singlecare)
How OxyContin's Pain Relief Built 'A World Of Hurt' WHYY's Fresh Air interviews Barry Meier, author of A World of Hurt: Fixing Pain Medicine's Biggest Mistake (Kindle single)
Substance Abuse and Recovery (another full section on this website)
Addiction to opioids and psychoactive drugs

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Practical tips for easing or preventing specific pain (including some back pain)


Home remedies for alleviating sciatica pain (McNees blog, 4-2-16) The piriformis muscle is a small muscle located deep in the buttock (behind the gluteus maximus). It starts at the lower spine and connects to the upper surface of each femur (thighbone). It helps to rotate the hip and turn the leg and foot outward. It sits under deep layers of fat and muscle in your buttock, so if you sit a lot and don't move around, those muscles get compressed. Get up from that chair and move around more! Meanwhile, some suggested remedies.
Lost Art Of Bending Over: How Other Cultures Spare Their Spines (Michaeleen Doucleff, Shots, Morning Edition, NPR, 2-26-18) Audio and transcript, illustrated. Bend at the hips, not the waist. "It's called hip hinging," McGill says. "And I've spent my career trying to prove it's a better way of bending than what we do." What to do: Stretch the hamstrings.
To Fix That Pain in Your Back, You Might Have to Change the Way You Sit (Michaeleen Doucleff, Goats and Soda, Morning Edition, NPR, 8-3-18) Orthopedic surgeon Nomi Khan says we should sit less and sit better. Sitting in a C-shape, over time, can cause disk degeneration. Or one side of a disk can start to bulge.
     Pull your tail out so it can wag. 'To figure out how to shift your pelvis into a healthier position, Jenn Sherer says to imagine for a minute you have a tail. If we were designed like dogs, the tail would be right at the base of your spine. "When you sit with a C shape in your spine, you're sitting on this tail," Sherer says. "It's kind of like a dog with its tail between its legs, who is scared and frightened." To straighten out the C shape, "we need to position the pelvis in a way that this tail could wag." See About Noelle Perez-Christiaens (Spinefulness).
Spinefulness: Heal Your Back, Straighten Your Spine by Jean Couch. Posture, stretching -- runners, pay attention. Position your bones so your bones (not your muscles) absorb your body weight. She's still getting straighter at 79. (Her colleague at the Balance Center, Jenn Sherer, says "What she once perceived as aging isn't aging, but chronic tightness ignored until it becomes pain."
Could Artificial Intelligence solve your back pain and slouching posture? (KCRA 3 Deirdre Fitzpatrick talks to entrepreneur Richard Gray and to the legendary Jean Couch about how software (an app) on your computer can help you sit at your desk and correct your posture. Slouch and an app pops up to correct you. The key problem isn't the chair;  it's the sedentary behavior, the amount you are sitting. Listen till Jean Couch comes on to get the principles. Sitting rigidly isn't the answer. To change your posture -- lift your butt off the chair a couple of inches, then bend at your hip socket (at the top of your leg). Move the bottom of your butt way back into the corner of the chair. And then relax. We have an industrialized workforce, office bound. Not enough moving around.
The Parisian Yoga Witch Who Healed My Back (Abigail Rasminsky, Racked, 7-22-15) In which she writes about Noelle Perez-Christiaens, who developed "d'Aplomb" in her studio in Paris, based on her Yoga studies with yoga guru BKS Iyengar  (how to be "on the axis").
Can't Get Comfortable In Your Chair? Here's What You Can Do (Michaeleen Doucleff interviews Jean Couch on Shots, Morning Edition, NPR, 9-24-18) Most chairs are too deep and too soft, says Couch. There are two tricks: #1: Sit on the front edge. Sit on the front hard part of the chair. Forget about the backrest. Be careful about how you position your legs. Your knee should be below the hip socket. Thats what happens when you're floating in space (when the muscles are most relaxed). #2 Build a perch. Use a jacket or a pillow. Elevate your back with a wedge-shaped pillow (dense). Great for using in the car. See Couch's book, which has helped many, many people: The Runner's Yoga Book: A Balanced Approach to Fitness by Jean Couch. Do not carry all your weight in your muscles.
NASA Standards Inform Comfortable Car Seats (NASA, 2013) Because Nissan had observed that a person’s posture appeared to play a direct role in how physically tired he or she became while driving, the company decided to use NASA’s NBP as a benchmark for a comfortable, balanced posture, with the intention of lessening fatigue on a person’s body.
How to Cope with Pain website (pain management skills) Breathing Exercises
Living With, and Managing, Chronic Pain: A Patient’s Story (Sarah M. Whitman, MD and Beth Thorp, Practical Pain Management) When a patient is living with chronic pain, they don't necessarily look sick. They may be putting on a brave face, but really hurting inside. Learn how one patient learned to live a full life despite chronic pain.

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Managing back pain


Vox reporter describes deep dive into medical studies on back pain (Tara Haelle, Covering Health, AHCJ, 12-5-17) Two years ago Vox began a new feature section called Show Me the Evidence. In each piece, the reporter reviews several dozen recent studies on a specific question with the goal of summarizing the consensus of the evidence on that issue.
A comprehensive guide to the new science of treating lower back pain (Julia Belluz, Vox, 8-4-17) A review of 80-plus studies upends the conventional wisdom. Part of Vox's Show Me the Evidence series. "Low back pain is the second most common cause of disability in the US, but the most popular treatments out there--spine surgery, opioid painkillers, stereoid injections--are unhelpful for most people , or even downright harmful. The exercise increasingly supports a range of exercise programs and alternative therapies, such as massage and yoga, that can help people alleviate" the soreness in their backs.
You’re sitting wrong — and your back knows it. (Mary Halton , Idea-TED.com, 6-22-2020) On Esther Gokhale's TEDxStanford Talk. And here’s how to sit instead: Find your primal posture and sit without back pain (Esther Cokhale demonstrates "stretch sitting" on YouTube, 8-3-2012) See also Use Your Core to Do Your Chore (also part of The Gokhale Method) and Using your inner corset Chapter 5 from her book 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back: Natural Posture Solutions for Pain in the Back, Neck, Shoulder, Hip, Knee, and Foot.
Crooked: Outwitting the Back Pain Industry and Getting on the Road to Recovery by Cathryn Jakobson Ramin. Jakobson Ramin shatters assumptions about surgery, chiropractic methods, physical therapy, spinal injections, and painkillers, and addresses evidence-based rehabilitation options—showing, in detail, how to avoid therapeutic dead ends, while saving money, time, and considerable anguish. Listen to Cathryn Jakobson Ramin on the ‘Crooked’ Back Pain Industry (Eric Westervelt interviews Ramin on Forum, KQED, 5-22-17). She pulls back the curtain on the back pain industry and provides strategies for navigating the plethora of treatment options. Exercise very important (strengthen the weak muscles, stretch the tight muscles, as one caller puts it) . Long-term visits to chiropractors aren't the answer (one or two sessions could be helpful but let them nowhere near your neck). You need well-developed glutes and thighs. Yoga, yes, but not competitive yoga, where you are pushed to do more than you are capable of doing; you want a many-years-experienced yoga teacher (not just someone who is "certified"): she recommends Iyengar and Viniyoga Practice. See Ramin's guide to resources.New Pathways to Overcome Chronic Back Pain (listen to podcast of back surgeon David Hanscom, author of Back in Control: A spine surgeon's roadmap out of chronic pain, on Show 972 of "The People's Pharmacy"). "According to Dr. David Hanscom, a leading spine surgeon, back pain can be overcome, but surgery is frequently NOT the best choice. People with chronic back pain may need to overcome their anger and anxiety and use an integrated approach to build new neural pathways that circumvent the pain. Some of the best tactics include finding a way to play as well as a way to confront anger and find forgiveness." From Goodreads: "Steve tells his compelling story of a 30-year battle with pain and ultimate healing after discovering Dr. Sarno's work. After Steve healed he began receiving hundreds of emails, calls, and letters, asking for his help--too many to respond to, so he decided to write his experience down in a book." See the Goodreads comments on book. "This is a more readable book than Sarno's, says one reader.
Dr. John Sarno on healing lower mid-back pain, sciatica, psoas pain.(Basically, "It's all in your head." That is, he says that's often true AFTER you have ruled out physical problems. Your brain protects you from negative emotions by referring them to your back.) Or read his book: Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection A lot of people seem to have been helped by this book. Goodreads: " John Sarno, MD, at the NYU School of Medicine discovered in the 1970s that back pain was not coming from the things seen on the imaging, such as herniated discs, arthritis, stenosis, scoliosis, etc. Pain was coming from oxygen reduction through the autonomic nervous system due to elevated tension levels, but had been errantly linked to the "normal abnormalities" seen on MRIs and X-rays. Most physicians refused to believe his findings even though his success rate in healing the most troublesome of pain-cases was well above theirs. Dr. Sarno labeled the disorder TMS, or tension myoneural syndrome, currently being called The Mindbody Syndrome." (From a review of Hanscom's book).
How a Crazy Old French Woman Cured My Chronic Back Pain — and Healed My Soul (Abigail Rasminsky, Lenny, 1-19-18). Listen to it being read aloud un-tucked. In regular-people lingo: the butt had to stick out. From this base, the spine could elongate up naturally. Any pain caused by a herniated disk would be alleviated with this freed-up space between the vertebrae." See also Dance Me to the End of Love (Abigail Rasminsky, Longreads, 1-8-18) "It was a small moment — an ordinary moment. Pain. We felt it all the time. But this was more: sharper, crippling — an ax slammed into my lower back." A young professional dancer keeps dancing through the pain, as so many dancers do. A story about dance, injury, chronic pain, and identity. "Anyone who has lived with chronic pain, however, knows how impossible it is to ignore your body. To live in pain is to live with the terrorizing feeling that you cannot get out of your body. That no matter where you go, or what you do, you will never outrun the pain, it will follow you everywhere — to dinner, to the movies, to work, to bed, into all your relationships, into the next day and the next and the next. You can distract yourself with friends or booze or TV, but that only works for a short time, if at all. It is the sensation of not being able to escape that is so unbearable." An earlier piece on the same woman/process: I'm Off to See the Wizard.

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Managing chronic pain

“If we know that pain and suffering can be alleviated, and we do nothing about it, then we ourselves become the tormentors.”  ~ Primo Levi

"Pain is always new to the sufferer, but loses its originality for those around him. Everyone will get used to it except me."
~Alphonse Daudet, in his account of living with syphilis, In the Land of Pain


Beyond pills and shots: Pain patients seek other options (Felice J. Freyer, Boston Globe, 12-30-16). Part of an invaluable series, specific titles for which can be found here (read 5-piece limit for free): Boston Globe series on chronic pain. See, for example, Doctors are cutting opioids, even if it harms patients (Freyer, 1-3-17) as well as other stories on opioids, and When Chronic Pain Is a Child's Companion, among several important stories.
• Sarah Bigham, who suffers pain resulting from several chronic diseases, writes "I found these three books incredibly useful when I was at my sickest and I recommend them for anyone dealing with painful conditions:
---A Nation in Pain by Judy Foreman
---You Are Not Your Pain by Vidyamala Burch and Danny Penman (which introduces meditation for chronic pain)
---Survival Lessons by Alice Hoffman ((slim nonfiction by a novelist who is a breast cancer survivor) Sarah's own book is Kind Chemist Wife: Musings at 3 a.m.
When Does Pain Treatment Become Palliative Care Treatment? (Thomas F. Kline and Carolyn D. Concia, Medium, 6-20-18) Pain care becomes palliative care when three criteria are met:
--- The underlying disease has no cure.
--- There is a likelihood that the disease may shorten lifespan.
--- Symptomatic treatment has a high probability of improving the quality of life.
Kline and Concia explain the CDC guidelines for prescribing pain relief when those conditions are met.
Types of Pain (Practical Pain Management)
• On the other hand, according to Paul Burke, Pain and Palliative Doctors Compared (Globe1234.com), more pain is treated by "pain management" doctors than by palliative care doctors or teams. There is more on board exams about non-drug treatment of pain, and about pain assessment and diagnostic testing, for pain management doctors than there is for palliative care doctors. The board exam for palliative care doctors has more on communication and end of life issues than does the board exam for palliative care doctors, and the boards for both have similar amounts on psychological, legal, and ethical issues, says Burke.
Steep Climb in Benzodiazepine Prescribing by Primary Care Doctors (Rhitu Chatterjee, Shots, NPR, 1-25-19) The percentage of outpatient medical visits that led to a benzodiazepine prescription doubled from 2003 to 2015, according to a study published Friday. And about half those prescriptions came from primary care physicians. This class of drugs includes the commonly used medications Valium, Ativan and Xanax. While benzodiazepines are mostly prescribed for anxiety, insomnia and seizures, the study found that the biggest rise in prescriptions during this time period was for back pain and other types of chronic pain. Benzodiazepines are best for short-term use, but long-term use of these drugs has also risen (50% from 2005 to 2015). Long-term use of the drugs can cause physical dependence, addiction and death from overdose.
Severe Pain in Veterans: The Effect of Age and Sex, and Comparisons With the General Population (RL Nahin, J. Pain, March 2017) Prevalence of severe pain, defined as that which occurs "most days" or "every day" and bothers the individual "a lot," is strikingly more common in veterans than in members of the general population, particularly in veterans who served during recent conflicts. Additional assistance may be necessary to help veterans cope with their pain. See also Help for Veterans Struggling with Addiction (Denver Recovery Center) "Veterans who experience combat injuries may return home and be unable to find suitable work and thus have lower incomes, be unable to support themselves or their families, face increased health care costs, and may turn to alcohol or drugs to deal with the pain when traditional medicine is not able to help."
Treating pain in older adults takes more than painkillers (Michele Munz, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 5-9-17) About 50% of older adults living on their own and 75% to 85% of those in care facilities suffer from chronic or persistent pain. Pain goes largely untreated in this population because many assume it’s a natural part of aging and don’t know it can be treated, experts say, or they believe it will lead to expensive tests or more medications. Pain management in older adults has to extend beyond painkillers, writes Munz. That's where integrative medicine comes in.
Beyond pills and shots: Pain patients seek other options (Felice J. Freyer, Boston Globe, 12-30-16). Part of a series on chronic pain.
What is TN? (Facial Pain Association). "Trigeminal neuralgia (TN) is considered to be one of the most painful afflictions known to medical practice. TN is a disorder of the fifth cranial (trigeminal) nerve. The typical or “classic” form of the disorder (called TN1) causes extreme, sporadic, sudden burning or shock-like facial pain in the areas of the face where the branches of the nerve are distributed – lips, eyes, nose, scalp, forehead, upper jaw, and lower jaw. The pain episodes last from a few seconds to as long as two minutes. These attacks can occur in quick succession or in volleys lasting as long as two hours. The “atypical” form of the disorder (called TN2), is characterized by constant aching, burning, stabbing pain of somewhat lower intensity than TN1. Both forms of pain may occur in the same person, sometimes at the same time."


Pain for Women, Pain for Men (Proto magazine, Massachusetts General Hospital, Clinical Research, 8-10-17) Males and females experience pain differently—and appear to process it differently, too. Why has it taken so long for science to find out?
Chronic Pain Patients Angry Over ‘Opioid Contracts’ (Shawn Radcliffe, Healthline, 5-2-18) More patients with chronic pain are being asked to agree to random urine drug screens, pill counts, and other conditions before they’re prescribed opioids. Many concerns, little evidence that the contracts are effective.
6 Ways to Take Control of Your Pain (Judy Foreman, AARP, Feb/March 2015) Are you one of the 100 million Americans who suffer from chronic pain? Breakthrough research and innovative treatments offer hope. Strategy 1: Don't let the pain start. 2: Figure out exactly what type of pain you have. 3: Know that it's real. 4: Treat it right away. 5: Try non-drug treatments first. 6: Take the right drugs for your pain.
Opioids and Paternalism (David Brown, American Scholar, Autumn 2017) "If the use of opioids for chronic pain were just making the practice of medicine less rewarding, the problem would be tolerable. But it’s changing the country, creating a new underclass in the United States, no less real (or less fraught with the potential for controversy) than the black underclass whose existence has been so central to American history of the past half century. The new underclass, mostly white, is distributed widely, with hot spots—Appalachia, rural New England, and surprisingly, far-northern California. Like those in the black underclass, members of the new underclass usually have no more than a high school education and suffer high unemployment....For some patients with chronic pain, opioids are the answer. But for most, treatment must begin with the doctor saying no. This needn’t be done callously, and people in pain don’t have to be left with nothing. Many things help a little—nonnarcotic drugs, acupuncture, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), yoga, massage, exercise. Time and sympathy from a doctor, nurse, therapist, or coach are just as important as any of these treatments. The journey back from opioid drugs—or through the land of chronic pain without them—should not be taken alone."/a>
Sickle Cell Patients Suffer Discrimination, Poor Care — And Shorter Lives (Jenny Gold, KHN, 11-6-17) About 100,000 people in the United States have sickle cell disease, and most of them are African-American. In 1994, life expectancy for sickle cell patients was 42 for men and 48 for women. By 2005, life expectancy had dipped to 38 for men and 42 for women. Sickle cell disease is “a microcosm of how issues of race, ethnicity and identity come into conflict with issues of health care,” said Keith Wailoo, a professor at Princeton University, and author of Sickle Cell Disease — A History of Progress and Peril (Keith Wailoo, New England Journal of Medicine, 3-2-17) Studies have found that sickle cell patients have to wait up to 50 percent longer for help in the emergency department than other pain patients. The opioid crisis has made things even worse, Vichinsky added, as patients in terrible pain are likely to be seen as drug seekers with addiction problems rather than patients in need.
Home remedies for alleviating sciatica pain (McNees blog, 4-2-16) The piriformis muscle is a small muscle located deep in the buttock (behind the gluteus maximus). It starts at the lower spine and connects to the upper surface of each femur (thighbone). It helps to rotate the hip and turn the leg and foot outward. It sits under deep layers of fat and muscle in your buttock, so if you sit a lot and don't move around, those muscles get compressed. Get up from that chair and move around more! Meanwhile, here are some suggested remedies.
How well-intentioned doctors helped create the opioid epidemic (The Impact, Vox, 11-7-17) The policies that created the opioid epidemic.
Opioids often aren't a great way to treat chronic pain. So … what is? ( The Impact, Vox, 11-13-17) A doctor, Jane Ballantyne, helps her chronic pain patients with pain acceptance; a chronic pain patient named Kristin Geiger has embraced pain acceptance — and is actually trying to wean herself off of opioids right now; and a patient named Sam Merrill is really skeptical that he can replace his opioid prescription with physical therapy and meditation — or “just live” with his crippling pain. A pain patient weaning herself off opioids, a pain patient who can't imagine his life without them, and the future of pain treatment.
Healthcare Hashtag Project, a free open platform for patients, caregivers, advocates, doctors and other providers that connects them to relevant conversations and communities. Thousands of patients talk about diseases weekly in "chats" on Twitter.
Giving Chronic Pain a Medical Platform of Its Own (Tara Parker-Pope, Well, NY Times, 7-18-11) What doctors don't know about chronic pain. “Having pain that is not treated is like having diabetes that’s not treated,” said Ms. Thernstrom, who suffers from spinal stenosis and a form of arthritis in the neck. “It gets worse over time.”
Hurting All Over (Jerome Groopman, New Yorker, 11-13-2000) With so many people in so much pain, how could fibromyalgia not be a disease?
Biofeedback: A High-Tech Weapon Against Migraines (Sue Russell, Healthymagination 7-18-11)
Migraine Treatment, Prevention & Relief (CR, 4-28-16) Tips on how to treat—and even prevent—this common type of pain.
Can laser light therapy actually cure pain? (Jeff Wilser, Input, 2-6-2020) What studies say about a treatment called photobiomodulation (PBM), aka “low-level laser therapy,” aka red-light therapy. With photobiomodulation, you climb into a pod and get bathed in low-wavelength light — between 650 and 850 nanometers, which avoids the harmful UV rays — for around 15 minutes at a time.
Chronic Lyme and other tick-born diseases ("When the doctor gets sick, the journey is double-edged," by Pamela Weintraub, Psychology Today, in 3 parts)
Pains (Janice Lynne Schuster and the Pain Project). Many articles, including
--An Unwelcome Guest: Living with Chronic Pain (Schuster, Disruptive Women in Health Care, 12-15-14)
--Draft of the National Pain Strategy has been published to the Federal Register (PAINS Project, 4-2-15) the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) Office of Pain Policy today published a notice soliciting public comment on the draft National Pain Strategy.
--In pain? (Some resources. Janice Lynne Schuster's site.)
Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS, Mayo Clinic staff)
Complex Regional Pain Syndrome fact sheet (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
Chronic back pain
Dancing with Pain (one approach to pain relief)
For Grace. Resources for Women in Pain.
Living With Pain That Just Won’t Go Away (Jane E. Brody, NY Times, 11-6-07)
Quality of Life Scale , a measure of function for people with pain (pdf, American Chronic Pain Association)
The Pain Chronicles: Cures, Myths, Mysteries, Prayers, Diaries, Brain Scans, Healing, and the Science of Suffering by Melanie Thernstrom
The Permanent Pain Cure: The Breakthrough Way to Heal Your Muscle and Joint Pain for Good by Ming Chew with Stephanie Golden
Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome Association (RSDSA), promotes public and professional awareness of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), also known as Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD)
The Psychology of Pain: It’s Not What You Think (Stan Goldberg's interesting and informative essay)
Chronic pain not only hurts, it also causes isolation and depression. But there’s hope. (Rachel Noble Benner, Wash Post, 1-12-15)
One in 3 women could potentially be spared chronic pain after breast cancer surgery (Medical Press, 2-25-15)
Here’s What’s Wrong With How US Doctors Respond to Painkiller Misuse(Maia Szalavitz, Substance.com, 1-13-15).
New Report Details Uphill Battle to Solve the U.S.'s Pain Problem (Bob Roehr, Scientific American, 7-1-11) The Institute of Medicine reveals a "blueprint" for relieving Americans' pervasive chronic pain.
Opioid Misuse In Chronic Pain Patients Is Around 25%, New Study Shows (CJ Arlotta, Forbes, 4-1-15)
Opioids: addiction, overdose, treatment, and recovery (addiction to heroin, cocaine, crack, and other illegal and addictive painkillers--and addictive prescription drugs) In section on Substance Abuse.
Culprits in the opioid crisis. In section on Substance Abuse.
Opioid addiction treatment with a dark side In section on Substance Abuse.
Overdoses (and reversing overdoses) In section on Substance Abuse.
Managing ordinary (not chronic) pain

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Organizations associated with pain management and relief


Academy of Integrative Pain Management (was American Academy of Pain Management)
American Academy of Pain Medicine
American Board of Pain Medicine (ABPM)
American Chronic Pain Association . Among other resources provided, information about Conditions, A to Z and a free downloadable PDF, ACPA Resource Guide to Chronic Pain Medication and Treatment
American Pain Society
American Society/of Interventional/Pain Physicians (ASIPP)
American Society of Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine (ASRA)
The Facial Pain Association (FPA) (support for those with trigeminal neuralgia and other neuropathic facial pain conditions). Among publications available from FPA: Striking Back : The Trigeminal Neuralgia and Face Pain Handbook by George Weigel and Kenneth E. Casey (to be updated this year)
Pain Association. Resources include a list of conditions characterized by pain and A Consumer Guide to Pain Medication and Treatment
Pain Relief Network (where chronic pain patients, doctors, and supporters can be heard)
Partners Again Pain (addressing untreated and undertreated pain in America)
U.S. Pain Foundation
National Fibryomyalgia & Chronic Pain Association (NFMCPA)
Pain management forum (MedHelp)
Patients Like Me (sorted by conditions)
American Fibromyalgia Syndrome Association (AFSA)


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Dealing with rape and sexual assault and abuse

National Resources for Sexual Assault Survivors and Their Loved Ones (RAINN--Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network--the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization) An important list of resources, with links.
Safe Horizon Rape and Sexual Assault: It Is Not Your Fault.Need help? Call our 24-hour hotline (llámenos para ayudarle) 1-800-621-HOPE (4673). If you are in immediate danger, call 911.
The Rape Kit’s Secret History (Pagan Kennedy, New York Times, 6-17-2020) This is the story of the woman who forced the police to start treating sexual assault like a crime. In the early days of forensic science, the 19th century, rape exams sought primarily to test the virtue of women; they began as a system for men to decide what they felt about the victim. Even in the 1970s, police officers wielded absolute power in the situation; they told the story; they assigned blame. Marty Goddard saw that the only fix for this dysfunctional system would be incontrovertible scientific proof, the same kind used in a robbery or attempted murder. She realized she had to find a mechanism that would protect the evidence from a system that was designed to destroy it. She saw that no one had bothered to tell the nurses and doctors how to collect evidence properly. A fascinating story. "When it comes to sexual assault, there are many inventions I can think of that help men get away with it — from the date-rape drug to “stalkerware” software. More striking is how few inventions, how little technology and design, has been devoted to keeping women safe." ...The rape-kit idea was presented to the public as a collaboration between the state attorney’s office and the police department, with men running both sides...and little credit given to the women who had pushed for reform. Ms. Goddard agreed to this, Ms. Gehrie said, because she saw that it was the only way to make the rape kit happen." ...But DNA testing was expensive. Compounding that problem was the sheer success of the rape kit system: Victims now felt encouraged to report their assaults and submit to exams, which meant that police departments were flooded with evidence. And so, just as the rape-kit system began to succeed, police departments strangled it. They began hiding away thousands of untested rape kits deemed too expensive to process." Do read the whole story.
What is sexual assault? (RAINN) "Rape is a form of sexual assault, but not all sexual assault is rape....The majority of perpetrators are someone known to the victim. Approximately eight out of 10 sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim, such as in the case of intimate partner sexual violence or acquaintance rape." RAINN answers questions about what is sexual assault, rape, and force.
Sexual assault (WomensHealth.gov) "Sexual assault is any type of sexual activity or contact that you do not consent to. Sexual assault can happen through physical force or threats of force or if the attacker gave the victim drugs or alcohol as part of the assault. Sexual assault includes rape and sexual coercion. In the United States, one in three women has experienced some type of sexual violence.1 If you have been sexually assaulted, it is not your fault, regardless of the circumstances." Answers to many questions about sexual assault.
An Unbelievable Story of Rape (T. Christian Miller, ProPublica and Ken Armstrong, The Marshall Project, 12-16-15) An investigative piece. Marie’s case led to changes in practices and culture.
Unheard (Adriana Gallardo , Nadia Sussman and Agnes Chang, ProPublica , and Kyle Hopkins and Michelle Theriault Boots, Anchorage Daily News, 6-1-2020) Alaska has the highest rate of sexual assault in the nation. Yet it is a secret so steeped into everyday life that discussing it disrupts the norm. These women and men did not choose to be violated, but they now choose to speak about what happened. Hundreds of survivors have shared their stories.
Sexual assault and rape on U.S. college campuses: Research roundup (Kristina Mastropasqua, Journalist's Resource, 9-22-15) The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) provided the White House with an extensive list of recommendations urging “the task force to remain focused on the true cause of the problem,” pointing out that rape is “not caused by cultural factors but by the conscious decisions of a small percentage of the community to commit a violent crime.” In fact, RAINN points out that research suggests 90% of rapes at colleges are perpetrated by 3% of college men — indicating a real issue of repeat offenders.
What Experts Know About Men Who Rape (Heather Murphy, NY Times, 10-30-17)
Why Don't Police Catch Serial Rapists? An Epidemic of Disbelief (Barbara Bradley Hagerty, The Atlantic, Aug.2019) What new research reveals about rape kits, and why police fail to catch serial rapists. Police officers continue to reflexively disbelieve women who say they've been raped. But in 49 out of every 50 rape cases, the alleged assailant goes free—often, we now know, to assault again.  Previously, officers didn't bother to test rape kits in so-called acquaintance-rape cases, instances in which the victim knew the assailant. But some of these men are likely repeat offenders; testing their DNA can help solve other cases. When kits go untested, sexual predators can flourish.
Why the Backlog Exists (End the Backlog) The backlog of untested rape kits represents the failure of the criminal justice system to take sexual assault seriously, prioritize the testing of rape kits, protect survivors, and hold offenders accountable. Here are key factors contributing to creation of the backlog.
When Abuse Victims Commit Crimes (Victoria Law, The Atlantic, 5-21-19) New laws in New York and elsewhere could keep women out of prison for crimes against their abusers.
How Brett Kavanaugh Got the Last Laugh (Megan Garber, The Atlantic, 9-19) Far beyond the news it breaks, The Education of Brett Kavanaugh is a reminder that many Americans still doubt the seriousness of sexual-misconduct allegations. Essay and book by the Times reporters Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly.
The Dueling Data on Campus Rape (Dana Goldstein, Justice Lab, The Marshall Project, 12-11-14) Some of the research issues that account for divergent statistics.
What a New Survey Can — and Can’t — Tell Us About Campus Sexual Assault (Jesse Singal, Science of Us, New York Magazine, 5-20-15) As Dana Goldstein explained, above, "two different approaches to estimating the rate of rape on campus, both conducted by professionally trained researchers, led to results — 0.6 percent versus the famous “one in five” figure often cited in these discussions — separated by a chasm."
The Truth Could Set Them Free (Steven Yoder, Reason, 3-1-2020) Jesus Padilla, an Atascadero psychologist, was four years into a study of ex-offenders classified as "sexually violent predators" (SVPs) who had been released on technical grounds. That designation let them civilly commit them to Atascadero, much the way people with mental health issues can be locked up when they are deemed a threat to themselves or others. Padilla explained that of the 93 ex-offenders he and a colleague had tracked, just six had been rearrested for an alleged sexual crime after about five years in the community. That amounts to an astonishingly low rearrest rate of 6.5 percent. (A 2018 study by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 49 percent of all state prisoners were arrested again for the same type of offense within five years of their release.) Why did California destroy this research into a group of people it says are dangerous enough to be locked up indefinitely?
ICE Detention Center Says It’s Not Responsible for Staff's Sexual Abuse of Detainees (Victoria López and Sandra Park, ACLU, 11-6-18) The Prison Rape Elimination Act was passed by Congress in 2003 to protect against sexual assault in prisons and jails across the country. It took the Department of Homeland Security until 2014 to finalize regulations implementing PREA. Immigrants in detention are put at serious risk for sexual violence while they are detained because officials are not doing enough to detect and respond to incidents of sexual abuse. The Trump administration continues to aggressively target immigrants and asylum seekers by stripping away legal protections, ramping up enforcement, and expanding immigration detention.
‘An Entire Community Got Together to Rape a Child’: India Recoils at Girl’s Assault (Kai Schultz and Suhasini Raj, NY times, 7-18-18) In the gated community in Chennai, India, a group of men took turns raping an 11-year-old girl.
Here Are All the Public Figures Who’ve Been Accused of Sexual Misconduct After Harvey Weinstein (Samantha Cooney, Time, 3-27-19)
‘Where there is more rape culture in the press, there is more rape’ (Denise-Marie Ordway, Dart Center, 9-7-18) 'Rape occurs more often in communities where the news media reflects “rape culture” — the tone of the coverage and word choices can be interpreted as showing empathy for the accused and blame for victims, according to a new study published in the Quarterly Journal of Political Science.'
Jesuits identify 33 Alaska clergy and volunteers ‘credibly accused’ of sexually abusing children (Kyle Hopkins, Anchorage Daily News, 12-26-18) Created by Jesuits West, a Dec. 7 report puts names, places and dates to generations of sexual abuse inflicted by ordained priests, church volunteers and employees in 35 villages and cities across Alaska. Many of the offender priests were assigned by the church to tiny Alaska communities, prompting accusations that remote villages here became dumping grounds for predators. Jesuit leaders have denied that the order used Alaska as a hiding place for pedophile clergy. See also Lawless (5-16-19) At least one in three Alaska villages has no local law enforcement. Sexual abuse runs rampant, public safety resources are scarce, and Gov. Mike Dunleavy wants to cut the budget.

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The medical use of marijuana


The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research (press release, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 1-12-17) A once-over-lightly summary of what the evidence supports (ranging from their therapeutic effects to their risks for causing certain cancers, diseases, mental health disorders, and injuries). Scroll down to download the report itself (free).
Is the hype about CBD, or cannabidiol, real? (Steven Petrow, WaPo, 1-4-19) CBD, or cannabidiol, is most commonly extracted from hemp, but it can also come from marijuana plants, which is why it is sometimes confused with its trippy chemical cousin THC. Unlike CBD, THC produces a high when smoked or eaten....In my small North Carolina town, a flier at the local convenience store exhorts me to “experience the phenomenon” of CBD products, promising it can provide “relief from” diabetes, alcoholism, schizophrenia, back and knee pain, and other conditions.... I am now taking a CBD tincture daily. After all the hype, I wanted to see whether it might have a positive impact on my lifelong struggle against depression....Despite the growing popularity of CBD, the science supporting the claims remains pretty slim at this point. So why so much interest in a substance researchers still know so little about? I’d say hype, hope and big bucks....With scant regulation, consumers should be skeptical. The source matters, too, since heavy metals or other contaminants have been found in some hemp grown in China or Eastern Europe. “People who are buying [CBD products] on Amazon, or at their local health food store, are really working without a [safety] net,” says Michael Backes, author of Cannabis Pharmacy: The Practical Guide to Medical Marijuana. One study found that nearly 70 percent of CBD products they analyzed were mislabeled, overlabeled (containing significantly more than the label indicates), or underlabeled (not giving you a dose large enough to achieve any potential therapeutic effect" or containing "THC in amounts that could make you intoxicated or impaired"). Rigorous studies are needed to prove--or disprove--the anecdotal information about CBD.
Is CBD Helpful, or Just Hype? (Richard A. Friedman, NY Times, 12-26-18) Let’s see what the research says before pouring it into our tea and rubbing it all over our bodies.
DCRx: The DC Center for Rational Prescribing runs a Continuing Medical Education program on Medical Cannabis for Pain, among other topics, with excellent resources online, including slides and video of presentations, Q&A etc. There is an option to click for non-CME access for the general public.
The Medical Use of Marijuana v. The Use of Marijuana for Medical Purposes (Bradley Steinman, American Bar Association)
Cannabis for Elders: A Precarious State (Liana Aghajanian, The Atlantic, 7-22-13)
The Complete Guide to Medical Marijuana for Elders (National Council for Aging Care)
It’s time to legalize marijuana at the federal level (Rep. Joe Kennedy III, STAT, 11-20-18) State-level legalization on marijuana has created a patchwork of laws. We need strong, clear, and fair federal guidelines on marijuana. Our federal policy on marijuana is badly broken, benefiting neither the elderly man suffering from cancer whom marijuana may help nor the young woman prone to substance use disorder whom it may harm. The patchwork of inconsistent state laws compounds the dysfunction. Our federal government has ceded its responsibility — and authority — to thoughtfully regulate marijuana. As long as marijuana remains regulated by the Controlled Substances Act, the federal government is barred from rectifying these failures or acting with any oversight authority as states move ahead with reform at record pace. So a broken, patchwork system flourishes in our country today with no federal guardrails — like the ones we have for alcohol and tobacco — to protect public health and safety and ensure equal justice.
My Personal Experiences with the Medical Marijuana Business and the Opioid Epidemic (David Meerman Scott, Healthcare in America, 1-4-17) Marijuana is a safer alternative to opioids for pain relief, but you have to jump through hoops to qualify for medical marijuana. A business story that may prove helpful.
Weed (Sanjay Gupta's documentary on medical marijuana)
Marijuana stops child's severe seizures (Saundra Young, CNN, 8-7-13) Much good background information.
To Save Her Daughter, This Mom Became a Medical Marijuana Pioneer On a Facebook group of parents across the world with children with an incurable genetic disorder called CDKL5, one mother in the U.S. described giving her daughter cannabis-based medicines to mitigate the epileptic fits that are a symptom of the disorder. After figuring out the practical aspects of using such medicine for her daughter's condition, a mother in Brazil took on Brazil’s tangled legal system to become the first person in the country’s history with permission to grow cannabis for medicinal purposes. Other Brazilians, mostly parents of children with degenerative diseases, are forced to seek out expensive medical marijuana in clandestine fashion, risking punitive jail sentences if they are caught. The NGO Support for Patients and Research for Medicinal Marijuana (APEPI) pushes for advances in legalization and research permissions.
Medical marijuana (Mayo Clinic) Despite a federal ban, many states allow use of medical marijuana to treat pain, nausea and other symptoms. Is medical marijuana legal under federal law in the U.S.? When is medical marijuana appropriate?
Marijuana as Medicine (Drug Facts, National Institute on Drug Abuse, April 2017) The term medical marijuana refers to using the whole, unprocessed marijuana plant or its basic extracts to treat symptoms of illness and other conditions. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not recognized or approved the marijuana plant as medicine. However, scientific study of the chemicals in marijuana, called cannabinoids, has led to two FDA-approved medications that contain cannabinoid chemicals in pill form. Continued research may lead to more medications. Because the marijuana plant contains chemicals that may help treat a range of illnesses and symptoms, many people argue that it should be legal for medical purposes. In fact, a growing number of states have legalized marijuana for medical use.
News about Marijuana and Medical Marijuana, including commentary and archival articles published in The New York Times
RESEARCH ON MEDICAL MARIJUANA
• Many links here were posted as background Stories from the panel "Medical ramifications of legal marijuana", from a conference of the Association of Health Care Journalists (accessible only to members). As one member stated, "It's important to differentiate between oral THC, which is an FDA approved medication (dronabinol), and 'medical marijuana,' which if you're talking Colorado-style is just the smoked plant."
Taking a science-informed approach to medical marijuana (Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Alcoholism & Drug Abuse Weekly, 4-27-15) "There is solid evidence that the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, THC, is effective at controlling nausea and boosting appetite. There is also some preliminary evidence that THC or related cannabinoid compounds such as cannabidiol (CBD) may also have uses in treating autoimmune diseases, inflammation, pain, seizures and psychiatric disorders, including substance use disorders. Despite claims of marijuana’s usefulness in treating post-traumatic stress disorder, supporting data is minimal, and studies have not investigated whether symptoms may worsen after treatment is discontinued." There is less support for some other claims of marijuana's health benefits, and "As public approval for medical marijuana grows, we need to ensure that our policy decisions are science-based and not swayed by the enthusiastic claims made widely in the media or on the Internet."
Gupta: 'I am doubling down' on medical marijuana (Sanjay Gupta, CNN, 3-6-14) Apologizing for having previously spoken against marijuana use, Gupta writes about "emerging science that not only shows and proves what marijuana can do for the body but provides better insights into the mechanisms of marijuana in the brain, helping us better understand a plant whose benefits have been documented for thousands of years. This journey is also about a Draconian system where politics overrides science and patients are caught in the middle."
Weed (Sanjay Gupta's documentary on medical marijuana)
America's Weed Rush , an investigation of marijuana legalization in America, is the 2015 project of the Carnegie-Knight News21 program, a national multimedia investigative reporting project produced by the nation’s top journalism students and graduates. 27 journalism students from 19 universities traveled through half the country to report on the politics, regulation and science behind the nation’s marijuana movement. Topics addressed: The science: Is marijuana safe? Medical marijuana: the demand for it.. Recreational marijuana--the push to regulate it. Money: the business and the complications therefrom. Law enforcement: How marijuana is pushing the limits of legality. Marijuana politics: Critics call legalization of marijuana out of control.
Center for Medical Cannabis Research (CMCR) (best academic resource on medical marijuana; established by the California legislature to answer the question "Does marijuana have therapeutic value? Run by Igor Grant
California pot research backs therapeutic claims (Peter Hecht, Sacramento Bee, 7-12-12) Three years after California voters passed the nation's first medical marijuana law in 1996, the legislature in 1999 approved funding for the nation's first sustained modern medical research for pot. University of California medical researchers slipped an ingredient in chili peppers beneath the skin of marijuana smokers to see if pot could relieve acute pain. It could – at certain doses....State-funded studies – costing $8.7 million – found pot may offer broad benefits for pain from nerve damage from injuries, HIV, strokes and other conditions....Igor Grant said he worries about a lack of standardization for medical marijuana. He suggests people buying pot at dispensaries – offering products far more potent than used in state research – is akin "to going to a flea market for an antibiotic."
Marijuana stops child's severe seizures (Saundra Young, CNN, 8-7-13) Good background information.
Cannabis Science (My Chronic Relief) “Cannabis is the single most versatile herbal remedy, and the most useful plant on Earth. No other single plant contains as wide a range of medically active herbal constituents.”~Dr. Ethan Russo, Neurologist, Botanist and Cannabis Expert – Cannabinoid Research Institute (Google Russo's name for more stories)
Cannabis for migraine treatment: the once and future prescription? An historical and scientific review (Ethan Russo, Pain, 1-26-98)
No, legalizing medical marijuana doesn’t lead to crime, according to actual crime stats (Emily Badger, Washington Post, 3-26-14)
Seniors and Pot (stories from The Cannabist, the Denver Post's website on all things pot, from laws to research to strains of weed))
Suicide rates fall when states legalize medical marijuana, says new study ( Scot Kersgaard, Colorado Independent, 2-24-12)
Why Medical Marijuana Laws Reduce Traffic Deaths (Maia Szalavitz, Time, 12-2-11)
Efficacy and safety of medical cannabinoids in older subjects: a systematic review. (GA van den Elsen and others, Ageing Res Rev, Epub 2014 Feb 5) " The studies showed no efficacy on dyskinesia, breathlessness and chemotherapy induced nausea and vomiting. Two studies showed that THC might be useful in treatment of anorexia and behavioral symptoms in dementia. Adverse events were more common during cannabinoid treatment compared to the control treatment, and were most frequently sedation like symptoms. Although trials studying medical cannabinoids included older subjects, there is a lack of evidence of its use specifically in older patients. Adequately powered trials are needed to assess the efficacy and safety of cannabinoids in older subjects, as the potential symptomatic benefit is especially attractive in this age group." To access this and other articles about seniors and medical marijuana, see PubMed.
Teen Marijuana Use May Show No Effect On Brain Tissue, Unlike Alcohol, Study Finds (Kathleen Miles, Washington Post, 12-23-12)
Graduation rates up in Colorado, South High leads Denver school gains (Denver Post, 1-23-14)

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HOSPITALS AND HOSPITALIZATION
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW


Report cards, watchdog reports, critical information about hospitals and surgeons
Managing hospitalization and after
Hospitals and hospital systems: issues within the industry

What you need to know about hospitals--Report cards, watchdog reports, resources for finding critical information about hospitals and surgeons


What Is Hospital Observation Status? (Elizabeth Davis, RN, VeryWell Health, 10-9-19) When you check into a hospital you are usually assigned either observation status or inpatient status. If the hospital assigns observation status, you will pay more because you'll pay outpatient prices (even if a service is precisely the same as if you were inpatient status). If you're in the hospital less than three days, you're likely to be considered observation status, so cheer if you're told you've just reached inpatient status as your health insurance and Medicare will pick up more of the tab.
Revealing the secret prices insurers pay can save health care (Marty Makary and Ge Bai, STAT News, 5-2-19) "Insurers and hospitals keep the prices they negotiate confidential. Insurers then sell these secret pricing deals to employers, who are also contractually bound to keep them secret. In the process, hospitals have become seasoned veterans in playing the sometimes absurd price markup-discount game that creates mirages of generous discounts.This game gives hospitals a profit margin they can control. It also allows some hospitals to appear charitable when they offer a 20% discount to an out-of-network patient even though the bill may be marked up by 500%....If real prices were disclosed, we would see the same fierce competition that now dominates the airline industry change the business of medicine.The absence of real prices also fuels the problem of price gouging and predatory billing."
Ratings for hospitals, surgical centers, doctors, surgeons, home health agencies, nursing homes (blog post)
State Laws Ban Surprise Medical Bills. She Got One for $227K And Fought Back. Even With Insurance, She Faced $227K In Medical Bills. What It Took To Get Answers. (JoNel Aleccia, KHN, 3-22-19) The first surprise was the massive heart attack, which struck as Debbie Moehnke waited in a Vancouver, Wash., medical clinic last summer. “She had an appointment because her feet were swollen real bad,” said Larry Moehnke, her husband. “But she got in there and it was like, ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe!’” Her life suddenly at risk, the 59-year-old was rushed by ambulance, first to a local hospital, where she was stabilized, and then, the next day, to Oregon Health & Science University across the river in Portland for urgent cardiac care....
UVA Doctors Decry Aggressive Billing Practices By Their Own Hospital (Jay Hancock, KHN, 11-23-19) A Kaiser Health News report in September showed that UVA sued 36,000 patients over six years for more than $100 million, seizing wages and savings and even pushing families into bankruptcy. Over six years, the [Virginia] state institution filed 36,000 lawsuits against patients seeking a total of more than $106 million in unpaid bills, a KHN analysis finds. Like many physicians who work at U.S. medical centers, the UVA doctors said they had little idea how aggressively the hospital where they practice was billing and pursuing their patients for payment. Court data analyzed by KHN showed that UVA Health was suing about 100 of its employees every year. See also ‘UVA Has Ruined Us’: Health System Sues Thousands Of Patients, Seizing Paychecks And Claiming Homes (Jay Hancock and Elizabeth Lucas, KHN, 9-10-19)
Dealing With Hospital Closure, Pioneer Kansas Town Asks: What Comes Next? (Sarah Jane Tribble, KHN, 5-14-19) A former nurses station sits empty at the closed Mercy Hospital in Fort Scott, Kan., with the message: “Gone but not forgotten.” After depending on the local hospital for more than a century, Fort Scott residents now are trying to cope with life without it. After depending on the local hospital for more than a century, Fort Scott residents now are trying to cope with life without it.
Hospital Financial Analysis: True Cost of Healthcare (David Belk MD, True Cost of Healthcare). What do the carefully researched numbers reveal? "The revenue for any health insurance company is tied directly to its expenses. In other words, the more a health insurance company spends each year, the more revenue they can earn (through premium increases the next year). Therefore, the last thing any health insurance company would want is for their overall expenses to drop. If their expenses were to drop, they couldn’t justify raising (or even maintaining) the amount they charge policy holders in premiums. That would be a disaster for them.
Since hospital utilization has been declining overall, it would be hard for private health insurance companies to continue to show an increase in their costs each year unless they deliberately overpaid hospitals, so that’s exactly what they do. Hospitals don’t mind being overpaid, so they’re not complaining. Since hospital bills always show enormous discounts from the insurance companies (due to persistent over-billing) most people wouldn’t suspect what the insurance companies are really doing. This way, both sides can work together to profit from our ignorance."

SOURCES OF INFORMATION and REPORT CARDS ABOUT U.S. HOSPITALS
Citizens for Patient Safety Links to relevant organizations around the country and other resources. "A conversation can change an outcome. A conversation can change a life."
Dollars for Docs (Mike Tigas, Ryann Grochowski Jones, Charles Ornstein, and Lena Groeger, ProPublica, 6-28-18 and they do update) Pharmaceutical and medical device companies are required by law to release details of their payments to a variety of doctors and U.S. teaching hospitals for promotional talks, research and consulting, among other categories. Use this tool (Find surgeons and hospitals near your location) to search for general payments (excluding research and ownership interests) made from August 2013 to December 2016. Has your doctor received drug or device company money?
Globe1234 (researcher Paul Burke's site, which summarizes information (mostly from Medicare) about doctors and hospitals. Worth exploring. If you click on an article--for example, Medicare's Challenging Relationship with Hospitals--along right side of page you can see links to other topics covered. See in particular Hospital Quality and Incentives and Doctors' Quality and Incentives .
Health Grades (ratings for physicians)
Guidestar (a major source of information on nonprofit organizations, including nonprofit hospitals)
Health Watch USA (an invaluable resource: a nonprofit patient advocacy organization that promotes healthcare value, transparency, and quality--spend time exploring its website)
Hospital Compare (Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, a consumer-oriented website that provides information on how well hospitals provide recommended care to their patients) Start by choosing three local hospitals to compare. See caveats about this site at Ratings for hospitals, doctors, surgeons, home health agencies, nursing homes (a blog post on this site).
HospitalFinances.org ("Bringing transparency to nonprofit hospital finances"--Association of Health Care Journalists). The site includes details of Form 990 filings made by nonprofit hospitals and systems to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. It does not include for-profit or government-owned hospitals.
Hospital Infections (Association of Health Care Journalists: "Bringing transparency to federal inspections.") Search hospital inspections. Links to many other resources (some only for members of AHCJ).
Hospital Ratings and Reports (The Leapfrog Group) How transparency is driving leaps forward in hospital care in this country. Hospitals across the country demonstrate their commitment to transparency and quality improvement through the Leapfrog Hospital Survey.
Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade How safe is your hospital? Check this database to learn what grade it earned. See also Room for Better Safety at Surgery Centers, Survey Finds (Joyce Frieden, MedPage Today, 10-22-19) Leapfrog Group finds gaps in board certification, hand hygiene monitoring.
Medicare Compare search pages
---Dialysis Compare
---Home Health Compare
---Hospital Compare
---Inpatient Rehabilitation Facility Compare
---Long-Term Care Hospital Compare
---Medicare Plan Finder
---Nursing Home Compare
---Physician Compare

Medicare Provider Utilization and Payment Data (CMS.gov--Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services). CMS has released a series of publicly available data files that summarize the utilization and payments for procedures, services, and prescription drugs provided to Medicare beneficiaries by specific inpatient and outpatient hospitals, physicians, and other suppliers.
The Never Events Collaborative (The Patient Safety Network of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality).
Never Events The term "Never Event" was first introduced in 2001 by Ken Kizer, MD, former CEO of the National Quality Forum (NQF), in reference to particularly shocking medical errors—such as wrong-site surgery—that should never occur. Over time, the term's use has expanded to signify adverse events that are unambiguous (clearly identifiable and measurable), serious (resulting in death or significant disability), and usually preventable. Since the initial never event list was developed in 2002, it has been revised multiple times, and now consists of 29 "serious reportable events" grouped into 7 categories:
Surgical or procedural events
Product or device events
Patient protection events
Care management events
Environmental events
Radiologic events
Criminal events.
Nonprofit Explorer. Pro Publica's database provides summary data for nonprofit tax returns and PDFs of full Form 990 documents, including those for most nonprofit hospitals.
Open Payments (Openpaymentsdata.cms.gov) The Open Payments Search Tool is used to search payments made by drug and medical device companies to physicians and teaching hospitals.
Quality Check Search and compare hospitals that have received a gold seal of approval by The Joint Commission, which oversees the accreditation and certification of nearly 21,000 healthcare organizations and programs in the U.S.
Ratings for hospitals, doctors, surgeons, home health agencies, nursing homes (links to various rating systems and ratings--invaluable information, available publicly--be a smart patient and check things out!)
Surgeon Scorecard (Sisi Wei, Olga Pierce and Marshall Allen, ProPublica, 7-15-15) Guided by experts, ProPublica calculated death and complication rates for surgeons performing one of eight elective procedures in Medicare, carefully adjusting for differences in patient health, age and hospital quality. Use this database to know more about a surgeon before your operation.


INFORMATIVE ARTICLES and BOOKS
When Hospitals Merge to Save Money, Patients Often Pay More (Reed Abelson, NY Times, 11-4-18) The nation’s hospitals have been merging at a rapid pace for a decade....The hospitals have argued that consolidation benefits consumers with cheaper prices from coordinated services and other savings. But an analysis conducted for The New York Times shows the opposite to be true in many cases. The mergers have essentially banished competition and raised prices for hospital admissions in most cases...The analysis showed that the price of an average hospital stay soared, with prices in most areas going up between 11 percent and 54 percent in the years afterward, according to researchers from the Nicholas C. Petris Center at the University of California, Berkeley. The new research confirms growing skepticism among consumer health groups and lawmakers about the enormous clout of the hospital groups. While most political attention has focused on increased drug prices and the Affordable Care Act, state and federal officials are beginning to look more closely at how hospital mergers are affecting spiraling health care costs."
Emergency rooms are monopolies. Patients pay the price. (Sarah Kliff, Vox, 12-4-17) New data shows how emergency rooms take advantage of their market share, at the expense of their patients.
Healthcare Associated Infections (Neverevents.org) Learn about MRSA, C.Diff infections, CLABSI infections, CAUTI infections, VAP infections, prevention of infection events.
Hospitals find asthma hot spots more profitable to neglect than fix (Jay Hancock, Rachel Bluth of Kaiser Health News and Daniel Trielli of Capital News Service, Washington Post, 12-4-17) Baltimore paramedic crews make more asthma-related visits per capita in 21223 than anywhere else in the city, according to fire department records. It is the second-most-common Zip code among patients hospitalized for asthma, which, when addressed properly, should never require emergency visits or hospitalization. This neighborhood in southwest Baltimore is in the shadow of prestigious medical centers — Johns Hopkins, whose researchers are international experts on asthma prevention, and the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC). Both receive massive tax breaks in return for providing “community benefit,” a poorly defined federal requirement that they serve their neighborhoods. But like hospitals across the country, the institutions have done little to address the root causes of asthma. The perverse incentives of the health-care payment system have long made it far more lucrative to treat severe, dangerous asthma attacks than to prevent them.
How Much Hospitals Charge For the Same Procedures (New York Times)
How to Choose a Hospital (Joel Keehn, Consumer Reports, 3-30-17)
60 things to know about the hospital industry | 2016 (Becker's Hospital Review, 1-14-16)
Lawsuit accuses HCA hospital of covering up medical error that led to patient's death (Megan Knowles, Becker's Hospital Review, 6-21-18) A good website to explore if you're digging deep for information.
Maximizing Infection Protection in the Next Decade: Defining the Unacceptable (Thomas R. Frieden, Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, Oct. 2011) Thomas R. Frieden, Director of the CDC, has stated “Evidence indicates that, with focused efforts, these once formidable infections can be greatly reduced in number, leading to a new normal for healthcare-associated infections as rare, unacceptable events."
The Problem With Satisfied Patients (Alexandra Robbins, The Atlantic, 4-17-15) A misguided attempt to improve healthcare has led some hospitals to focus on making people happy, rather than making them well.
Overuse of healthcare. See The Treatment Trap: How the Overuse of Medical Care is Wrecking Your Health and What You Can Do to Prevent It by Rosemary Gibson and Janardan Prasad Singh
What journalists should know about hospital ratings (Liz Seegert, Covering Health, Association of Health Care Journalists, 6-24-16) "Journalists should take hospital ratings with a healthy dose of skepticism, according to experts at a recent AHCJ New York chapter event. Simply looking at an institution’s overall rating is just the start. Reporting that without understanding what’s being rated and how ';success' is measured does a disservice to your audience."
What Makes A Good Surgeon? What Makes A Good Hospital? (Norman Bauman, Veins1.com, 9-10-07). Basically you get the best results in a hospital that does a lot of a particular procedure, and at that hospital, you get the best results with a surgeon who specializes in that procedure.
Why Hospitals Need to Share Heart Surgery Success Rates (Catherine Roberts, Consumer Reports, 4-6-17) Consumers deserve full transparency about the performance of the hospitals they choose.
Why Markets Can't Cure Health Care (Paul Krugman, NY Times, 7-25-09)
Why Not the Best? (WNTB) Select and compare hospitals by region, health system, size, ownership, or type. Explore performance variation among different hospital groupings - by size, ownership, or type. Compare regions: Explore aggregate performance and population health in U.S. counties, hospital referral regions, and states. These data are Medicare/Medicaid discharges only.
Yale-New Haven Hospital U.S. News ranking remains high but dips slightly (Ed Stannard, New Haven Register, 7-21-15) 'In addition to the complex care procedures, U.S. News rated the nation’s hospitals in five “common care” procedures that most hospitals perform, whether they are trauma centers like Yale-New Haven or less specialized hospitals. While it ranks high in specialties such as diabetes and gynecology, Yale-New Haven is rated average in heart bypass, hip replacement and heart failure and below average in knee replacement and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. “Yale did not distinguish itself,” Harder said. “It was average or below average in each of those areas.”
---Best Hospitals for Adult Cancer (U.S. News & World Report)
---Best Hospitals for Adult Cardiology & Heart Surgery (U.S. News & World Report)
---Best Children's Hospitals 2015-16 (U.S. News & World Report)
---Best Hospitals for Adult Neurology & Neurosurgery

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What you should know about urgent care and emergency care

How Urgent Is ‘Urgent’ Healthcare? (Ashley Rodriguez, Medium, 11-9-15) As walk-in urgent care centers spread, so do questions about their expertise. One thing for sure: They’re not emergency rooms. "More and more medical practices across the country are rebranding themselves as urgent care centers....They sound like places promising the kind of medical attention offered at emergency rooms. As a marketing tool, the phrase 'urgent care' is luring patients with an implicit promise of fast treatment. The reality is that these facilities face much less oversight, and many are not required to have even the basic equipment common in emergency rooms....Unlike emergency rooms, urgent care centers can decide whom they want to treat. They can accept those with insurance or patients who can pay up front. They can turn away patients who cannot pay....they typically refer patients with severe traumas and life-threatening conditions to an emergency room....In New York, where Mandi Patterson wanted care for her son, there are no rules specifically regulating medical standards at urgent care centers, though there are plenty covering emergency rooms."
Hospitals keep ER fees secret. We’re uncovering them. (Vox, 2-27-18) Vox reporter Sarah Kliff is collecting emergency room bills as part of a year-long project focused on American health care prices. Listen to her talk about it with Terry Gross on Why An ER Visit Can Cost So Much — Even For Those With Health Insurance (Fresh Air, NPR, 3-13-19, a 35-minute listen), where she talks about the reasons behind the costs on ER bills, including hidden fees, overpriced supplies, and out-of-network doctors.
I read 1,182 emergency room bills this year. Here’s what I learned. (Sarah Kliff, Vox, 12-18-18) (1) The prices are high — even for things you can buy in a drugstore. (2) Going to an in-network hospital doesn’t mean you’ll be seen by in-network doctors. (3) You can be charged just for sitting in a waiting room. (4) It is really hard for patients to advocate for themselves in an emergency room setting. (5) Congress wants to do something about the issue.
The bipartisan plan to end surprise ER bills, explained (Sarah Kliff, Vox, 9-21-18)
The Hospital Emergency Department Is Now the Admissions Department (Steve Jacob. D-CEO Healthcare, North Texas, 3-12-24) Increasingly, the hospital emergency department is becoming the admissions department.The ED now accounts for more than one-half of hospital admissions, according to a recent Rand Corp. study. The migration of elective surgeries to outpatient clinics has been the major driver of ED admissions. ED physicians have become the gatekeepers for about half of U.S. hospital admissions, including two-thirds of those that are not elective. Much of practical interest to consumers about hospital and ER economics.
Can't Get In to See Your Doctor? Many Patients Turn to Urgent Care (Patti Neighmond, Shots, Morning Edition, NPR, 3-17-16) For many people, the centers have become a bridge between the primary care doctor's office and the hospital emergency room. Urgent care is not meant for life-threatening emergencies, such as a heart attack, stroke or major trauma, doctors say. But it is designed to treat problems considered serious enough to be seen that day — conditions like a cut finger, a sprained ankle, severe sore throat, or the sort of infection 25-year-old Dominique Page recently experienced.
A Quicker Trip to the Doctor, for Minor Ailments (Ann Carrns, Your Money, NY Times, 12-19-13) “Typically, co-payments are more than an office visit but less than an emergency room visit.” Questions to ask.
Spurred by Convenience, Millennials Often Spurn the ‘Family Doctor’ Model (Sandra G. Boodman, KHN/Washington Post, 10-9-18) Calvin Brown doesn’t have a primary care doctor — and the peripatetic 23-year-old doesn’t want one. In his view, urgent care, which costs him about $40 per visit, is more convenient — “like speed dating. Services are rendered in a quick manner.” For millennials, the 83 million Americans born between 1981 and 1996 who constitute the nation’s biggest generation, their preferences — for convenience, fast service, connectivity and price transparency — are upending the time-honored model of office-based primary care. But some experts warn that moving away from a one-on-one relationship may be driving up costs and worsening the problem of fragmented or unnecessary care, including the misuse of antibiotics. Although walk-in clinics may be fine as an option for some illnesses, few are equipped to provide holistic care, offer knowledgeable referrals to specialists or help patients decide whether they really need, say, knee surgery, he noted. Primary care doctors “treat the whole patient. We’re tracking things like: Did you get your mammogram? Flu shot? Pap smear? Eye exam?”
Healthcare Bluebook
25 Things to Know About Urgent Care (Becker's Hospital Review, 8-19-13)
A 24/7 Emergency Room Charges An 'After-Hours' Fee. Who Should Pay? (Michelle Andrews, Shots, NPR, 6-5-18) What do you do when a hospital emergency room tacks on an "after-hours" service charge, and your insurer threatens to not pay it? What happens when Medicare and workers' compensation disagree about which should cover your medical bill? Answers to these and other questions.
• We read a lot about price-gouging in the ER departments of hospitals. My own experience with a stand-alone Urgent Care facility was more positive. In 2013 I wasn't feeling well for several days, and my doctor was out of town when I called to report a fever of 105.9. His assistant said to take a tepid bath--with no follow-up. On day 5 a neighbor took me to an Urgent Care facility on Rockville Pike, and the doctor there examined me briefly, then called an ambulance, which rushed me to a hospital. That facility provided faster triage than I would have gotten at an ER, and I suspect arriving in an ambulance got me into a room faster than walking in the door would have. (I was hospitalized for four weeks with sepsis, from a urinary tract infection for which the only symptoms I was aware of were the high fever and a vague "not feeling well.") So I had a positive experiene with Urgent Care referring me to ER. But there are clearly problems in the system.
She Was Dancing on the Roof and Talking Gibberish. A Special Kind of ER Helped Her. (Anna Gorman, KHN, 3-25-19) With mental health beds in short supply, emergency rooms increasingly have become the care of first and last resort for people in the grips of a psychiatric episode. Now, hospitals around the country are opening emergency units that calmly cater to patients with mental health needs.
For decades, hospitals have strained to accommodate patients in psychiatric crisis in emergency rooms. The horror stories of failure abound: Patients heavily sedated or shackled to gurneys for days while awaiting placement in a specialized psychiatric hospital, their symptoms exacerbated by the noise and chaos of emergency medicine. Long wait times in crowded ERs for people who show up with serious medical emergencies. High costs for taxpayers, insurers and families as patients languish longer than necessary in the most expensive place to get care.
In pockets across the country, hospitals are trying something new to address the unique needs of psychiatric patients: opening emergency units specifically designed to help stabilize and treat patients and connect them to longer-term resources and care. These psychiatric ERs aim to address the growing number of patients with mental health conditions who end up hospitalized because traditional emergency rooms don’t have the time or expertise to treat the crisis.
Vox provides access to ER billing database for reporters (Pia Christensen, Covering Health, AHCJ, 2-21-19) Sarah Kliff (@sarahkliff) at Vox has been collecting emergency department bills from around the country and has reported a number of stories based on them. Vox has collected nearly 2,000 bills and is now ready to open up the database of bills to local health reporters. Kliff, a senior policy correspondent, says that Vox is hoping to connect reporters with patients who have interesting stories.
Emergency rooms are monopolies. Patients pay the price. (Sarah Cliff, Vox, 12-4-17) New data shows how emergency rooms take advantage of their market share, at the expense of their patients
I started collecting ER bills. The American Hospital Association started warning its members. (Sarah Kliff, Vox, 10-26-17) These prices are often kept secret. Vox is trying to change that.
He went to an in-network emergency room. He still ended up with a $7,924 bill. (Sarah Cliff, Vox, 5-23-18) “Surprise” medical bills are common in emergency rooms."The dominant storyline to emerge is what anyone who has visited an emergency room might expect: Treatment is expensive. Fees have risen sharply in the past decade. And when health insurance plans don’t pay, patients are left with burdensome bills."
The problem is the prices (Sarah Kliff, Vox, 10-16-17) Opaque and sky high bills are breaking Americans — and our health care system.
An ER visit, a $12,000 bill — and a health insurer that wouldn’t pay (Sarah Kliff, Vox, 1-29-18) A new insurance policy from Anthem expects patients to diagnose themselves.
Race Is On to Profit From Rise of Urgent Care (Julie Creswell, Business Day, NY Times, 7-9-14)

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OUTRAGEOUS MEDICAL BILLS

(examples)

Bill of the Month (Kaiser Health News and NPR) This crowdsourced investigative series dissects and explains your medical bills every month to shed light on U.S. health care prices and to help patients learn how to be more active in managing costs. See, for example

Nothing to Sneeze At: The $2,659 Bill to Pluck Doll’s Shoe from Child’s Nostril (Markian Hawryluk, Bill of the Month, KHN, 11-26-19) Three-year-old Lucy Branson put matching Polly Pocket doll's shoes up her nose. With tweezers, they got one shoe out, then took her to a Las Vegas urgent care center, where "a doctor was able to remove the shoe in less than a second, as Michael recalled it, with a longer set of forceps. The doctor typically finds Tic Tac mints up there, he told them." Lucy’s insured through her father’s high-deductible plan with UnitedHealthcare. Total Bill: $2,658.98, consisting of a $1,732 hospital bill and a $926.98 physician bill, which the physician agreed to reduce by half if paid within 20 days. Dignity Health declined to explain how it arrived at the $1,732 total for the ER visit.
---Her Genetic Test Revealed A Microscopic Problem — And a Jumbo Price Tag (Liz Szabo, KHN, 3-31-20) Michelle Kuppersmith’s doctor suspected she had a rare blood disorder called essential thrombocythemia, which can lead to blood clots, strokes and, in rare cases, leukemia. Her doctor suggested a bone marrow biopsy, in which a large needle is used to suck out a sample of the spongy tissue at the center of the patient’s hip bone. Doctors examine the bone marrow under a microscope and analyze the DNA. She learned that all she needed to do for now is take a daily low-dose aspirin. Then she got a notice saying her insurer refused to pay for the genetic analysis, leaving her responsible for a $2,400 payment. In a fast-evolving field with lots of money at stake, tests that a doctor or lab may regard as state-of-the-art an insurer might view as experimental. Worse still, many of the commercial labs that perform the novel tests are out-of-network, as was Genoptix.
---Grief Grew into a Mental Health Crisis and a $21,634 Hospital Bill (Laura Ungar, Bill of the Month, KHN, 10-31-19) Arline Feilen’s husband died in 2013, followed by her father three years later. After her mom passed away earlier this year, she “crumbled,” she says. Her mental health crisis landed her in the hospital for five nights, but her health insurance, an individual insurance plan purchased on the open market, didn’t cover mental health. This is one type of plan that the Obama administration curtailed but is now permitted, since the Trump administration gave the go-ahead for sales of plans previously considered inadequate coverage. She was left with a bill of $21,634.
---First Kidney Failure, Then a $540,842 Bill for Dialysis (Jenny Gold, Bill of the Month, KHN, 7-25-19) Sovereign Valentine, a personal trainer in Plains, Mont., needs dialysis for his end-stage renal disease. When he first started dialysis treatments, Fresenius Kidney Care clinic in Missoula charged $13,867.74 per session, or about 59 times the $235 Medicare pays for a dialysis session. As the dominant providers of dialysis care in the U.S., Fresenius and DaVita together form what health economists call a “duopoly.” They can demand extraordinary prices for the lifesaving treatment they dispense — especially when they are not in a patient’s network. A 1973 law allows all patients with end-stage renal disease like Sov to join Medicare, even if they’re younger than 65 — but only after a 90-day waiting period. During that time, patients are extremely vulnerable, medically and financially. Before finding a dialysis clinic in their insurance network, the Valentines were charged more than half a million dollars for 14 weeks of the treatment.

---Her Biopsy Report Was Benign. But the Bill Is a Spot of Contention. (Cara Anthony, KHN, 9-30-19) As a contractor for Ford Motor Co., Brianna Snitchlerhad a UnitedHealthcare insurance plan. When Snitchler scheduled the biopsy, no one told her that Henry Ford Health System would also charge her a $2,170 facility fee. All told, her bills for the care she received related to the biopsy left her on the hook for $3,357.52, with her insurance paying $974. The way hospitals calculate facility fees is “a black box,” said Ted Doolittle, with the Office of the Healthcare Advocate for Connecticut, a state that has put a spotlight on the issue. A representative at Henry Ford told her on the phone that the hospital isn’t “legally required” to inform patients of fees ahead of time.

---Estimate for Cost of Hernia Surgery Misses the Mark (Rachel Bluth, Bill of the Month, Shots, NPR, 8-29-19) Wolfgang Balzer did his research and got an estimate. The hospital told him the normal billed rate was $10,333.16, but that Cigna, his insurer, had negotiated a discount to $6,995.56, meaning his 20% patient share would be $1,399.11. The surgeon's office quoted a normal rate of $1,675, but the Cigna discounted rate was just $469, meaning his copayment would be about $94. Balzers were billed $2,304.51, much more than they'd budgeted for. It is a good idea to get an estimate in advance for health care, if your condition is not an emergency. But it is important to know that an estimate can be way off — and your provider probably is not legally required to honor it.

---Which Was Worse: The Bachelor Party Hangover or the Hangover from the ER Bill? (Markian Hawryluk, KHN, 9-19-19) While free-standing ERs maintain they can’t survive on rates paid by Medicare and Medicaid, data suggests they are profit-seeking engines built primarily in high-income ZIP codes. “It’s because they’ve figured out that they can get away with it,” said economist Vivian Ho. In this case, a bachelor's visit for rehydration was billed at $12,460 (more than twice the cost of the wedding), negotiated down to $2,593 for the bachelor, after insurance. A nurse drew blood, started an IV, and gave him two bags of saline and a dose of Zofran, an anti-nausea medication.

---A Year After Spinal Surgery, A $94,031 Bill Feels Like a Back-Breaker (Jon Hamilton, NPR News, 6-17-19) A service called neuromonitoring can cut the risk of nerve damage during delicate surgery. But some patients are receiving large and unexpected bills for the service.

--Summer Bummer: A Young Camper’s $142,938 Snakebite (Carmen Heredia Rodriguez, 4-30-19)The snake struck a 9-year-old hiker at dusk on a nature trail. The outrageous bills struck her parents a few weeks later.

---Hospital Charges $4,700 For A Fainting Spell (Phil Galewitz, 1-28-19) A lot of tests ruled out serious underlying conditions. The trip to the ER cost him his whole deductible.

Go here and here for more KHN/NPR Bill of the Month stories


I started collecting ER bills. The American Hospital Association started warning its members. (Sarah Kliff, Vox, 10-26-17) These prices are often kept secret. Vox is trying to change that. For more stories about the kinds of surprise medical bills you could get, go to The Big Picture and Case Studies (some outrageous examples).
A Denver-area hospital sued a patient for nearly $230,000 over her surgery bill. A jury said not so fast. (Christopher N. Osher, Denver Post, 6-29-18) Back surgery patient French said she was told by hospital officials prior to surgery that after her insurance kicked in, she would owe just $1,336, of which she immediately paid $1,000. The jury decided that under the hospital contract she signed, French should only have to pay “the reasonable value of the goods and services provided to her.” Evidence submitted during the trial showed that 13 spinal-implant materials installed in French during her spinal-fusion surgeries cost the hospital $31,665.05. The hospital had turned around and charged French $197,640 for those implants, a markup of more than 500 percent, the evidence showed.The jury affirmed in its judgment that it did not believe the hospital’s bill had been reasonable. "What bothered me is they say they are a nonprofit hospital, but how much profit did they need to make?” French said in a recent interview.
Why a simple, lifesaving rabies shot can cost $10,000 in America (Sarah Kliff, Vox, 2-7-18) Untreated rabies is always fatal — but key drugs leave families with thousands in medical debt. In England, the drug to treat rabies exposure costs $1,600. Here, hospitals charge $10,000. ERs typically are the only locations where patients can find the lifesaving treatment. And they charge significant “facility fees” to anyone who walks through their doors to seek treatment — including patients seeking a rabies vaccine.
How ER Bills Can Balloon By As Much As $50K For ‘Trauma Response’ (Jenny Gold and Sarah Kliff, Vox and KHN, 7-2-18) On the first morning of Jang Yeo Im’s vacation to San Francisco in 2016, her 8-month-old son, Park Jeong Whan, fell off the bed in the family’s hotel room and hit his head. There was no blood, but the baby was inconsolable. Jang and her husband worried he might have an injury they couldn’t see, so they called 911, and an ambulance took the family — tourists from South Korea — to Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital (SFGH). Two years later, the bill finally arrived at their home: They owed the hospital $18,836 for a visit lasting three hours and 22 minutes, the bulk of which was for a mysterious fee for $15,666 labeled “trauma activation,” also known as “a trauma response fee” (charged for activating the trauma response team). If the patient arrives and does not require at least 30 minutes of critical care, the trauma center is supposed to downgrade the fee to a regular emergency room visit and bill at a lower rate, but many do not do so. “Some hospitals are turning this into a cash cow on the backs of patients.” Unfortunately, outside of Medicare and state hospitals, regulators have little sway over how much is charged. And at public hospitals, such fees may be a way to balance government budgets.
An ER visit, a $12,000 bill — and a health insurer that wouldn’t pay (Sarah Kliff, Vox, 1-29-18) Anthem's emergency room coverage denials are inappropriate. Their new insurance policy expects patients to diagnose themselves. These denials are made after patients visit the ER, sometimes based on the diagnosis after seeing a doctor, not on the symptoms that sent them. The Anthem policy has so far rolled out in four states: Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, and Kentucky.
Chronically Ill, Traumatically Billed: The $123,019 for 2 Multiple Sclerosis Treatments (Jay Hancock, a crowdsourced investigation by KHN and NPR, 11-28-18) Shereese Hickson’s multiple sclerosis was flaring again. Spasms in her legs and other symptoms were getting worse. This summer, a doctor switched her to Ocrevus, a Genentech drug approved in 2017 that delayed progression of the disease in clinical trials better than an older medicine did. Such medicines have become increasingly expensive as a group, priced in many cases at well over $80,000 a year. Hospitals delivering the drugs often take a cut by upcharging the drug or adding hefty fees for the infusion clinic. Even in a world of soaring drug prices, multiple sclerosis medicines stand out. Because her MS has left her too disabled to work, she is now on Medicare; she also has Medicaid for backup. No one told Shereese Hickson she qualified for financial assistance to cover her portion of a $123,019 bill ($3,620) until she called the hospital. Also, watch: Why Infusion Drugs Come With Sticker Shock (CBS This Morning). Kaiser Health News Editor-in-Chief Elisabeth Rosenthal discusses this “Bill of the Month” installment.
5 Most Common Medical Billing and Coding Errors (Bethany Nock, Ease the Way blog, Gebauer.com, 5-11-17)
The problem is the prices (Sarah Kliff, Vox, 10-16-17) Health care prices in America are high — and they are secret. Vox looked into Anthem’s practice of denying emergency room visits as part of a year-long project on emergency room billing. It relies on a database of readers’ own emergency room bills. Hospitals keep ER fees secret. Share your bill to help change that. (share your bill with Sarah Kliff at Vox)

Managing medical bills: hospital, emergency rooms (ER),
urgent care, and "extras"

Think drug costs are bad? Try hospital prices (Bob Herman, Axios, 7-25-18) Several pharmaceutical companies have recently said they'll delay some of their price increases, under pressure from the Trump administration. But hospitals have made no such concessions, even though they make up a much larger share of total health care spending.
Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us (Stephen Brill, Time magazine, 3-4-13), See full story and sidebars, including Tips for Lowering Your Medical Bill.)
Why An ER Visit Can Cost So Much — Even For Those With Health Insurance (Fresh Air, 3-3-19) Terry Gross interviews Vox reporter Sarah Kliff, who spent over a year reading thousands of ER bills and investigating the reasons behind the costs, including hidden fees, overpriced supplies and out-of-network doctors.
About 1 in 6 Emergency Visits and Hospital Stays Had At Least One Out-of-Network Charge in 2017 The risk of getting a surprise medical bill is much greater in some states. For instance, emergency care visits were more likely to result in at least one out-of-network charge in Texas, New Mexico, New York, California and Kansas, and less likely in Minnesota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Alabama and Mississippi. See more on this topic under Pulling back the curtain on surprise medical bills and under and Examples of outrageous medical bills.
Bad Bedside Manna: Bank Loans Signed in the Hospital Leave Patients Vulnerable (Shefali Luthra, KHN, 2-21-18) Hospitals are increasingly offering “patient-financing” strategies, cooperating with financial institutions to offer on-the-spot loans to make sure patients pay their bills. Private doctors’ offices and surgery centers have long offered such no- or low-interest financing for procedures not covered by insurance, but promoting bank loans at hospitals and, particularly, emergency rooms raises concerns, experts say. "Low-income patients without insurance likely will not need loans to finance large bills, because they should quality for aid from the hospital, or be treated as charity care, Napier said." Read the full article before you get to an ER, so you won't be misled to accept one of these loans. The "cost estimates provided — likely based on a hospital’s list price — may be far higher than the negotiated rate ultimately paid by most insurers." Mark Rukavina, an expert in medical debt and billing, says, “If you pay zero percent interest on a seriously inflated charge, it’s not a good deal.
Why journalists should go beyond surprise bills and report on narrow networks — especially in rural America (Kellie Schmitt, Remaking Health Care, Center for Health Journalism, 1-22-2020) The costly experience of paying out of pocket isn’t uncommon for people who have insurance but may not understand their network’s limitations until an accident or sudden health problem arises, says Simon Haeder has studied narrow health insurance networks for years. The problem is especially troublesome in rural America, regions already plagued with a sicker and poorer population, less public transport and the devastating toll of the opioid crisis.

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Pulling Back the Curtain on Surprise Medical Bills

The red roses are ready
The champagne is still chilling.
I love you more than private equity
Loves surprise medical billing.

     ~Joshua Israel on KHN

 


Bill of the Month This crowdsourced investigation by Kaiser Health News and NPR dissects and explains your medical bills every month in order to shed light on U.S. health care prices and to help patients learn how to be more active in managing costs. Study the examples to learn what to watch for.
The Knee Surgeon Was In-Network. The Surgical Assistant Wasn't, and Billed $1,167 (Markian Hawryluk, Bill of the Month, All Things Considered, NPR, 7-22-2020) A college student’s bill for outpatient knee surgery is a whopper — $96K — but the most mysterious part is a separate $1,167 charge from a health care provider she didn’t even know was in the operating room. Ever Heard of a Surgical Assistant? Meet a New Boost to Your Medical Bills (KHN) "Surgeons generally decide when they need surgical assistants, although the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services maintains lists of procedures for which a surgical assistant can and cannot bill. Meniscus repair is on the list of allowed procedures."
How to Avoid Surprise Medical Bills (Darcy Lewis, AARP, 8-8-19) Before a planned procedure, ask what the doctor charges, and call both your insurer and the medical office to verify that the treatment is covered and the doctor or facility is in your health plan's network. And other preventive steps.
A Survival Guide to Surprise Medical Bills (AARP, 2019) How to spot errors, fight out-of-network charges and lessen the stress of health care debt.
What Causes Surprise Medical Bills? (Fran Kritz, AARP, 8-8-19) Out-of-network charges and undetected errors can drive up your health care costs. According to one study, 'about 1 in 7 patients using an in-network hospital was nevertheless billed by an out-of-network medical provider, a practice known as "balance billing." Anesthesiology, emergency treatment and lab services were among the most common causes of these unexpected bills. Medical providers in your health plan’s network cannot collect more than the rate negotiated by your insurance company. A non-network provider can, and often will, charge its full price. Many plans will still pay some of that bill, based on what the insurer considers the customary fee for a procedure. The out-of-network doctor or facility might then bill you for the remaining balance.' Other causes of surprise bills: Out-of-pocket costs, billing errors, billing fraud, medical identity theft.
Surprise billing: Why consumers with medical insurance still may face major health care expenses (Kerry Dooley Young, Journalist's Resource, 6-16-2020) Young examines the topic in the context of emergency room visits, air ambulance services, elective surgeries and more. In one study, researchers found that 22% of the emergency room visits they examined involved out-of-network physicians, even though 99.4% of visits were to in-network hospitals.  Sidebar: 7 tips for journalists reporting on surprise medical bills (6-22-2020) Read full article for the details behind the tips on this tipsheet: Find out what your state has done or tried to do to address surprise medical bills. Don’t overstate the findings of academic research. Pay attention to how lobbying influences the political debate about surprise billing. Interview doctors and executives for hospitals and insurance plans. Be realistic about the political battles in Congress surrounding surprise billing. Crowdsource your audience to find people who have experienced surprise billing. Keep your Kaisers straight.

Young is also the source for several additional links:
Balancing the Bills – Policy Solutions to Address Surprise Billing (Alliance for Health Policy, 7-15-19) Listen to this 90-minute recording of its July 2019 panel discussion on surprise medical billing, supplemented by this list of experts on the topic.
Everything You Need to Know About Surprise Billing (Brookings Institute)
Protecting Patients from Surprise Medical Bills (Center on Health Insurance Reforms, Georgetown University)
Visualizing Health Policy: US Statistics on Surprise Medical Billing (Kaiser Family Foundation infographic, 2-11-2020)

All that courtesy of Young and the Alliance for Health Policy.
More Patients Are Getting Hit With Surprise Medical Bills, And the Price Tags Are Going Up, Too (KHN, 8-13-19) A study finds that over 42% of patients hospitalized or treated in an emergency room received surprise bills in 2016. “Out-of-network billing appears to have become common for privately insured patients even when they seek treatment at in-network hospitals,” the researchers concluded.
Doctors Push Back As Congress Takes Aim At Surprise Medical Bills (Rachana Pradhan, Morning Edition, NPR, 2-12-2020) As doctors, hospitals and insurers lobby and sponsor TV and internet ads to protect their own bottom line, patients have no lobbyists. Fixing this is ultimately a fight between doctors and insurers over rate-setting and reimbursement. But as more patients balk at surprise bills, lawmakers are under pressure to protect patients. "Little has been as powerful in shaping surprise billing legislation as the clout of hospitals and their doctors, many of whom are, in fact, employed by private equity-backed companies and armed with years of experience shaping surprise billing legislation at the state level."
Pulling Back Curtain on Hospital Prices Adds New Wrinkle in Cost Control (Elisabeth Rosenthal, KHN, 1-28-19) For the moment, these lists won’t seem very useful to the average patient....Think of them as raw material to be mined for billing transparency and patient rights. For years, these prices have been a tightly guarded industrial secret....hospitals set prices crazy high so they can tout their generous discounts (while insurers tout their negotiating prowess).... Although making chargemaster pricing public will not, by itself, reform our high-priced medical system, it is an important first step. Maybe, just maybe, a hospital will think twice before charging a $6,000 “operating room fee” for a routine colonoscopy if its competitor down the street is listing its price at $1,000. Making this information public should bring list prices more in line with what is actually paid by an insurer, a far better measure of value....As a next step, regulators should insist that these prices be easily accessible on hospitals’ home pages.
Your Go-To Guide to Decode Medical Bills (Bill of the month, KHN, 7-25-19) KHN's pro tips for navigating surprise medical bills. Why you MUST understand these terms and what they imply about out-of-pocket costs (click thru on right side of box to get each explanation): Observation Status (Read this one for sure!), Ombudsman, Out-of-Network, Outpatient Clinic, Outpatient Services, Surprise Medical Bills, Triage, Urgent Care Provider, Balance Billing, Chargemaster, Coinsurance, Copay, Emergency Department or Emergency Room, Explanation of Benefits (EOB), Hospital, Inpatient Services ("just because you're lying on a hospital ward, in a hospital bed, doesn't mean you've been admitted"), Itemized Bill.
An examination of surprise medical bills and proposals to protect consumers from them (Karen Pollitz, Matthew Rae, Gary Claxton, Cynthia Cox and Larry Levitt Kaiser Family Foundation issue brief, 6-20-19) In roughly 1 of every 6 emergency room visits and inpatient hospital stays in 2017, patients came home with at least one out-of-network medical bill, a new KFF analysis finds. More specifically, 18% of all emergency visits and 16% of in-network hospital stays had at least one out-of-network charge, leaving patients at risk for surprise medical bills. The analysis also finds the incidence of such charges varied greatly by state, for both emergency visits and hospital stays.
As Hospitals Post Sticker Prices Online, Most Patients Will Remain Befuddled (Julie Appleby and Barbara Feder Ostrov, KHN, 1-4-19) To figure out what, for example, a trip to the emergency room might cost, a patient would have to locate and piece together the price for each component of their visit — the particular blood tests, the particular medicines dispensed, the facility fee and the physician’s charge, and more. “I don’t think it’s very helpful,” said Gerard Anderson, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Hospital Finance and Management. “There are about 30,000 different items on a chargemaster file. As a patient, you don’t know which ones you will use.” And there’s this: Other than the uninsured and people who are out-of-network, few actually pay full charges. Even when consumers do locate the lists, they might be stymied by seemingly incomprehensible abbreviations. Nevertheless, some experts say that merely making the charges public shines a light on the often very high — and widely varying — prices set by facilities.

Paying Till It Hurts In her series on the cost of health care, Elisabeth Rosenthal interviews patients, physicians, economists, hospital and industry officials to examine the high price of health care. Buy her book: An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take It Back . And read the series here--including the readers' comments (from both patients and doctors).
• Part 1: Colonoscopy: A case study in high costs The $2.7 Trillion Medical Bill: Colonoscopies Explain Why U.S. Leads the World in Health Expenditures (Elisabeth Rosenthal, Health, NY Times, 6-1-13) While the American medical system is famous for expensive drugs and heroic care at the end of life, a more significant factor in the nation’s annual health care bill may be the high price tag of ordinary services.
• Part 2. Pregnancy: Cash on delivery. American Way of Birth, Costliest in the World (Elisabeth Rosenthal, Health, NY Times, 6-30-13). Cash on delivery.
• Part 3. Joint replacement: A trip abroad. In Need of a New Hip, but Priced Out of the U.S. (Elisabeth Rosenthal, NY Times, 8-3-13)
• Part 4. Prescriptions. No room to negotiate. The Soaring Cost of a Simple Breath (Elisabeth Rosenthal, NY Times, 10-12-13)
• Part 5. E.R. Visit As Hospital Prices Soar, a Stitch Tops $500 (Elisabeth Rosenthal, NY Times, 12-2-13)
The problem is the prices (Sarah Kliff, Vox, 10-16-17) Opaque and sky high bills are breaking Americans — and our health care system.

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WHAT YOU CAN DO TO CHALLENGE EXCESSIVE MEDICAL BILLS


A Guide On How To Fight Your Outrageous Hospital Bill (And Win) Gemma Hartley On Assignment for HuffPost, 8-4-17 Document everything. (Watch the video, too.) "I also did a bit of sleuthing and found that putting in a higher entry level, known as upcoding, can drastically hike up ER bills. While I didn’t realize it at the time, it’s illegal." "Had I known to use the word “upcoding” in my first conversation with the billing department, I might have saved hours spent on the phone. Fortunately, I kept careful records, which gave me the upper hand, but I shouldn’t have spent two years of stressful fighting when they were so clearly in the wrong."

•   Outrageous ER Charges: Don't Let Hospital Bills Break the Bank (Nick Tate, NewsMax, 6-9-17) Negotiate costs before receiving care. Don’t pay for ER care right away, or automatically.
10 Ways to Deal with an Expensive Emergency Room Bill (Gary Foreman, USNews, 8-16-12)
8 Things You Should Know About Challenging A Medical Bill (Kate Ashford, Forbes, 8-15-14)
4 Medical Bill Myths That Can Cost You Dearly (Gerri Detweiler, Credit.com, 3-7-12)
Myth 1: As long as I am making payments on a medical bill, it can’t be sent to collections.
Myth 2: I have to be notified before a medical bill is turned over for collections.
Myth 3: Medical collection accounts are treated differently than other types of collection accounts when credit scores are calculated.
Myth 4: To clean up my credit, I need to pay off medical collection accounts.

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GOVERNMENT EFFORTS TO PROTECT AGAINST WRONGFUL MEDICAL BILLING


Do Consumers Benefit When Hospitals Post Sticker Prices Online? (Julie Appleby, Here and Now, NPR and KHN, 1-11-19) The new rule took effect Jan. 1 but, for consumers seeking hospital price information, using it to find answers may be like searching for a needle in a haystack.
New Medicare Advantage Tool to Lower Drug Prices Puts Crimp in Patients’ Choices (Susan Jaffe, KHN, 9-17-18) Starting in 2019, Medicare Advantage plans will be able to add restrictions on expensive, injectable drugs administered by doctors to treat cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, macular degeneration and other serious diseases. Under the new rules, these private Medicare insurance plans could require patients to try cheaper drugs first. If those are not effective, then the patients could receive the more expensive medication prescribed by their doctors.
Senators Unveil Legislation to Protect Patients Against Surprise Medical Bills (Rachel Bluth, KHN, 9-19-18) With frustration growing among Americans who are being charged exorbitant prices for medical treatment, a bipartisan group of senators Tuesday unveiled a plan to protect patients from surprise bills and high charges from hospitals or doctors who are not in their insurance networks. The draft legislation, which sponsors said is designed to prevent medical bankruptcies, targets three key consumer concerns:
---Treatment for an emergency by a doctor who is not part of the patient’s insurance network at a hospital that is also outside that network.
---Treatment by an out-of-network doctor or other provider at a hospital that is in the patient’s insurance network.
---Mandated notification to emergency patients, once they are stabilized, that they could run up excess charges if they are in an out-of-network hospital.
The bipartisan plan to end surprise ER bills, explained (Sarah Kliff, Vox, 9-21-18) The Cassidy-McCaskill proposal essentially bars out-of-network providers from billing patients directly. Instead, they would have to seek payment from the health insurer, who would be required to pay a price similar to local market rates.
National Health Care Fraud Foundation (NHCFF) A private-public partnership against health care fraud.
Sessions announces "largest health care fraud takedown" in U.S. history (John Bat, CBS News, 7-13-17)
Selected Cases (U.S. Dept. of Justice) Cases involving ambulance services, billing firms, clinics, Defective Pricing and Buy America Act Violations: Drugs and Supplies, durable medical equipment suppliers, group homes, home health services, home infusion therapy, hospitals, insurance companies, laboratory services, lymphedema pumps, HHS IG and the FBI: Nursing homes, pharmaceutical and pharmaceutical firms, physicians and other practitioners, psychiatrists, psychiatric hospitals, and mental health services, staged automobile accidents/workers compensation fraud, miscellaneous.

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Managing hospitalization and after

• Medicare’s Physician Compare tool lets you know whether your doctor accepts Medicare and takes assignment.
What You Need to Know When You Go to the Hospital: Before, During, After (Caring Collaborative, Transition Network, 2011)
How Medicare Stole My Mother’s Health and Life Savings (Cat Stone, Covey Club) My very independent mom was aging right. Until she checked into the hospital. When a doctor at the hospital told her that she had to sign the paperwork or leave, she signed. She told us that she was doing so well after the fracture that the hospital was just keeping her “under observation” and that she was relieved not to be “admitted.” So my mother accidentally signed away her future because the papers she initialed said she understood Medicare’s special rule: that patients “under observation” do not qualify for skilled nursing care.
Aunt Bertha, an online database and easy-to-use search tool that makes it easy to find need-based social service programs related to needs for food, health care, housing, education, and employment programs. “There’s almost a paralysis of choice, there’s so many choices,” says Aunt Bertha's founder, Erine Gray, a trim, young programmer who studied economics and computer science as an undergraduate and has a master’s degree from the LBJ School of Public Affairs. “People just can’t find stuff. They end up getting scared and intimidated. Agencies are bad at creating their own websites.” (‘Aunt Bertha’ site helps those in need find aid (Omar Gallagha, Austin American-Statesman).
Hospital Tips for Seniors and Family Caregivers (Senior Providers Network, 6-12-18)
Taken For A Ride? Ambulances Stick Patients With Surprise Bills (Melissa Bailey, KHN, 11-27-17) Public outrage has erupted over surprise medical bills — generally out-of-network charges that a patient did not expect or could not control — prompting 21 states to pass laws protecting consumers in some situations. But these laws largely ignore ground ambulance rides, which can leave patients stuck with hundreds or even thousands of dollars in bills, with few options for recourse, finds a Kaiser Health News review of 350 consumer complaints in 32 states. Patients usually choose to go to the doctor, but they are vulnerable when they call 911 — or get into an ambulance. Moreover, many ambulances are not summoned by patients. Instead, the crew arrives at the scene having heard about an accident on a scanner, or because police or a bystander called 911. Today, ambulances are increasingly run by private companies and venture capital firms. e police or a bystander called 911. Forty years ago, most ambulances were free for patients, provided by volunteers or town fire departments using taxpayer money. The core of the problem is that ambulance and private insurance companies often can’t agree on a fair price, so the ambulance service doesn’t join the insurance network. The KHN review of complaints revealed two common scenarios leaving patients in debt: First, patients get in an ambulance after a 911 call. Second, an ambulance transfers them between hospitals. Most complaints reviewed by Kaiser Health News did not appear to involve fraudulent charges. Instead, patients got caught in a system in which ambulance services can legally charge thousands of dollars for a single trip — even when the trip starts at an in-network hospital. Patients do have the right to refuse an ambulance ride, as long as they are over 18 and mentally capable.
Why American medicine still runs on fax machines (Sarah Kliff, Vox, 1-12-18) It's time to face the fax. The clinic has digitized its own patient data. But its electronic system can’t connect with other clinics’ records. So when doctors want to retrieve records from another office — an ultrasound for a pregnant patient, for example — they have to turn to the fax. So they use a Rube Goldberg-esque analog method for sharing data: Print out pages of one record, fax it, and then scan those pages into the other digital system. By one private firm’s estimate, the fax accounts for about 75 percent of all medical communication. It frustrates doctors, nurses, researchers, and entire hospitals, but a solution is evasive. Obama tried to force the health sector to go digital. But he didn’t make the systems talk. “Medical records generally come by fax. Sometimes they're mailed. They almost never come by any other route.”
Advance directives, POLSTs, living wills, health care (medical) proxies. In brief (but there is a whole section here): The health care proxy part of the advance directive designates the person who has the authority to make medical treatment decisions for you should you be unable to (say, you've been in an accident and are in a coma). The living will (identifies the types of treatment you do and do not want at the end of your life-- stating your wishes about life-sustaining medical treatment if you are terminally ill, permanently unconscious, or in the end-stage of a fatal illness. The living will part of the advance directive expresses your wishes but it is NOT a medical order. Before you undergo a procedure or surgery it may be even more important to be sure your medical team has a copy of your MOLST, or POLST. The POLST form (aka MOLST, POST, MOST, ETC.) is a medical order--that's the one they're supposed to obey in a medical emergency or a life-threatening situation. Go here for a fuller explanation and links to places where you can get forms for these documents.
Canadian hospital takes action to prevent delirium (CBC Player, 3-19-18) The Hamilton Health Sciences Centre is taking action to try and prevent delirium before the condition takes hold of the patient. It's being done using a program developed in the U.S. called the Hospital Elder Life Program (HELP). Each year in Canada, 200,000 people who go to hospital may experience delirium, a serious disturbance in mental ability that can leave them confused and frightened
Hospital Elder Life Program (HELP) for Prevention of Delirium A comprehensive patient-care program that ensures optimal care for older adults in the hospital. HELP prevents delirium (a sudden state of confusion or change in mental state) and loss of functioning.
Hearing loss patients at higher risk of hospital readmission (Ankur Banerjee, Reuters, 10-24-18) Hard-of-hearing hospital patients who have trouble communicating with medical personnel are more likely to end up back in the hospital within 30 days, compared to patients who don’t have trouble hearing, a U.S. study suggests. And hearing loss is common in older patients.
Slammed with a Huge ER Bill from an Out-of-Network Doctor or Hospital? Now What? (Sandra Levy, HealthLine, 10-22-14) An increasing number of insured patients are stunned when they receive humongous bills from hospital emergency rooms and “contracted” physicians that are out of their insurance network. You assume, when you go to an in-network hospital, that everyone treating you is in-network ... There is a tiny paragraph [on admission forms] that says, ‘We may use outside doctors that are not part of your network and you are responsible..’ 'Pat Palmer, founder and CEO of Medical Recovery Services, told Healthline that in the past year and a half, she’s seen an increase in hospital ERs using the services of “contracted physicians” or “traveling docs,” as well as outside labs and radiology services. These doctors and services are contracted by the hospital, but they are out of a patient’s insurance network.' Palmer advised patients to inform the ER personnel, and write on the admission form, that you want to be notified of any provider that is not part of your insurance program, or not in-network. When negotiating with the provider, inform them that you never engaged their services directly; someone else engaged their services on your behalf, said Palmer. “Unless they have a signed document from you that you are agreeing to pay them anything they asked for, you want the bill adjusted to what the insurance is allowing,” said Palmer. Read this very practical piece in full!
My friend Ina suggests writing this on any form you sign: "Notwithstanding any other provisions contained herein it is hereby stipulated the patient or other person signing this document is not responsible for any costs, fees or other charges not covered by patient’s insurance policies. Patient will only pay co-payment amounts when approved by patient’s insurance policy companies."
How To Fight For Yourself At The Hospital — And Avoid Readmission (Judith Graham, Kaiser Health News, 9-1-16) This new column explains what older adults and their families can do to avoid hospital readmission. Kaiser Health News columnist Judith Graham writes: "Everything initially went well with Barbara Charnes’ surgery to fix a troublesome ankle. But after leaving the hospital, the 83-year-old soon found herself in a bad way. Dazed by a bad response to anesthesia, the Denver resident stopped eating and drinking. Within days, she was dangerously weak, almost entirely immobile and alarmingly apathetic. “I didn’t see a way forward; I thought I was going to die, and I was OK with that,” Charnes remembered, thinking back to that awful time in the spring of 2015. Her distraught husband didn’t know what to do until a long-time friend — a neurologist — insisted that Charnes return to the hospital."
We are in danger of hospitals no longer being safe havens (Andrea Lauffer, Kevin MD, 11-7-18) Unfortunately, there are more security measures found in concert halls, stadiums, and hotels than provided in many hospitals. If we truly want to do no harm, we must work to stop an opportunity for harm to occur.
When You Need a Home Health Aide (Orly Avitzur, Consumer Reports)
Diagnosis: Unprepared (KHN) Hospitals can be hazardous places for elderly patients, who are at increased risk of falling, drug-induced injury and confusion. But as the nation’s senior population grows, many facilities are ill-equipped to address their unique needs. Kaiser Health News visited hospitals around the country, reviewed data and interviewed dozens of patients, family members and health providers to document the extent of the problem and highlight possible solutions.
Read the stories in this series:
Elderly Hospital Patients Arrive Sick, Often Leave Disabled (Anna Gorman, KHN, 8-9-16)
Geriatric ERs Reduce Stress, Medical Risks For Elderly Patients (Anna Gorman, KHN, 8-23-16) Geriatric emergency rooms, which are slowly spreading across the country, provide seniors with more expertise from physicians, nurses and others trained specifically to diagnose and care for the elderly, researchers said.
Elderly Patients In The Hospital Need To Keep Moving (Anna Gorman, KHN, 8-16-16) “People walk in the door of a hospital and think it’s OK to stay in a bed. It’s not,” said Middlebrooks. The Affordable Care Act explains some of the reluctance by staff at many hospitals to get patients moving, experts say. Under the law, hospitals are penalized for preventable problems, including falls. Researchers believe that hospital staffers, to ensure their patients don’t fall, often leave them in their beds. The impact of remaining so sedentary in the hospital can be devastating for older patients: It is puts them at greater risk for blood clots, pressure ulcers and confusion. Immobility hurts older patients more than younger ones, in part because the elderly are generally weaker, have less bone density and are at higher risk of falling. Ironically, keeping a patient in bed, which is often intended to prevent falls in the hospital, can increase their risk of falling after they are discharged, experts said.
‘America’s Other Drug Problem’: Copious Prescriptions For Hospitalized Elderly (Anna Gorman, Kaiser Health News, 8-30-16)

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Hospitals and hospital systems: issues within the industry

The Intolerable Fragility of American Hospitals (Libby Watson, New Republic, 4-30-2020) The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the frail and unequal nature of our public health system. It doesn’t have to be this way. "In general, hospitals charge private insurers about twice what they can get from Medicare, but it can be higher—four times more expensive or even more. Meanwhile, Medicare and Medicaid rates are lower than hospitals' operating costs....Even accepting this claim at face value—that hospitals must soak private insurance and any uninsured patients who get caught up in the machine, in order to survive—there's no reason why a single-payer system would have to preserve this apparent underpayment from Medicare."
A Jolt To The Jugular! You’re Insured But Still Owe $109K For Your Heart Attack (Chad Terhune, KHN, 8-27-18) The heart attack was a shock for Calver, an avid swimmer who had competed in an Ironman triathlon just five months before. The hospital charged $164,941 for his surgery and four days in the hospital. Aetna, which administers health benefits for the Austin Independent School District, paid the hospital $55,840, believing he would not bear much, if any, out-of-pocket payment for his life-threatening emergency and the surgery that saved him. And then the bills came.
Hospitals Check To See If Patients Are Donor-Worthy — Not Their Organs, But Pockets (Phil Galewitz, KHN, 1-18-19) Nonprofit hospitals across the United States are seeking donations from the people who rely on them most: their patients. Many hospitals conduct nightly wealth screenings — using software that culls public data such as property records, contributions to political campaigns and other charities — to gauge which patients are most likely to be the source of large donations.Those who seem promising targets for fundraising may receive a visit from a hospital executive in their rooms, as well as extra amenities like a bathrobe or a nicer waiting area for their families.
Texas fines Humana for out-of-network anesthesiology bills (Harris Meyer, Modern Healthcare, 10-11-18) In an unusual enforcement action against an insurer for out-of-network billing, Humana will pay Texas a $700,000 fine for failing to maintain an adequate number of in-network anesthesiologists at its contracted hospitals in four counties. It's the latest development in a running national battle over surprise out-of-network bills, which a bipartisan group of U.S. senators recently targeted with draft legislation. The problem is particularly pronounced in Texas, which lacks a comprehensive system for shielding patients from contract disputes between insurers and providers, unlike California and other large states.
Cutting Higher Payments to Long-Term Care Hospitals Could Save $4.6 Billion (Tara Bannow, Modern Healthcare, 8-27-18) A trio of economists has a suggestion it says will save taxpayers about $4.6 billion per year with no harm to patients: get rid of higher payments to long-term care hospitals. A National Bureau of Economic Research study released Monday found that despite being reimbursed at much higher rates than skilled nursing facilities and home healthcare providers, long-term care hospitals don't produce better outcomes in three important areas: They don't reduce mortality or length of stay and they leave patients with higher out-of-pocket costs.
Mass. Health Care Groups Come Out Against Plan To Help Small Hospitals (WBUR Newsroom, CommonHealth, 7-20-18) Some Massachusetts health care industry groups are coming out strongly against bills approved by the House and Senate designed to support small community hospitals. "Surprise bills occur when a patient goes to a hospital in his insurance network but receives treatment from a doctor that does not participate in the network, resulting in a direct bill to the patient. They can also occur in cases like Calver’s, where insurers will pay for needed emergency care at the closest hospital — even if it is out-of-network — but the hospital and the insurer may not agree on a reasonable price. The hospital then demands that patients pay the difference, in a practice called balance billing."
EMMA "Providing Market Transparency Since 2008." Get to know this source for hospital financial reports. The official source for municipal securities data and documents--and the official source for comprehensive annual financial reports and operating information about any hospital or health care facility financed by public debt. See AHCJ's webcast about it 8-2-18)
Hospitals know how to protect mothers. They just aren't doing it. (Alison Young, USA Today, 7-26-18) "Every year, thousands of women suffer life-altering injuries or die during childbirth because hospitals and medical workers skip safety practices known to head off disaster, a USA TODAY investigation has found. Yet hospitals, doctors and nurses across the country continue to ignore them.... As a result, women are left to bleed until their organs shut down. Their high blood pressure goes untreated until they suffer strokes. They die of preventable blood clots and untreated infections. Survivors can be left paralyzed or unable to have more children....Instead, the U.S. continues to watch other countries improve as it falls behind. Today, this is the most dangerous place in the developed world to give birth."
Beth Israel-Lahey Merger Would Increase Health Costs By Tens Of Millions A Year, Panel Finds (Martha Bebinger, WBUR, CommonHealth, 7-18-18) A state panel assessing what would be the largest hospital transaction in Massachusetts in more than 20 years finds that the merger could increase health costs by tens of millions of dollars a year. Health economists say hospital reimbursement rates nearly always increase after a merger. The HPC, using hospital records, projects that BILH would treat the smallest share of Medicaid patients and the smallest proportion of nonwhite patients of any large hospital network in eastern Massachusetts. "You don't want to make the situation worse, particularly for vulnerable populations and vulnerable institutions," Altman said. "Savings to the providers does not necessarily result in lower costs and prices to the patient," said GBIO's Bonnie Gilbert.
Hospital Giants Vie for Patients in Effort to Fend Off New Rivals (Reed Abelson, NY Times, 12-18-17) It’s all about the patient. Or at least about keeping patients and the revenue generated for their medical care. As health care is rocked by deals aimed at shattering traditional boundaries between businesses, some of the nation’s biggest hospital groups are doubling down on mergers that seem much more conventional. Skeptics say some of these hospital deals are more of the same: systems seeking to increase their leverage with insurance companies and charge more for care....But the frenzy of mergers and other alliances taking place also reveals a frantic attempt to court and capture patients as people have more choices about where to go for care. Patients are increasingly relying on walk-in clinics, urgent care centers or an app on their cellphone to check out a nasty rash or monitor their diabetes, and they are looking for places that are both less expensive and more convenient than a hospital emergency room or doctor’s office. The battle is over “the control of the patient,” said Rob Fuller, a heath care lawyer at Nelson Hardiman and a former hospital administrator. As hospital executives see the continued decline of care being delivered within a hospital’s four walls, he said they want to make sure they still have a say over where patients go after a hospital stay or to get treatment for a chronic condition....And the move by the insurers into their traditional territory is making some institutions very nervous. UnitedHealth Group, the giant insurer, is viewed as the greatest threat, underscored by its recent purchase of DaVita Medical Group....The proposed merger of CVS Health, which operates drugstores and a large pharmacy benefit manager, with Aetna, an insurer, also promises to reinvent care by transforming CVS’ roughly 10,000 drugstores into “health care hubs,” where patients can easily seek advice or treatment for anything from a sore throat to heart disease."
Outsiders Swoop In Vowing to Rescue Rural Hospitals Short on Hope — And Money (Barbara Feder Ostrov, KHN/The Atlantic, 6-6-18) "The community of Surprise Valley, Calif., is torn over whether to sell its tiny, long-cherished hospital to a Denver entrepreneur who sees a big future in lab tests for faraway patients." The woes of Surprise Valley Community Hospital reflect an increasingly brutal environment for America’s rural hospitals, which are disappearing by the dozens amid declining populations, economic troubles, corporate consolidation and, sometimes, self-inflicted wounds. Abundant illustrations.
What Physicians Must Consider Before Selling to Hospitals (Aubrey Westgate, Physicians Practice, 2-6-14) "Across the country, hospital representatives are knocking on the doors of private practices. They come bearing attractive offers — higher compensation, simplification of administrative burdens, security in uncertain times. All physicians have to do is sell their practices and become hospital employees. But as physicians who have already made the transition from owner to employee know, many of the perks associated with employment come with big drawbacks." Insights from the doctors' viewpoint.
A hospital without patients (Arthur Allen, Politico, 11-8-17) The cutting edge of health care is tucked off a St. Louis highway exit. And it's eerily quiet. "Mercy Virtual is arguably the world’s most advanced example of something gaining momentum in the health care world: A virtual hospital, where specialists remotely care for patients at a distance. It's the product of converging trends in health care, including hospital consolidation, advances in remote-monitoring technology and changes in the way medicine is paid for....In the near future, the hospital’s administrators believe, instead of earning fees for each treatment administered, insurers and the government will pay Mercy Virtual to keep patients well. A visit to the hushed carrels and blinking monitors is a glimpse into a future in which hospital systems are paid more when their patients are healthy, not sick."
How hospitals got richer off Obamacare (Dan Diamond, Politico, 7-17-17) After fending off challenges to their tax-exempt status, the biggest hospitals boosted revenue while cutting charity care. A decade after the nation’s top hospitals used all their advertising and lobbying clout to keep their tax-exempt status, pointing to their vast givebacks to their communities, they have seen their revenue soar while cutting back on the very givebacks they were touting, according to a POLITICO analysis.
Angered by high prices and shortages, hospitals will form their own generic drug maker (Ed Silverman, Pharmalot, 1-18-18) Angered by rising prices and persistent shortages of generic drugs, four of the nation’s largest hospital systems are forming a new, not-for-profit manufacturer.
Pharma Has Another Reason To Look Out -- Healthcare Systems Now Plan To Make Their Own Drugs ( John Nosta, Forbes, 1-18-18) Intermountain Healthcare is leading a collaboration with Ascension, SSM Health, and Trinity Health, in consultation with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, to form the company. The five organizations represent more than 450 hospitals around the U.S. "The new company intends to be an FDA approved manufacturer and will either directly manufacture generic drugs or sub-contract manufacturing to reputable contract manufacturing organizations, providing patients an affordable alternative to products from generic drug companies whose capricious and unfair pricing practices are damaging the generic drug market and hurting consumers."
The ‘Frequent Flier’ Program That Grounded a Hospital’s Soaring Costs (Arthur Allen, Politico, 12-18-17) In Dallas, Parkland Hospital created an information-sharing network that gets health care to the most vulnerable citizens—before they show up in the emergency room. "Parkland Center for Clinical Innovation (or PCCI) was a joint effort with community partners such as homeless shelters and food pantries to build a network of what was hoped would eventually be hundreds of community-based social services around Dallas County, with Parkland Memorial at the center of it. A sophisticated software platform would enable the hospital to easily refer homeless people discharged from its emergency room to shelters and pantries, and to let social workers at those places see what their clients were doing: whether they were filling their prescriptions, or getting healthy food, or had a place to sleep, or money for the bus. It would be so much cheaper to meet those needs outside the medical system than to pay for the consequences inside it. Two years into the program, evidence is mounting that PCCI is working."
769 hospitals see Medicare payments cut over high HAC rates: 7 things to know (Morgan Haefner, Becker's Hospital Review, 12-22-16) "The federal government will cut 769 hospitals' Medicare payments in fiscal year 2017 for having the highest rates of hospital-acquired conditions."
Penalty Calculations (Globe1234.info)
Hospital-Acquired Condition Reduction Program (hospitals getting a 2018 penalty for HAC: HOSPITAL ACQUIRED CONDITIONS are identified in a column near the right edge)
Hospital Inpatient Quality Reporting Program Hospitals eligible for the Hospital Inpatient Quality Reporting (IQR) Program are included annually in one of three lists.

Dignity Health and Catholic Health Initiatives to Combine to Form New Catholic Health System Focused on Creating Healthier Communities (DignityHealth.org) Key strategic and reinvestment priorities for the new system will include:
---The expansion of community-based care, offering access to services in a variety of outpatient and virtual care settings closer to home;
---Clinical programs focused on special populations and those suffering from chronic illnesses to keep people and communities healthier for longer; and
---Further advancement of digital technologies and innovations like stroke robots and Google Glass, which create a more personalized and efficient care experience.

Making wise medical choices, decisions

and avoiding unnecessary procedures

Choosing Wisely (Consumer Reports and the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) Foundation) Helps consumers/patients choose care that is truly necessary, is supported by evidence, and doesn’t duplicate tests or procedures already received.
The Heart of the Matter (transcript for a video that is no longer available). Karen Carey is a Perth woman who grew up with a simple heart problem. At 13 she was diagnosed with a mitral valve prolapse. She learned the hard way that health care decisions doctors make for profit affect patients' lives. Later in life she had two strokes caused by clots breaking off from a mechanical heart valve and lodging in her brain. She sued and lost and became a consumer health care advocate, advising people to ask doctors these three questions when faced with a medical decision: What are my treatment options? What are the expected outcomes, including the complications? And how likely is it that each of those outcomes will occur, including success and complications? Karen's doctors had not told her about the cumulative nature of the risk, the fact that with heart valve surgery the risk of clotting and stroke is cumulative--adds on each year.
Consumer Health Choices (Consumer Reports, free resources for more sensible healthcare decisions)
Preventing Overdiagnosis (winding back the harms of too much medicine)
Right Care Weekly (Lown Institute)
Modifying use of some prescription drugs may reduce fracture risk in older adults (Liz Seegert, Covering Health, AHCJ, 9-13-16) Some fragility fractures – those that occur at standing height – may be preventable by modifying a patient’s prescription drug regimen. 21 drug classes have been associated with increased fracture risk. These include commonly prescribed medications such as antidepressants and antacids.
When Evidence Says No, but Doctors Say Yes (David Epstein and Pro Publica, The Atlantic, Feb. 2017) Long after research contradicts common medical practices, patients continue to demand them and physicians continue to deliver. The result is an epidemic of unnecessary and unhelpful treatments. "How can a procedure so contraindicated by research be so common?""Atenolol did not reduce heart attacks or deaths—patients on atenolol just had better blood-pressure numbers when they died.""“If the treatment were Pixy Stix, you’d have a similar effect. One group gets Pixy Stix, and when their cancer progresses, they get a real treatment.” “Relative risk is just another way of lying.”

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Diseases and conditions
Diseases and conditions (PubMed Health, alphabetical)
Blood disorders (National Heart, Lung & Blood Institute)
Infectious Disease Information, A to Z (CDC National Center for Infectious Diseases)

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Women's reproductive health

See also Maternal mortality problems in the U.S.

There are stories here about abortion (whether a woman has the right to decide for herself) as well as stories about coerced sterilization (a quiet type of genocide among indigenous women). A common theme: women's rights (or not) to control their own bodies.
A Midwife in the North Country (Emily Bobrow, Dispatch, New Yorker, 12-22-19) 'Nearly half of U.S. counties don’t have a single practicing obstetrician-gynecologist. The unprofitability of vaginal births, and the fact that insurers often pay midwives less than physicians for equivalent services, has also meant that few midwives can afford to be in private practice unless they refuse in-network insurance, partner with an obstetrician, or both. Meanwhile, the national C-section rate has gone up by at least sixty per cent since 1996. The awkward economics of hospital-based childbirth bears some of the blame....C-sections not only expedite childbirth and reduce some of the uncertainty involved in labor but also earn hospitals around fifty per cent more than vaginal births, as they require more billable treatments and longer hospital stays. “We’ve designed the system backwards, so that it’s set up for the most intense types of treatment,” Shah said, “and we’re poorly resourced to do some of the things that really matter to people, like supporting them through the actual process.”' A must-read article on childbirth.
Does America Hate Working Moms? It Sure Feels That Way. (Amy Klein, Kveller, 7-7-2020) To say things have been hard for working parents during lockdown would be an understatement.
Rise in delivery complications is increasing hospital costs (Maria Castellucci, Modern Healthcare, 1-6-2020) Women are more likely to experience an unexpected outcome during delivery and it's adding to hospital costs, according to a new analysis from Premier. The rate of women with a severe maternal morbidity factor, which are complications during labor such as sepsis, shock or eclampsia, rose by 36% from 2008 to 2018, Premier found. And those vaginal births cost nearly 80% more on average than those without complications. Additionally, cesarean deliveries for women with a severe maternal morbidity factor cost almost twice as much as uncomplicated C-sections on average.Screening women when they present to the hospital for conditions that make them vulnerable to complications (such as substance abuse disorder or obesity) could avoid issues during labor, experts say.
Ask Me About My Uterus: A Quest to Make Doctors Believe in Women's Pain by Abby Norman. In 2010, Abby Norman's strong dancer's body dropped forty pounds and gray hairs began to sprout from her temples. She was repeatedly hospitalized in excruciating pain, but the doctors insisted it was a urinary tract infection and sent her home with antibiotics. Unable to get out of bed, much less attend class, Norman dropped out of college and embarked on a years-long journey to discover what was wrong with her. It wasn't until she took matters into her own hands--securing a job in a hospital and educating herself over lunchtime reading in the medical library--that she found an accurate diagnosis of endometriosis. See also Endometriosis.
The Trying Game: Get Through Fertility Treatment and Get Pregnant Without Losing Your Mind by Amy Klein
Sarah Zhang Explores the Fallout of a Fertility Doctor’s Secret (Knvul Sheikh, The Open Notebook, National Association of Science Writers, 11-5-19) In the 1970s, when donor insemination was becoming more widely accessible across the United States, doctors continued to advise parents not to share information about the treatments with their children. What they could not have known is that the explosion in consumer DNA testing would eventually reveal these secrets.
Who Will Be Able to Take the Breakthrough Drug for Postpartum Depression? (Cynthia Koons, Bloomberg Businessweek, 3-22-19) Zulresso, the world’s first-ever drug for postpartum depression, cleared a major hurdle when it won approval from the Food and Drug Administration this week. Even bigger challenges lie ahead for Sage Therepeutics Inc., the drug’s developer. Zulresso, the brand name for brexanolone, works much faster to treat the condition than anything currently available. Experts have hailed it as “groundbreaking,” a “game changer.” And postpartum depression affects as many as one in nine new mothers. These facts alone would suggest the drug is destined to be a blockbuster. Yet there’s a difference between a drug that works and a drug that sells. Zulresso is administered by a two-and-a-half-day infusion, must be administered in a certified facility, and the company plans to charge $34,000 for it. Considering the price and logistical challenges, she says, it’s not clear how many women will ever get the drug.
Supreme Court Strikes Down Louisiana Abortion Restrictions (Adam Liptak, NY Times, 6-29-2020) The Supreme Court struck down a Louisiana law that could have left the state with a single abortion clinic.In Medical Services v. Russo, the court ruled, 5 to 4, that a Louisiana law violated the Constitution when it required doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.The case is the first abortion ruling since two Trump appointees joined the court. The vote was 5 to 4, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. voting with the court’s four-member liberal wing but not adopting its reasoning. The chief justice said respect for precedent compelled him to vote with the majority.
The woman behind ‘Roe vs. Wade’ didn’t change her mind on abortion. She was paid (Meredith Blake, Los Angeles Times, 5-19-2020) Director Nick Sweeney started making the film “AKA Jane Roe,” which premieres on FX, in April 2016. He interviewed figures on either side of the abortion issue who were close to McCorvey, including attorney Gloria Allred and Rob Schenck, an evangelical minister and former leader of the antiabortion group Operation Rescue. 'Despite her visible role in the fight against abortion, McCorvey says she was a mercenary, not a true believer. And Schenck, who has also distanced himself from the antiabortion movement, at least particularly corroborates the allegations, saying that she was paid out of concern “that she would go back to the other side,” he says in the film. “There were times I wondered: Is she playing us? And what I didn’t have the guts to say was, because I know damn well we were playing her.”'
Federal judge strikes down rule allowing clinicians to object to abortions for moral or religious reasons (Elizabeth Chuck, NBC News, 11-6-19) A federal judge in New York \struck down a new Trump administration rule that would have allowed health care clinicians to refuse to provide abortions for moral or religious reasons. Women's groups, health organizations and multiple states had sued the Department of Health and Human Services, arguing the exemptions were unconstitutional.
Stacey Abrams Showed Democrats How to Win the Fight for Abortion Rights (Christina Cauterucci, Slate, 2-6-19) In Tuesday's State of the Union speech, 'Trump said these pieces of legislation would “allow a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments before birth.” This isn’t the first time the president has used these words to conjure up this nonexistent medical procedure.... This is not an accurate rendering of any abortion procedure; what Trump is describing is a cesarean section. The fiction that a woman would carry a fetus for 40 weeks only to decide “moments before birth” to terminate her pregnancy has persisted because it’s a narrative that features conservatives’ favorite anti-abortion talking points: fetuses that look like newborn babies, irresponsible women making rash decisions, and scary, violent surgeries that are worlds away from the nearly half of all abortions that are performed via oral medication.'
The Future of Roe v. Wade: 3 Scenarios, Explained (4-minute video, by Adam Liptak, narrator, Robin Stein, Aaron Byrd, Natalie Reneau, Anjali Singhvi and Jonah M. Kessel, 9-6-18) Clear and interesting analysis for three broad approaches to getting rid of the Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal. (1a) Nuclear options would flip Roe on its head, saying Constitution prohibits abortion in interest of protecting fetal life (abortion=murder). 1b) Do away with right to privacy, which is basis for Roe v. Wade, and would flip the issue back to states. allow states to regulate abortion. (Right to privacy is the foundation for many other rights.) If right to privacy doesn't include the right to abortion; states could limit or do away with right to abortion. (2) Overrule Roe v. Wade. Right to privacy no longer includes right to abortion. States free to limit or forbid abortion. 3) Chip away at abortion rights(most likely scenario). The Supreme Court has already upheld some limits on abortion. More severe restrictons are a perfectly imaginable scenario. States can reinterpret "undue burdens" and poor women in red states would no doubt have a hard time getting abortions.
Indigenous Women in Canada Are Still Being Sterilized Without Their Consent (Ankita Rao, Vice, 9-9-19) In the 20th century, the U.S. and Canada carried out a quiet genocide against Indigenous women through coerced sterilization. In 2019, it’s still happening. See also Web of Incentives in Fatal Indian Sterilizations (Ellen Barry and Suhasini Raj, NY Times, 11-13-14) and Ankita Rao Reckons with the Toll of Forced Sterilization on Vulnerable Women (Emily Laber-Warren, The Open Notebook, 11-19-19) About the process of finding and pursuing the story.
Abortion support remains steady despite growing partisan divide, survey finds ( Ariana Eunjung Cha and Scott Clement, Washington Post, 8-13-19) No more than a quarter of residents in any state support a total ban on the procedure, according to one of the largest-ever polls of Americans, the Public Religion Research Institute survey. Students for Life President Kristan Hawkins said it is “not surprising” that after “hearing only one side of the abortion debate most of the time, some people don’t understand that abortion doesn’t solve problems....For more than 50 years, the abortion lobby has effectively shut down any real discussion of abortion.” Read the article for details.

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The Growing Toll of the Global Gag Rule (Melody Schreiber, New Republic, 7-3-19) A new study published in Lancet shows abortions actually go up when the U.S. pulls funding from nongovernment organizations (NGOs) offering abortion referrals, "confirming what reproductive health experts have long suspected.... Surveying 26 countries in sub-Saharan Africa between 1995 and 2014 (a time period during which the gag rule was reinstated by Republican administrations and rescinded by Democratic ones), the countries relying heavily on U.S. aid saw much higher rates of abortion—40 percent more—when the gag rule was in place. It has the exact opposite effect of what conservative policymakers say they intend.That's only one way underserved populations suffer... (So far, First Amendment protections have kept conservative administrations from applying the gag rule to U.S.–based organizations, meaning American NGOs like Pathfinder International can continue to offer HIV prevention services with governmental funds while offering abortion services using other funds. But this discrepancy may soon end if the Trump administration’s domestic gag rule proposal continues to survive court challenges.)"
Pregnant Behind Bars: What We Do and Don't Know About Pregnancy and Incarceration (Jonathan Lambert, Shots, All Things Considered, NPR, 3-21-19) A study published in The American Journal of Public Health found that 3.8 percent of newly admitted women were pregnant and that in a single year, incarcerated women had 753 live births, 46 miscarriages, four stillbirths and 11 abortions. Dr. Carolyn Sufrin, an OB-GYN at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, comments on the profound health and social consequences for the children of incarcerated mothers. This is a matter of equity, of racial justice.
A Growing Number of Women Allege Doctors Abused Them During Childbirth (Sarah Yahr Tucker, Vice, 10-16-19) Women are speaking up and raising awareness about obstetric violence, including surgeries, medications, and procedures they didn't consent to. "Obstetric violence is normalized mistreatment of women and birthing people in the childbirth setting. It is an attempt to control a woman’s body and decisions, violating her autonomy and dignity. It has also been termed “disrespect & abuse” by the World Health Organization."~Obstetric Violence (Birth Monopoly)
New Anti-Abortion Measures Could Struggle for Traction in Courts (Jacob Gershman, Wall Street Journal, 3-24-19) Republican-led states are pushing through a raft of new anti-abortion legislation recently, but it’s far from clear that the toughest restrictions will survive judicial scrutiny. States this year have introduced hundreds of anti-abortion bills—including “fetal heartbeat” laws recently enacted in Mississippi and Kentucky—at a rate abortion-rights advocates say is unprecedented. Perhaps most notably, the governors of Kentucky and Mississippi signed bills this month making it a crime for doctors to terminate a pregnancy after an ultrasound detects fetal cardiac activity.
Dem support grows for allowing public funds to pay for abortions (Jessie Hellmann, The Hill, 3-23-19) Support is growing among Democrats in Congress for allowing abortion coverage in publicly funded health programs. House Democrats, who say they have a “pro-choice majority” for the first time in history, are vowing to end a long-standing ban of abortion coverage in Medicaid. They also want to ensure that future government healthcare plans allow recipients to get abortion coverage. “If you look at the power of women voters, Republicans and Democrats and independents, people want to be able to get their reproductive services, they don't want the government interfering with their decision about what they do with their body.” The Hyde Amendment is attached annually to government spending bills, forbidding the use of public funds for the procedure in Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program, and other health programs, except in limited circumstances.
Ohio Cuts Funding for Planned Parenthood After Court OK (AP, New York Times, 3-22-19) The Ohio Department of Health is ending grants and contracts that send money to Planned Parenthood after a divided federal appeals court upheld a state anti-abortion law that blocks public money for the group. The department notified recipients and contractors Thursday that it will end that funding within a month to comply with the law, unless the court delays the effect of its ruling as Planned Parenthood has requested. The health department said the law requires it to ensure state and certain federal funds aren't "used to perform or promote nontherapeutic abortions."
Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio President Iris Harvey said the funding provides "essential services" to tens of thousands of Ohioans that other health centers can't replace. "This cruel ruling blocks funding that allowed Planned Parenthood to provide essential services that reduce black infant mortality, prevent violence against women, and provide cancer screenings, HIV tests and sex education," she said in an emailed statement.
How State Policies Limiting Abortion Coverage Changed Over Time (Charts and slides, Kaiser Family Foundation)
Lawsuits Challenge Rules Limiting Who Can Perform Abortions ( Jacob Gershman, Wall Street Journal, 1-15-19) Abortion-rights activists concerned about the shrinking number of abortion providers are mounting court challenges to longstanding state laws that forbid anybody but doctors to perform the procedure. Lawsuits pending in at least nine states are seeking to strike down statutes that make it a crime for clinicians such as highly trained nurses and midwives to provide early-term abortions. Taken together, the cases represent the strongest push by abortion-rights groups to build upon a recent Supreme Court decision that put more of a burden on states to justify the medical benefit of abortion regulations limiting women’s access.

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Call The Midwife! (If The Doctor Doesn’t Object) (Anna Gorman, KHN, 1-16-19) Hospitals and medical practices are battling outdated stereotypes and sometimes their own doctors to hire certified nurse midwives. Research shows that women cared for by certified nurse midwives have fewer cesarean sections, which can produce significant cost savings for hospitals. Despite the data supporting the use of nurse midwives, they attend fewer than 9 percent of births in the United States. That’s far lower than in some European countries, where more than two-thirds of births are attended by midwives. Lack of awareness among patients and other providers is a key reason, Professor Laura Attanasio said. “When people hear the term ‘midwives,’ people think you are really talking about home births.” In fact, she said, most midwife-attended births take place in hospitals.
Judge freezes Trump administration contraception rule (Alice Miranda Ollstein and Victoria Colliver, Politico, 1-13-19) The new rules would let employers refuse to cover birth control by citing religious or moral objections. The new rules mark the Trump administration's second attempt to narrow the Obamacare-related requirement that employers must provide FDA-approved contraception in the employee health plan at no cost. The first attempt was halted in 2017 after courts found the administration tried to make the change without giving the public the opportunity to weigh in. Houses of worship and closely-held private companies with religious objections are currently exempted from the birth control coverage mandate; the Trump administration is seeking to make the exemptions much broader. See also AP story. The judge blocked Trump administration rules, which would allow more employers to opt out of providing women with no-cost birth control, from taking effect in 13 states and Washington, D.C. Judge Haywood Gilliam granted a request for a preliminary injunction by California, 12 other states and Washington, D.C. The plaintiffs sought to prevent the rules from taking effect as scheduled on Monday while a lawsuit against them moved forward.
Our child received a devastating diagnosis before she was born. We decided to protect her (Allison Chang, STAT, 1-7-19) Is she in pain?” I asked quietly as the pearlescent baby-shaped image on the screen folded its legs and then extended them. The radiologist doing my ultrasound had just finished pointing out a cluster of alarming abnormalities in our developing daughter, using a slew of medical terms my husband and I, both medical students, were grimly familiar with.Something was very wrong with our baby. Trisomy 18 is rare, occurring in about 1 in 2,500 pregnancies. The few who live past one year have serious health problems, such as a toddler lacking abdominal wall muscles, revealing the slithering movement of intestines beneath his skin, or a 1-year-old who cannot not defecate on her own, requiring anal sphincter dilation multiple times each day. As parents, we felt it was our duty to protect our daughter from the inevitable suffering she would meet if she were to make it to term. And so, at 15 weeks of gestation, we made the painful decision to end our very wanted pregnancy. For such a heartbreaking event, we had the best-case scenario. Other families aren't as lucky as mine. (The stories of one rational termination of pregnancy and of another, punitive one.)
When Women Decide to End a Pregnancy, They Can Face Drastically Different Circumstances (Robin Young, Here & Now, WBUR, 1-17-19)
Kavanaugh, Roberts side with liberal judges on Planned Parenthood case (Alice Miranda Ollstein, Politico, 12-10-18) The Supreme Court declined to review whether states can block Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers from their Medicaid programs, passing on a pair of cases that would have served as the first major abortion test for the court’s new conservative majority. Tim Jost, an emeritus professor at Washington and Lee University School of Law, said it's "noteworthy" that Kavanaugh passed on the cases. "If Kavanaugh was going to deal a major blow to health care rights during his first session on the court, this would have been the case to do it," Jost said. The anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List said it was "disappointed" the Supreme Court declined the case, as it called on the Trump administration to quickly finalize rules blocking federal funds to Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers through the Title X family planning program.
Your Biggest C-Section Risk May Be Your Hospital (Tara Haelle, Consumer Reports, 5-10-18) Consumer Reports finds that your odds of having a c-section can be over nine times higher if you pick the wrong hospital...this study shows that it is possible for women, if properly armed with data, to vote with their feet and send a signal to the medical community by choosing—if possible—a hospital with a lower C-section rate,” explains Doris Peter, Ph.D., former director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center...According to a recent consensus statement by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), there are about four deaths for every 100,000 women after vaginal deliveries and about 13 deaths for every 100,000 women after cesareans....And you don’t just get the freedom to choose a doctor or practice you like. Because doctors are only credentialed to work in certain hospitals, you have to know where you want to deliver as much as which group you want to see."
The Age That Women Have Babies: How a Gap Divides America (Quoctrung Bui and Claire Cain Miller, NY Times, 8-4-18) "The difference in when women start families cuts along many of the same lines that divide the country in other ways, and the biggest one is education. Women with college degrees have children an average of seven years later than those without — and often use the years in between to finish school and build their careers and incomes....Researchers say the differences in when women start families are a symptom of the nation's inequality -- and as moving up the economic ladder has become harder, mothers' circumstances could have a bigger effect on their children’s futures."

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Iowa Lawmakers Pass Abortion Bill With Roe v. Wade in Sights (Julie Bosman and Mitch Smith, NY Times, 5-2-18) Republicans pressing the Iowa legislation are making a decisive turn away from the smaller, more incremental measures of the past that have, in their view, merely chipped away at abortion rights. They have a new, longer-term goal in their sights: reaching a Supreme Court that could shift in composition with a Republican president in the White House, potentially giving the anti-abortion movement a court more sympathetic to its goal of overturning Roe v. Wade than the current court is....The Iowa Legislature approved what would be the nation’s strictest abortion law in an early-morning vote on Wednesday. The move intended to pose an aggressive challenge to Roe v. Wade and reignite conservative energy before the midterm elections in November.
Cartoon about birth control, abortion, and the welfare state (Joel Pett and the Cartoonist Group, on Kaiser Health News, 11-12-18)
Roe v. Wade, Part 1: Who Was Jane Roe? (Audio only, The Daily, NY Times, 7-23-18) "We examine how abortion--and the Supreme Court case that legalized the procedure in the United States--became one of the most politically divisive issues of our time."
The Future of Roe v. Wade: 3 Scenarios, Explained (video, Adam Liptak explains, with reporting by Robin Stein, Aaron Byrd, Natalie Reneau, Anjali Singhvi, and Jonah M. Kessel, NY Times, 8-10-18) Will a Supreme Court with two Trump-appointed justices overrule the right to an abortion? It's possible, but not the most likely outcome. The three options: the nuclear option, overrule Roe, chip away at Roe. It's unlikely to go after the right to privacy.
The Health Department’s Christian Crusade (Tessa Stuart, Rolling Stone, 10-24-18) The religious right has infiltrated the office of Health and Human Services, and reproductive rights are the first target
“Whatever’s your darkest question, you can ask me.” (Lizzie Presser, California Magazine, 3-28-18) Anna became interested in home birth and home abortion after having been poorly treated in a hospital. In Anna’s view and that of many legal scholars, Roe upheld a doctor’s right to perform an abortion, not a woman’s right to choose one. Choice wasn’t just whether a woman could seek an abortion but also how and when she wanted to have it, who she wanted around her, and where she wanted to be.

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Where Did Ireland Go? Abortion Vote Stuns Those on Both Sides (Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura, NY Times, 5-27-18) 'There are many factors behind Ireland’s dramatic makeover. The most dominant reason is the collapse of the Catholic Church’s influence in most spheres of Irish life. “It’s very important to know that Ireland has been secularizing for a long time,” said Diane Negra, a professor of cultural studies at University College Dublin. The credibility of the church has been battered by a string of scandals, some involving pedophile priests and the cover-up of their crimes. Ireland’s practice of placing thousands of unwed mothers into servitude in so-called Magdalene laundries, designed to rehabilitate what the church considered “fallen” women, did not end until the mid-1990s. And in a case that traumatized the nation, the remains of nearly 800 children born out of wedlock were found in 2014 in a Catholic-run home for mothers and their children in Tuam....The referendum on abortion, many Irish said, was the final crack in the foundation of the old Ireland.'
Should Abortion Be Legal? (ProCon.org, which covers many issues)
Self-Induced Abortions Shouldn't Be A Crime, Mass. Medical Society Says (Chelsea Conaboy and Carey Goldberg, CommonHealth, WBUR, 5-7-18) At its latest meeting, the Massachusetts Medical Society took a new stand: Women who attempt to end a pregnancy on their own should not be considered criminals. Self-induced abortion is explicitly banned in seven states, and more have laws on the books that could be used to prosecute women for self-induction, according to a recent report....In many countries, the pills are available at pharmacies and even over the counter. Websites like Women Help Women offer support and send abortion pills by mail to women around the world who wish to end an early pregnancy. But not in the U.S., where mifepristone is highly regulated despite its proven safety. It may be dispensed only in a clinical context by a prescriber who has obtained a special certification from the drug distributor. It is not available from retail pharmacies. “There are a lot of women who, for various reasons — including stigma, or just financial or geographic lack of access to care — are really attempting their own abortion.”
Let's not go back to the deadly era of abortion by coat hanger!
Should Abortion Be Legal? (ProCon.org) Top pro and con arguments.
Why the Abortion Fight Is Becoming a Battle Over Health Information (Chelsea Conaboy, CommonHealth, WBUR, 5-22-18) Abortion pills -- typically a combination of misoprostol and mifepristone, the same drugs used in medication abortions initiated at a clinic -- are widely available for sale from online pharmacies. That’s reassuring to people who support abortion rights, as President Trump works to make good on a promise to “defund” Planned Parenthood, and as emboldened conservative governors race to pass restrictive state laws, with a legal challenge to Roe v. Wade in mind. But it also raises the stakes for women, if the call to punish those who self-induce abortion grows louder. And it puts a sharp focus on why the battle over abortion increasingly is a battle over health information, because an informed woman can gain access to abortion drugs via the Internet no matter how far she lives from a clinic....
"Abortion access is fundamentally different than it was 30 years ago, in at least one significant way: Women today have access to safe, private, do-it-yourself abortion -- if they know where to look. Or rather, which search terms to type into Google."
What Does Trump's Proposal To Cut Planned Parenthood Funds Mean?
The Abortion Pill (Planned Parenthood) Medication abortion — also called the ab ortion pill — is a safe and effective way to end an early pregnancy.
How Anti-Choice Lawmakers Are Getting Around Roe v. Wade (Sarika Chawla, Vice, 4-3-17) Those 20-week abortion bans you keep hearing about are unconstitutional.
The FDA Is Restricting Access to the Easiest, Safest Form of Abortion (Marie Solis, Health, Vice, 9-4-19) There's a growing consensus that the FDA's regulations on abortion pills aren't medically necessary. See also The Doctor Fighting to Bring You Online Abortion Pills Just Sued the FDA (Marie Solis, Health, Vice, 9-9-19) See also More People Are Starting to Prefer Managing Their Abortions on Their Own And it's not just because of restrictive state laws. (Marie Solis, Health, Vice, 10-17-19) Scroll down for links to more articles on the topic.
Pregnant, and No Civil Rights (Lynn M. Paltrow and Jeanne Flavin, NY Times, 11-7-14) "The principle at the heart of contemporary efforts to end legal abortion is that fertilized eggs, embryos and fetuses are persons or at least have separate rights that must be protected by the state. In each of the cases we identified, this same rationale provided the justification for the deprivation of pregnant women’s physical liberty, as well as of the right to medical decision making, medical privacy, bodily integrity and, in one case, the woman’s right to life.
"Many of the pregnant women subjected to this mistreatment are themselves profoundly opposed to abortion. Yet it was precisely the legal arguments for recriminalizing abortion that were used to strip them of their rights to dignity and liberty in the context of labor and delivery. These cases, individually and collectively, highlight what is so often missed when the focus is on attacking or defending abortion, namely that all pregnant women are at risk of losing a wide range of fundamental rights that are at the core of constitutional personhood in the United States....We should be able to work across the spectrum of opinion about abortion to unite in the defense of one basic principle: that at no point in her pregnancy should a woman lose her civil and human rights."
Clinics That Refer Women for Abortions Would Not Get Federal Funds Under New Rule (Sarah McCammon and Scott Neuman, WBUR News, 5-18-18)
Women Help Women
Plan C

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Addressing maternal mortality in the U.S.

Thanks to Andrea Collier King and AHCJ's Covering Health for the following links (and many more not provided here). If you are a medical reporter, join the Association of Health Care Journalists so you can get AHCJ's and Andrea's excellent tip sheets on how to cover these issues.

More U.S. Women Dying From Childbirth. How One State Bucks the Trend. (Michael Ollove, Stateline, Pew Trust, 10-23-18) "Over the past three decades, the world has seen a steady decline in the number of women dying from childbirth. There’s been a notable outlier: the United States. Here the maternal mortality rate has been climbing, putting the United States in the unenviable company of Afghanistan, Lesotho and Swaziland as countries with rising rates. But that trend has been reversed in dramatic fashion in one state: California. The state Department of Public Health calculates that between 2006 and 2013, California lowered its maternal mortality rate by 55 percent from 16.9 to 7.3 deaths for every 100,000 live births...California has made a difference in part by focusing narrowly on problems that arise during labor and delivery, using data collection to quickly identify deficiencies (such as failing to have the right supplies on hand or performing unnecessary C-sections) and training nurses and doctors to overcome them."
• Data shines a light on C-sections, maternal mortality(Brenda Goodman, Covering Health, AHCJ, 5-13-14)
Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis (Linda Villarosa, NY Times, 4-11-18) Villarosa reports that “recently there has been growing acceptance of what has largely been, for the medical establishment, a shocking idea: For black women in America, an inescapable atmosphere of societal and systemic racism can create a kind of toxic physiological stress, resulting in conditions – including hypertension and pre-eclampsia – that lead directly to higher rates of infant and maternal death.”
Maternal deaths among black women focus attention on the need for policy and payment reform (Joseph Burns, Covering Health, AHCJ, 1-2-2020) Data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that over the past 40 years, the nation’s rate of pregnancy-related deaths (the death of a woman while pregnant or within a year of the end of a pregnancy) has more than doubled. In a tip sheet for AHCJ, Andrea Collier King points out that for every 100,000 live births, some 11.4 Latinx women die every year and 13 white women die annually. “Yet the number jumps for black women to 42.8 for every 100,000 live births.” That’s 3.3 times higher than the rate for white women. What will it take for the United States to drop the death rate for all mothers and particularly for black women? In her tip sheet, Collier emphasizes the need for health care policy and payment reform (examples follow). She reports on efforts to reform payment models, explaining that the current payment systems fail to cover high-value services adequately, do not hold providers accountable for overall costs and outcomes and do not encourage coordination among providers.

Cesarean Delivery Rate by State (CDC)
Vaginal births are safer than C-sections (Childbirth Connection, which summarizes the results of systematic reviews of available evidence to assess the specific harms and benefits of specific practices). When a cesarean is truly needed, its benefits likely outweigh possible downsides. But systematic reviews have found that women with cesareans are more likely than women with vaginal birth to experience:
---Impaired physical health for at least the first two months after birth

---Difficulty becoming pregnant, leading to a lower pregnancy rate
---Not establishing breastfeeding, which benefits both women and babies; this especially occurs when cesareans are scheduled before labor.
In the long term, systematic reviews have found that women who have given birth by cesarean are more likely than those with vaginal births to experience:
---Difficulty becoming pregnant, leading to a lower pregnancy rate
---Difficulty remaining pregnant, leading to a lower birth rate
---A desire to wait longer before becoming pregnant again
---Ongoing pain in the pelvis area.

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U.S. Women More Likely to Die in Pregnancy and Childbirth and Skip Care Because of Cost, Multi-Nation Survey Finds; C-Section Rates Rank Among Highest (Commonwealth Fund, 12-19-18) Key findings: Pregnancy and childbirth are more dangerous for women in the U.S. than in other high-income nations. U.S. women are more likely to have cesarean sections. Studies show that an elected C-section can increase a woman’s risk for life-threatening complications during childbirth and subsequent deliveries. (That's the bad news. The good news: Women in the U.S. have among the highest breast cancer screening and survival rates, trailing only Norway, Sweden, and Australia.)
The C-Section Epidemic: What's Tort Reform Got to Do with It? (Illinois Law review) Law professor Sabrina Safrin debunks the conventional wisdom that fear of malpractice claims lead to high C-section rates. And Even though the hospital where a woman gives birth may be her biggest risk factor for having an unnecessary C-section, a new study by Ariadne Labs suggests most women don’t factor hospital quality into their decision making about where to receive care.
Deadly Deliveries, Hospitals know how to protect mothers. They just aren’t doing it. (Alison Young, USA Today, 11-14-19) Maternal deaths on rise because hospitals and doctors ignore safety measures. High blood pressure took one mom's life. Excessive bleeding left another with a hysterectomy. Would long-known safety practices have saved both?
New York City Launches Initiative to Eliminate Racial Disparities in Maternal Death (Annie Waldman, Lost Mothers series, ProPublica, 7-30-18) A Central Brooklyn hospital featured in ProPublica and NPR’s “Lost Mothers” series for its high hemorrhage rate will serve as a pilot for quality reforms.
Helping black babies survive: New Jersey gives $4.3 million to address infant mortality Lindy Washburn, NorthJersey.com, 7-14-18) With the nation's highest racial gap in infant mortality, New Jersey is trying to help more African-American babies survive by investing in childbirth coaches, one-to-one outreach to pregnant black women, and a different approach to prenatal care. Black babies in New Jersey are more than three times as likely to die before their first birthday as white, a tragedy unrelated to income or education. At the same time, black mothers are more than four times more likely than white to die from pregnancy-related complications.
Lost Mothers: Maternal Mortality In The U.S.
---To Keep Women from Dying in Childbirth, Look to California ( Renee Montagne, NPR, Weekend Edition, 7-29-18) The U.S. has the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world, but California is leading the charge to reverse that trend. Since 2006, the state has cut its rate by more than half.
---The Last Person You'd Expect To Die In Childbirth (Nina Martin, ProPublica, and Renee Montagne, NPR, Morning Edition, 5-12-17) American women are more than three times as likely as Canadian women to die in the maternal period (defined by the Centers for Disease Control as the start of pregnancy to one year after delivery or termination), six times as likely to die as Scandinavians.
---Black Mothers Keep Dying After Giving Birth. Shalon Irving's Story Explains Why Nina Martin, ProPublica, and Renee Montagne, NPR, 12-7-17) Systemic problems start with social inequities: differing access to healthy food and safe drinking water, safe neighborhoods and good schools, decent jobs and reliable transportation. The hospitals where they give birth are often the products of historical segregation, lower in quality than those where white mothers deliver, with significantly higher rates of life-threatening complications. Those problems are amplified by unconscious biases embedded in the medical system. But it's the discrimination that black women experience in the rest of their lives — the double whammy of race and gender — that may ultimately be the most significant factor in poor maternal outcomes.
---Many Nurses Lack Knowledge of Health Risks to Mothers After Childbirth (Nina Martin, ProPublica, and Renee Montagne, NPR, 8-17-17) A nationwide survey shows that postpartum nurses often fail to warn mothers about potentially life-threatening complications following childbirth, mainly because they need more education themselves.
---Redesigning Maternal Care: OB-GYNs Are Urged to See New Mothers Sooner and More Often (Nina Martin, NPR, 4-23-18)  Sweeping changes in medical practice could improve the dismal U.S. rate of maternal deaths and near-deaths, an influential doctors group says.
---For Every Woman Who Dies In Childbirth In The U.S., 70 More Come Close (Renee Montagne, NPR, video, 5-10-18) More than 50,000 American women nearly die from childbirth every year, according to a CDC estimate. These catastrophic complications can come at a terrible cost emotionally, financially and medically.
---Nearly Dying In Childbirth: Why Preventable Complications Are Growing In U.S. (Katherine Ellison and Nina Martin, ProPublica, 12-22-17) The rate of life-threatening complications for new mothers in the U.S. has more than doubled in two decades as a result of pre-existing conditions, medical errors and unequal access to care.
Beyond 'The Preventing Maternal Deaths Act': Implementation and Further Policy Change (Katy Backes Kozhimannil, Elaine Hernandez, Dara D. Mendez, Theresa Chapple-McGruder, Health Affairs, 2-4-19) In August 2018, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) introduced The Maternal Care Access and Reducing Emergencies (CARE) Act, which focuses squarely on dismantling structural racism by creating training programs to address implicit bias among clinicians and encouraging integrated health care services that honor the strength of culture and support pregnant women with evidence-based care. Another key area ripe for policy change to support maternal health is Medicaid policy. Medicaid finances half of births nationally, and more than half of pregnant women with public health insurance coverage at the time of childbirth experience a gap or change in their health insurance coverage in the year after giving birth. Disruptions in health insurance (including postpartum) can have adverse health consequences, and Medicaid expansions have reduced mortality. Legislation introduced by Senator Cory Brooker also recommends Medicaid reimbursement for doula services to improve health and equity by supporting women during and after pregnancy outside of the biomedical, hospital-based model. Etc.
To Help Fix the Maternal Health Crisis, Look to Value-Based Payment (Clare Pierce-Wrobel and Katie Green, Health Affairs, 7-16-19) Payment reform is one way to fix disparities in maternity health. "The current payment structure is flawed because it does not cover high-value services adequately, does not hold providers accountable for overall cost and outcomes, and does not encourage coordination among providers. Instead, the health care system should use value-based payment models that would replace fee-for-service payment. Value-based payment would pay different rates for high-value versus low-value care, would link reimbursement to maternal outcomes and the total cost of care and would cover payments for mother and newborn that link reimbursement for both maternal and infant quality outcomes and total cost." (AHCJ summary)
The Rising U.S. Maternal Mortality Rate Demands Action from Employers (Suzanne Delbanco, Maclaine Lehan,Thi Montalvo, Jeffrey Levin-Scherz, Harvard Business Review, 6-28-19) What can employers do? (1) Push contracted health plans to create strong incentives for health care providers to charge a single “bundled” price for the entire episode of maternity care. Since C-sections cost more than vaginal deliveries, a bundled payment would give providers an incentive to avoid unnecessary Cesarean births. (2) Implement benefit designs to connect pregnant mothers with high-value providers (i.e., those who offer the best outcomes at a relatively low cost). (3) Educate employees on the importance of full-term births and the potential adverse health consequences of elective inductions and unnecessary Cesarean deliveries. (4) Push health plans to contract with, provide full coverage for, and offer access to certified nurse midwives. The evidence suggests they deliver high-quality care at lower costs.
Medicaid Payment Initiatives to Improve Maternal and Birth Outcomes (Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission, or MacPac, April 2019) Again, discourage cesarean deliveries and early elective deliveries (for convenience), and provide evidence-based prenatal and postpartum care. Also describes payment initiatives focused on improving maternal and birth outcomes, and how these efforts have affected spending and health outcomes.
New Report on Maternity Care in the U.S. Shows Encouraging Progress Reducing Episiotomies, but None Reducing C-Sections (The Leapfrog Group,5-15-18) The average rate of episiotomies, an incision made in the perineum (birth canal) during childbirth, across all reporting hospitals declined, but the use of these usually unnecessary incisions remains well above Leapfrog’s standard.

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Patients sharing info and opinions about
health care problems, services, and costs

ClearHealthCosts
Costs of Care (Twitter thread). See especially GODMeDS
DocGraph. We bring healthcare data into the open.
ePatient Dave. A voice of patient engagement. See, for example, New Orleans investigative reporters expose health cost craziness, with ClearHealthCosts
Why Health Insurance Actually Sucks (Jenny Gold, An Arm and a Leg, 12-4-18) Turns out, insurance companies allow — even encourage — crazy price-gouging by hospitals. For example, the leg brace Blake needed was available for $150 on Amazon. But thanks to his insurance, he paid more than $500. How insurance companies help to keep healthcare prices hidden, and keep them high. Check out the other Arm and a Leg episodes.
Bad Practice (MedPage Today's weekly roundup of clinicians accused, convicted, or under investigation)
MedPage Today's "past week in healthcare investigations"
Healing Well.com (forum)
PatientsLikeMe. By actively involving people in their own care, we're changing lives…
Rock Health. The first venture fund dedicated to digital health. We support companies improving the quality, safety, and accessibility of our healthcare system.
Smart Patients. An online community where patients and their families learn from each other.
How Patients Use Social Media (Health journalist Sally James and patient advocate Stacey Tinianov, PNR Rendezvous, National Network of Libraries of Medicine, 2-17-16) Webinar (1 hr) on how patients, as well as clinicians and researchers, increasingly use Twitter and Facebook to find and exchange many kinds of health information: including technical information about diseases, comparisons of treatments, as well as support for survivor issues in chronic and rare diseases. Live chats on these platforms draw thousands weekly. Some researchers break news about peer-reviewed journal articles first on Twitter. Other researchers are recruiting subjects directly on social media. This webinar provides practical examples to help you explore and understand how these resources are used and how moderators “curate” and archive tweets and posts from such conversations so they remain accessible.
Asthmapolis, now Propeller, moves beyond asthma
When patients speak – some hear golden tones and others noise
On Making Patient Reviews of Physicians More Useful (David Harlow, Society for Participatory Medicine, 6-27-15)
Brookings vs Yelp and E-Patients: They’re All Wrong, but Mostly Brookings (Adams Dudley, The Health Care Blog, 6-20-15) We "found that the relationship between Yelp measures and outcomes like death and readmission for three different conditions were all statistically significant, but lower (-0.13 to -0.39, with the negative sign meaning that, as Yelp scores went up, bad outcomes happened less)....Other people have found that patients’ experience ratings also correlate with the more technical aspects of care. For example, among patients with depression or anxiety, their experience ratings are predictive of also receiving the right counseling or medication."
Crohnology. A Patient-Powered Research Network that allows any patient to contribute to research for the cure. Currently focused on Crohn's & Colitis. What if we could learn from the collective experience of patients everywhere?

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Your gut microbiome


You Should Appreciate Germs (Bill Gates, GatesNotes, 3-26-17) Gates talks with British journalist Ed Yong about his book I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life. "Yong makes clear that only a tiny fraction of microbes have the ability to make us sick. There are approximately 100 species of bacteria that cause infectious disease in humans. But there are hundreds of thousands of species that live peacefully, symbiotically within us, primarily in our gut. Microbes help us digest our food, break down toxins, guide our physical development, protect us from disease, and even speed human evolution. We are utterly dependent on them." “We have been tilting at microbes for too long, and created a world that is hostile to the ones we need,” says Yong. What we're doing wrong: overusing anti-bacterial soaps and sanitizers, antibiotics (“A rich, thriving microbiome acts as a barrier to invasive pathogens,” writes Yong. “When our old friends vanish, that barrier disappears [and] more dangerous species can exploit the … ecological vacancies.”) We don't give our children enough micronutrients (not available in pizza!) "The list of disorders that have been linked to disruptions in the microbiome includes Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, colon cancer, obesity, type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, and Parkinson’s disease."
The gut microbiome is opening a new field of medicine (Abigail Eisenstadt, AAAS meeting coverage, National Association of Science Writers, 3-10-18)
When Hong Kong Commuters Take The Subway, Their Microbes Mix – And Spread (Amina Khan, LA Times, 8-1-18) Humans aren’t the only commuters making use of the metro. A new study that examined the microbiome of the Hong Kong subway system found distinct bacterial “fingerprints” in each line during the morning – distinctions that blurred over the course of the afternoon. The findings, published in the journal Cell Reports, are part of a growing body of work that could have implications for a host of efforts, from managing the spread of disease to designing city infrastructure. (Interesting even if you aren't interested in the topic!)
Researchers warn that evidence about microbiome's role is preliminary (Bara Vaida, Covering Health blog, AHCJ, 4-27-18) "Journalists who write about health claims connected to the microbiome -- the army of bacteria that live on and in the body -- should exercise skepticism because most research has yet to determine the microbiome's precise role in health and disease. In fact, the scientific evidence is still so scant, probiotics sold on the market, like Culturelle, are probably not as beneficial as advertised, two scientists who spoke at AHCJ's annual conference said."
Fecal Transplants: Treat Them Like Tissue, Not Like Drugs (Maryn McKenna, 2-23-14) See also her other articles on C. diff and fecal transplants. She's the go-to journalist for diseases and infections caused by superbugs.
Drug Companies and Doctors Battle Over the Future of Fecal Transplants (Andrew Jacobs, NY Times, 3-3-19) As pharmaceutical companies seek to profit from the curative wonders of human feces, doctors worry about new regulations, higher prices and patients attempting DIY cures. 'Inspired by the success of fecal transplants for C. diff, scientists are racing to develop similar treatments for an array of ailments and disorders, among them obesity, autism, ulcerative colitis, and Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.'
'Dr. Alexander Khoruts, a gastroenterologist at the University of Minnesota, said he feared the F.D.A. was favoring the interests of what he calls the “poop drug cartel,” a group of companies seeking approval for new ways to deliver the active ingredients in transplanted feces. Three of the companies, Rebiotix, Seres Therapeutics and Vedanta Biosciences, have raised tens of millions of dollars from investors and they recently formed an association to advance their interests with the F.D.A. “An obscene amount of money is being thrown around by companies trying to profit off of what nature made,” said Dr. Khoruts. “I don’t think there are clear villains here, but I worry that the regulators are not caught up on the latest science and that the interests of investors may be exceeding those of patients.”
Microbes in Flux (YouTube video) On that YouTube channel are a dozen YouTube videos about the microbiome.
A Frozen Idea To Save Helpful Germs From Disasters (Melody Schreiber, WBUR News, 10-4-18) 'Microbiota are the bacteria colonizing the human body — the gut, skin, mouth, and so on — that often help regulate your health. Researchers call them "beneficial germs."' ...Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello 'has an idea for how to protect those samples from disasters. She is part of a team that wants to build a freezer vault in the safest place possible and stock it with microbiota collected by scientists around the world — a kind of Noah's Ark for helpful bacteria.Right now, many of our probiotics are made with bacteria from cows and other animals.... In the future, Dominguez-Bello says, probiotics will likely come from humans. People may start saving their own microbiota samples before a surgery, she says. After a course of antibiotics, they could reintroduce their helpful bacteria to keep their immune systems flourishing.'
How to boost your microbiome (Tim Spector, Science Focus, 1-2-18) Practical, do-able tips.
Human Microbiome Project Highlights (Human Microbiome Project, NIH) Get a cup of your favorite drink and plan to read lots of useful pieces here.
Some of My Best Friends Are Germs (Michael Pollan, NY Times Magazine, 5-19-13) "Justin Sonnenburg, a microbiologist at Stanford, suggests that we would do well to begin regarding the human body as “an elaborate vessel optimized for the growth and spread of our microbial inhabitants.” This humbling new way of thinking about the self has large implications for human and microbial health, which turn out to be inextricably linked. Disorders in our internal ecosystem — a loss of diversity, say, or a proliferation of the “wrong” kind of microbes — may predispose us to obesity and a whole range of chronic diseases, as well as some infections....Our resident microbes also appear to play a critical role in training and modulating our immune system, helping it to accurately distinguish between friend and foe and not go nuts on, well, nuts and all sorts of other potential allergens. Some researchers believe that the alarming increase in autoimmune diseases in the West may owe to a disruption in the ancient relationship between our bodies and their “old friends” — the microbial symbionts with whom we coevolved." A long, interesting, informative read.
The gut microbiome is opening a new field of medicine (Abigail Eisenstadt, AAAS meeting coverage, National Association of Science Writers, 3-10-18).
The gut microbiome in health and in disease (Andrew B. Shreiner, John Y. Kao, and Vincent B. Young), PubMed, NCBI, N IH, 1-31-15) "The human microbiome is composed of bacteria, archaea, viruses and eukaryotic microbes that reside in and on our bodies. These microbes have tremendous potential to impact our physiology, both in health and in disease. They contribute metabolic functions, protect against pathogens, educate the immune system, and, through these basic functions, affect directly or indirectly most of our physiologic functions." "Ongoing efforts to further characterize the functions of the microbiome and the mechanisms underlying host-microbe interactions will provide a better understanding of the role of the microbiome in health and disease."
uBiome. SmartGut is the first sequencing-based clinical microbiome screening test. With SmartGut, you and your doctor can gain valuable insights to better understand what’s going on inside your gut and then take steps to feel better.
Gut Microbiota for Health (European Society for Neurogastroenterology & Motility, o ESNM) "The word microbiota represents an ensemble of microorganisms that resides in a previously established environment. Human beings have clusters of bacteria in different parts of the body, such as in the surface or deep layers of skin (skin microbiota), the mouth (oral microbiota), the vagina (vaginal microbiota), and so on....Gut microbiota (formerly called gut flora) is the name given today to the microbe population living in our intestine. Our gut microbiota contains tens of trillions of microorganisms, including at least 1000 different species of known bacteria with more than 3 million genes (150 times more than human genes)."
The Uncounted: Part 1: Off the Radar.(Ryan McNeill, Deborah J. Nelson and Yasmeen Abutaleb, A Reuters Investigation, 9-7-16) 'Superbug' scourge spreads as U.S. fails to track rising human toll. The deadly epidemic America is ignoring. Fifteen years after the U.S. declared drug-resistant infections to be a grave threat, the crisis is only worsening, a Reuters investigation finds, as government agencies remain unwilling or unable to impose reporting requirements on a healthcare industry that often hides the problem.
---Part 2: Costly Crisis One life, two donated organs and $5.7 million in bills – a tale of superbugs’ deadly costs
---Part 3: Running Low As ‘superbugs’ strengthen, an alarming lack of new weapons to fight them
---Part 4: Deadly Silence How hospitals, nursing homes keep lethal ‘superbug’ outbreaks secret
---A Most Unwanted List
The incidence of MRSA infections in the United States: is a more comprehensive tracking system needed? (Kevin T. Kavanagh, Said Abusalem, and Lindsay E. Calderon, Antimicrob Resist Infect Control. 2017--PubMed.
How To Improve Your Gut Microbiome in A Day (Christiane Northrup) Include fermented foods in your diet. Fermented foods seed your gut with healthy bacteria. Eat sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi, kefir, yogurt (not processed), and kombucha. These foods are rich in prebiotics.
C-Sections and Gut Bacteria May Contribute to Overweight Kids (Nicholas Bakalar, NY Times, 2-28-18) Overweight mothers are more likely to have overweight babies, and the gut bacteria the babies inherit may in part be to blame. Researchers report that overweight mothers are more likely to have a cesarean section, and that babies born by cesarean to those mothers have species of gut bacteria different from those in babies born to normal weight women. And that difference in the gut microbiome — specifically an abundance of bacteria of the family Lachnospiraceae in infants of overweight mothers — may contribute to an increased risk for obesity. Source: Roles of Birth Mode and Infant Gut Microbiota in Intergenerational Transmission of Overweight and Obesity From Mother to Offspring (JAMA Pediatr., 2-19-18)
Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body's Most Underrated Organ by Giulia Enders with Jill Enders and David Shaw
Why the Gut Microbiome Is Crucial for Your Health (Ruairi Robertson, HealthLine, 6-27-17) "While some bacteria are associated with disease, others are actually extremely important for your immune system, heart, weight and many other aspects of health....Most of the microbes in your intestines are found in a "pocket" of your large intestine called the cecum, and they are referred to as the gut microbiome. There are roughly 40 trillion bacterial cells in your body and only 30 trillion human cells. That means you are more bacteria than human."

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The crisis in rural and small-town health care


‘Out here, it’s just me’: In the medical desert of rural America, one doctor for 11,000 square miles (Eli Saslow, Washington Post, 9-28-19) The federal government now designates nearly 80 percent of rural America as “medically underserved.” Health officials predict the number of rural doctors will decline by 23 percent over the next decade. In Texas alone, 159 of the state’s 254 counties have no general surgeons, 121 counties have no medical specialists, and 35 counties have no doctors at all. Thirty more counties are each forced to rely on just a single doctor. The stress on those rural doctors is captured here in the story of one rural Texas doctor.
Is the rural hospital system near you succeeding or failing? Check this database (William Heisel, Investigating Health, Center for Health Journalism, 1-21-2020)
High-Deductible Plans Jeopardize Financial Health of Patients and Rural Hospitals (Markian Hawryluk, KHN, 1-10-2020) Plans with annual deductibles of $3,000, $5,000 or even $10,000 have become commonplace since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act as insurers look for ways to keep monthly premiums to a minimum. But in rural areas, where high-deductible plans are even more prevalent and incomes tend to be lower than in urban areas, patients often struggle to pay those deductibles, and hospitals are left with uncollectible "bad debt."
The Hidden Cost of Health Systems Gobbling Up Rural Hospitals Listen: KHN Editor-in-Chief Elisabeth Rosenthal appeared on the WAMU radio program “1A” to discuss the issue of community hospitals merging with larger, corporate systems and what that means for communities around the country. Rosenthal is the author of An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take It Back. (1-24-2020)
Readers and Tweeters: Are Millennials Killing the Primary Care Doctor? (Dr. Kevin Walsh, Letters to the Editor, KHN, 10-26-18)
Critical condition: The crisis of rural medical care (CBS Sunday Morning, 3-10-19) A whole cross-section of America is now facing the very real risk of having no local hospital to turn to. The causes are varied; the population in some of those towns has dwindled to a size that can't support a hospital anymore. "The hospital closes, the emergency room dries up, all the other services that went with that – home health, pharmacy, hospice, EMS – they leave town as well, and now you're left with a medical desert," said Holmes.
Rural Hospital Closings Are Leaving Millions of People in a Health Care Crisis (Jane Bolin, Bree Watzak & Nancy Dickey, The Conversation via Truthout, 10-5-19) More than 20% of our nation’s rural hospitals, or 430 hospitals across 43 states, are near collapse -- despite the fact that rural hospitals are crucial not only for health care but also survival of their small rural communities. Since 2010, 113 rural hospitals across the country have closed, 18% of them in Texas. Texas and Mississippi had the highest number of economically vulnerable facilities, according to a national health care finance report in 2016.
Why journalists should go beyond surprise bills and report on narrow networks — especially in rural America (Kellie Schmitt, Remaking Health Care, Center for Health Journalism, 1-22-2020) The costly experience of paying out of pocket isn’t uncommon for people who have insurance but may not understand their network’s limitations until an accident or sudden health problem arises, says Simon Haeder has studied narrow health insurance networks for years. The problem is especially troublesome in rural America, regions already plagued with a sicker and poorer population, less public transport and the devastating toll of the opioid crisis.
Spurred By Convenience, Millennials Often Spurn The ‘Family Doctor’ Model ( Sandra G. Boodman, KHN and Washington Post, 10-9-18) For decades, primary care physicians have been the doctors with whom patients had the closest relationship, a bond that can last years. But some experts warn that moving away from a one-on-one relationship may be driving up costs and worsening the problem of fragmented or unnecessary care, including the misuse of antibiotics. A recent report in JAMA Internal Medicine found that nearly half of patients who sought treatment at an urgent care clinic for a cold, the flu or a similar respiratory ailment left with an unnecessary and potentially harmful prescription for antibiotics, compared with 17 percent of those seen in a doctor’s office. Antibiotics are useless against viruses and may expose patients to severe side effects with just a single dose.
New Research Shows Increasing Physician Shortages in Both Primary and Specialty Care (Press release, Association of American Medical Colleges, 4-11-18)
As doctors age, small towns face critical shortage (David Freed, CHCF Center for Health Reporting, SFGate, 1-2-11) As doctors age with no successors, rural areas face dire shortage.
Outsiders Swoop In Vowing to Rescue Rural Hospitals Short on Hope — And Money (Barbara Feder Ostrov, KHN/The Atlantic, 6-6-18) "The community of Surprise Valley, Calif., is torn over whether to sell its tiny, long-cherished hospital to a Denver entrepreneur who sees a big future in lab tests for faraway patients." The woes of Surprise Valley Community Hospital reflect an increasingly brutal environment for America’s rural hospitals, which are disappearing by the dozens amid declining populations, economic troubles, corporate consolidation and, sometimes, self-inflicted wounds. Abundant illustrations.
Rural health care in Calif. nearing ‘crisis’ (Andrew Van Dam, Covering Health, AHCJ, 1-13-11) In a collaboration between the California HealthCare Foundation Center for Health Reporting and the San Francisco Chronicle, the center’s David Freed ventures into rural Mendocino County in northern California to explain and examine the ongoing (and worsening) shortage of physicians in American rural areas.
Rural areas try to lure doctors to avert shortage (David Freed, SFGate, 1-3-11) Many new doctors today say they would struggle to pay off their student loans practicing in rural areas with a lower-income patient base. See also The Price We Pay: How the Cost of Medical School Contributes to US Healthcare Disparities and Spending ( Caroline Claire Elbaum, Health Policy Musings, Tufts, 4-9-17)
Bringing local, national perspectives to report on ACA in rural Kentucky (Joanne Kenen, Covering Health, AHCJ, 6-17-14) In impoverished rural areas that stood to gain the most from the greater access to care that the Affordable Health Care (ACA) promised, many residents remained fiercely opposed to the law and the president who pushed it. Against that background, a team of journalists from USA Today and The (Louisville, Ky.) Courier-Journal launched an in-depth examination of how the law began to play out in Appalachian Kentucky.
Medicaid Is Rural America’s Financial Midwife ( Shefali Luthra, KHN and Kentucky Standard, 4-13-18) Kaiser Health News is examining how the U.S. has evolved into a “Medicaid Nation,” where millions of Americans rely on the program, directly and indirectly, often unknowingly. As hospital treatments have become increasingly sophisticated and expensive, health care has become inextricably linked to Medicaid in rural areas, which are often home to lower-income and more medically needy people. Medicaid pays the tab for close to 45 percent of all U.S. births annually, and about 51 percent of rural births. Medicaid payments allow struggling hospitals to maintain vital costly services such as maternity care. Rural hospitals depend heavily on Medicaid dollars. See also Medicaid: What You Need to Know as well as Rural Health Information Hub.
The Village Where Every Cop Has Been Convicted of Domestic Violence (Kyle Hopkins, Anchorage Daily News and ProPublica, 9-18-19) Dozens of convicted criminals have been hired as cops in Alaska communities. Often, they are the only applicants. In Stebbins, every cop has a criminal record, including the chief. It’s a violation of state public safety regulations, yet it happens all the time. See also Lawless (Kyle Hopkins, Anchorage Daily News, 5-16-19) At least one in three Alaska villages has no local law enforcement. Sexual abuse runs rampant, public safety resources are scarce, and Gov. Mike Dunleavy wants to cut the budget.

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Dental care and oral health:

What you should (and probably don't) know

Better understanding of ‘mouth microbes’ may improve oral health treatments (Mary Otto, Covering Health, AHCJ, 8-9-19) It is more productive to think about the community of organisms that live in the mouth than it is to think about the single microbe that causes disease. They help each other survive and prosper. One research team has concluded that a fungus in the plaque of children with early childhood caries accelerates the progress of the disease by working in concert with the matrix- and acid-making bacteria. “Bacteria by itself can cause tooth decay,” Koo tells News in Health. “But when fungus is there it boosts up the entire machinery.” Watch for practical developments based on this research.
2020’s States with the Best & Worst Dental Health (Adam McCann, WalletHub, 2-6-2020) How does your state rank? You may be surprised. report card also breaks out ratings for some specific indicators including tobacco and soda consumption rates, dentists per capita and toothlessness among elders.
Dental patients face years of debt, inflated bills with ‘out-of-pocket’ credit cards (Manuela Tobias, Sacramento Bee, 12-9-19) Legal aid organizations report that low-income Californians are particularly at risk of falling into debt traps with medical credit cards because of ongoing struggles with the state insurance system. Advocates say the terms of medical credit cards are too complicated for most people to understand. They are particularly confusing in high-pressure situations, like the moments of excruciating pain leading up to important dental procedures. If consumers do not fully understand the terms or fall behind on payments, they can end up facing inflated bills and crippling dental debts. See story behind the story: How one reporter explored the impact of medical credit cards on dental debt (Mary Otto, Covering Health, AHCJ, 4-24-2020)
Study documents disparities that contribute to late diagnosis of oral cancer (Mary Otto, Covering Health, AHCJ, 1-7-2020) "Research has long shown that Americans from minority groups and those with a lower socioeconomic status are less likely to get routine dental visits than patients who are white and more affluent. A new study finds that even when minorities or those who are poorer and less educated do receive oral health services, they are less likely to receive oral cancer (OC)screenings that could lead an early diagnosis. The findings come at a time when oral cancer, which disproportionately burdens poorer, less-educated and minority patients, is on the rise, according to federal data."
Vermont moving forward on creating dental therapist training program (Mary Otto, Covering Health, AHCJ, 12-11-19) "States across the country are moving ahead with laws aimed at putting dental therapists to work. Legislators and health advocates hope the mid-level provider model will serve as a cost-effective way of getting dental care to historically underserved communities across the U.S.
"Often compared to physicians’ assistants or nurse practitioners in the medical world, dental therapists receive technical training in a range of routine preventive and restorative procedures and work as part of dentist-headed teams. But the model continues to face opposition from state and national dental societies, who have long contended that only dentists are qualified to drill and extract teeth....In 2009, Minnesota became the first state government to authorize the use of dental therapists; Vermont, Maine, Michigan, Connecticut, New Mexico and Nevada have since followed suit and other states are considering legislation."
Here Come the Dental Therapists (Barbara Mantel, Rural Health Quarterly, 9-20-19) More states are passing laws to extend their use, but can opposition from dental societies be overcome?
HealthyPeople.gov Oral Health objectives
Don't Toss the Floss (NIH, 11-16) The Benefits of Daily Cleaning Between Teeth.
Surprisingly Little Evidence for the Accepted Wisdom About Teeth (Aaron E. Carroll, The New Health Care, NY Times, 8-29-16) There’s good evidence that brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste is a good idea, especially with a powered toothbrush. For children, there’s good evidence that the use of fluoride varnish or sealants can be a powerful tool to prevent cavities. The rest? It’s debatable; we don't have good studies. With flossing, which is cheap and easy, it still might be worth doing. And fluoride is important.
Tooth Wisdom Find affordable dental care.
Dental Health Topics, A to Z (Tooth Wisdom)
Toothbrushes Buying Guide (Consumer Reports, online)
Basic Dental Care: An Overview (Web MD)
Problems With Dental Fillings (Medicine Net)
Why neglecting your teeth could be seriously bad for your health (Linda Geddes, The Guardian, 7-19-15) It’s no secret that a lackadaisical approach to dental care leads to fillings and gum disease, but the latest evidence suggests it could also cause diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
Often lost in health care debate, lack of dental insurance impacts millions (Yesenia Amaro and Nicole A Hayden, USC Center for Health Journalism News Collaborative, 6-20-19) Untreated dental problems can lead to other health complications and higher medical costs. A 2014 study showed that when adult Medicaid recipients had preventive dental care, medical costs for seven chronic health conditions, such as diabetes and coronary heart disease, were lower by 31% to 67%. The connection between oral and overall health seems to stem largely from bacteria and germs located in the mouth that can spread to other parts of the body and cause diseases.
White paper calls for more attention to endodontic oral care (Mary Otto, Covering Health, AHCJ, 6-14-19) new white paper from the Geneva-based FDI World Dental Federation aims to dispel the fear surrounding such procedures and highlight the tooth-saving potential of endodontics; which is the care and treatment of the soft tissues within and around the teeth.... Untreated tooth decay impacts more than one-third of the people suffering from disease....Endodontic procedures range from pulp capping, which protects still-vital tissues within a damaged tooth to root canal treatment, in which diseased pulp is removed and the roots inside the tooth are cleaned, shaped and sealed. The placing of a crown restores the functionality of the tooth."
Gum disease and the connection to heart disease (Robert H. Shmerling, Harvard Medical School, April 2018)
Passage of Dental Health Act a rare act of bipartisanship (Mary Otto, Covering Health, AHCJ, 12-4-18) The Action for Dental Health Act of 2018 is a heartening acknowledgment by federal legislators of the need to respond to the long-unmet dental needs of millions of Americans. In a rare show of bipartisanship, Congress last week passed legislation that amends the Public Health Service Act to enable more groups and organizations to qualify for federal grants that develop programs and expand access to oral health education and care in states and tribal areas.
2018’s States with the Best & Worst Dental Health (WalletHub, 2-1-18)
Drilling Down on Dental Coverage and Costs for Medicare Beneficiaries (Meredith Freed, Tricia Neuman, and Gretchen Jacobson, Kaiser Family Foundation, 3-13-19) Almost two-thirds of Medicare beneficiaries do not have dental coverage and many go without needed care, a new KFF analysis finds. Medicare does not cover routine preventive dental care or more expensive dental services that are often needed by older adults. Lack of dental care can lead to delayed diagnosis of serious health conditions, preventable infections and complications, chronic pain, and costly emergency room visits. Untreated oral health problems can lead to serious health complications. Having no natural teeth can cause nutritional deficiencies and related health problems. Untreated caries (cavities) and periodontal (gum) disease can exacerbate certain diseases, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and lead to chronic pain, infections, and loss of teeth. Lack of routine dental care can also delay diagnosis of conditions, which can lead to potentially preventable complications, high-cost emergency department visits, and adverse outcomes. Medicare, the national health insurance program for about 60 million older adults and younger beneficiaries with disabilities, does not cover routine dental care, and the majority of people on Medicare have no dental coverage at all. Limited or no dental insurance coverage can result in relatively high out-of-pocket costs for some and foregone oral health care for others. This brief reviews the state of oral health for people on Medicare. It describes the consequences of foregoing dental care, current sources of dental coverage, use of dental services, and related out-of-pocket spending. 
‘Physicians of the Mouth’? Dentists Absorb the Medical Billing Drill (David Tuller, California Healthline, 9-21-18) On a recent Friday morning, more than 30 dentists and dental staffers gathered in a conference room to learn an arcane new skill: how to bill medical insurers. Pacing back and forth, the Florida dentist leading the two-day course advised the participants to stop thinking of themselves as tooth technicians and reposition themselves as “physicians of the mouth.” "The reason is simple: Medical insurance is generally much more generous in its coverage than dental insurance. Unlike medical coverage, dental insurance is mostly geared to the healthy — something many people don’t realize until they experience serious oral problems and get socked with unexpected costs. Standard dental insurance covers cleanings, fillings and other routine care. But major work like a crown or a bridge is often covered only at 50 percent and implants generally aren’t covered at all. And dental insurance is usually capped at $1,000 or $1,500 per year."
CDC study suggests many kids using excess toothpaste (Mary Otto, Covering Health, AHCJ, 2-28-19) "Young children, whose reflexes are not fully developed, may accidentally swallow toothpaste. The ingestion of too much fluoride while the permanent teeth are developing can result in dental fluorosis, a mottling, pitting or discoloration of the enamel. The CDC recommends that children up to the age of 3 use a smear of fluoride toothpaste no larger than a grain of rice; children between the ages of 3 and 6 are advised to limit themselves to a pea-sized portion."
The Tooth Divide: Beauty, Class and the Story of Dentistry (Sarah Jaffe, NY Times, 3-23-17) Review of Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America by Mary Otto. "The dividing line between the classes might be starkest between those who spend thousands of dollars on a gleaming smile and those who suffer and even die from preventable tooth decay....Otto’s book begins and ends with the story of Deamonte Driver, a 12-year-old Maryland boy who died of an infection caused by one decaying tooth, and the system that failed him. In pointing out the flaws in that system, Otto takes us back through the history of dentistry and shows us how the dental profession evolved, separately from the rest of health care, into a mostly private industry that revolves almost entirely around one’s ability to pay. In other words, all of the problems with health care in America exist in the dental system, but exponentially more so....dental care is still associated in our minds with cosmetic practices, with beauty and privilege. It is simultaneously frivolous, a luxury for those who can waste money, and a personal responsibility that one is harshly judged for neglecting. In this context, “Teeth” becomes more than an exploration of a two-tiered system — it is a call for sweeping, radical change.
Confusion Leaves Low-Income Children In Health Care Limbo (Jocelyn Wiener, California Healthline, 9-10-18) Tania Alvarado’s 13-year-old daughter doesn’t smile much anymore. She doesn’t want anyone to see her front teeth, which are so crowded they’re nearly growing atop one another. The crowding makes it painful to eat; it also embarrasses her. “Am I going to get those braces this year?” the Los Angeles eighth-grader asks her mom, again and again. Alvarado always answers her the same way: “It’s still not happening.” For two years, dentists have told Alvarado that her daughter needs braces. They’ve also told her that because the girl has Medi-Cal — the government insurance program for low-income Californians — braces aren’t covered. Legal aid attorneys say the dentists are wrong. Under federal law, children are eligible for a wide array of services, but confused providers and health plans often look only at the state’s narrow range of approved services for adults, and mistakenly apply those rules to kids. “They’re being denied care that they’re entitled to,” she said. “That’s the bottom line.”
NY program highlights challenge of providing dental care to patients with disabilities (Mary Otto, Covering Health, AHCJ, 4-11-18) A bill recently signed into law by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey opens the way for dental therapists to begin providing services in tribal health centers, safety net clinics and other public health settings across the state. Diverse supporters of the change ranged from health advocacy groups and tribal organizations to the libertarian Goldwater Institute, which issued the report, "The Reform That Can Increase Dental Access and Affordability in Arizona." Minnesota was the first state to authorize the licensing of dental therapists and Compromise Would Use Dental Therapists to Expand Access to Oral Health Care in Mass. (Matt Murphy, WBUR, Boston). The American Dental Association says the major problem with disparities in access to health care is the lack of reasonable Medicaid reimbursement, not dental workforce issues--concluding that the therapist model would drive down the cost and price of dental care and the income of dentists while doing little to increase the use of dental services.
Abrupt end to Oregon legislative session leaves dental therapist bill in the lurch (Mary Otto, Covering Health, 3-17-2020) "Oregon is one of a dozen states that have approved measures allowing the practice of dental therapy in some capacity. More states are considering the use of dental therapists. The model, which has been employed for decades in other countries, has been championed by public health leaders a cost-effective way of expanding care to long-underserved communities and populations. An estimated 56 million Americans live in federally-designated dental health provider shortage areas."
New research highlights gulf between primary care, dental care (Mary Otto, Covering Health, AHCJ, 11-29-18) "A pediatrician sees a child with untreated tooth decay, but doubts a dentist will be available in the child’s community. The pediatrician does not write a referral. A dentist notices a patient’s suspicious oral lesion, but fails to follow up. Care is delayed. A pregnant woman with an infected tooth is advised to seek dental care but has no regular oral health provider. She ends up in an emergency room where her underlying dental problem remains unresolved. Physicians and dentists fail to collaborate or even to communicate. Patients suffer; the most vulnerable often get lost in the divide. Knitting the systems together will require serious work on many levels. But the effort is necessary to ensure better health outcomes, according to a discussion paper, newly published by the National Academy of Medicine.
Journal roundtable explores practices to reduce anesthesia-related deaths in pediatric dentistry (Mary Otto, Covering Health, AHCJ, 12-14-17) "Tooth decay remains the most prevalent chronic health problem of children in the United States. Since the late 1980s, roughly one in four U.S. children have had tooth decay, a rate that has remained relatively stable over the decades, according to a new study based on extensive federal data....“Although it is laudable that more younger children are receiving dental treatment for caries, what we would really like to see is more children remaining caries-free through childhood,” Bruce Dye, the study’s lead author. Parents and caregivers should begin getting routine dental care for babies by their first birthday.
Refugees face special challenges in maintaining oral health (Mary Otto, Covering Health, AHCJ, 11-21-18)
Report: Pregnant women have harder time obtaining dental care, regardless of income (Mary Otto, Covering Health, AHCJ, 11-19-18)
New report lays out challenges in expanding practice of dental hygienists (Mary Otto, Covering Health, AHCJ, 10-25-18) See More such stories by Mary Otto.
UI dental school to turn away new Medicaid patients because of low payments, confusing rules (Tony Leys, Des Moines Register, 6-28-18)
The Unmet Need for Dental Care (one of many articles on AHCJ's excellent long page on topics related to oral health)
Efforts to expand use of dental therapists making progress (Mary Otto, Covering Health, AHCJ, 9-17-19) Connecticut has joined a growing list of states embracing dental providers as a way to expand access to care. Under the new law dental therapists must practice under the supervision of a dentist and only in public health settings,” she wrote. Dental hygienists registered to practice in the state must receive 18 months of additional training to become dental therapists. As in other states that have passed such legislation, backers of the model in Connecticut say that dental therapists will provide a cost-effective way to increase the availability of dental services among publicly-insured and uninsured patients, and in rural and minority communities where dentists are often scarce.
Unlikely coalition expands use of dental therapists in Arizona (Mary Otto, Covering Health, AHCJ, 7-12-18)
How Dental Inequality Hurts Americans (Austin Frakt, The Upshot, NY Times, 2-19-18) Lack of dental care through Medicaid not only harms people’s health, but has negative economic implications as well. Not being able to see a dentist is related to a range of health problems. It’s an accident of history that oral care has been divided from care for the rest of our bodies. But it seems less of an accident that the current system hurts those who need it most.
New guidelines may encourage use of low-cost, painless dental treatment (Mary Otto, Covering Health, AHCJ, 11-20-17) "A treatment that offers a painless, minimally-invasive alternative to drilling and filling teeth has gotten a boost from a prominent children’s dental organization....The product, which is painted onto decayed lesions, contains fluoride, which helps remineralize the damaged tooth, and silver, which kills the bacteria that drive decay. SDF has been used for decades in Japan, but has only recently attracted the attention of U.S. health care providers. n 2014, SDF was cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to be marketed as a treatment for dental sensitivity in adults. Now, some U.S. dentists have begun using the material as an off-label restorative material."
Treating Pain Is Not Enough: Why States’ Emergency-Only Dental Benefits Fall Short (Cheryl Fish-Parcham, Families USA, July 2018) States have great latitude to determine the scope of dental benefits that they will cover for adults through their Medicaid programs. While some states cover comprehensive benefits, others cover emergency dental care only or none at all. These states all cover limited services to address severe pain, generally including extractions. Finding appropriate care providers for emergency-only dental services can be difficult. State Medicaid programs end up paying for expensive hospital emergency department visits when appropriate dental services are not available. And most do not provide restorative care nor cleanings that would address underlying disease. When Medicaid does not cover an oral health care need, there are few other resources for low-income adults to get that need met.
Dearth of dentistry: Reporter explores how state's economic health affects its oral health (Mary Otto, Covering Health, AHCJ, 11-14-17) In this Q&A, Caleb Slinkard, editor of the Norman Transcript, who has overseen his paper’s 15-member newsroom for the past two years, offers insights into his “Dearth of Dentistry” package. He reflects upon what oral health can tell us about economic health and how budget decisions have influenced the availability of benefits, providers and fluoridated water in the state. He also shares tips that might help fellow journalists take a similar look at oral health access in their own communities.
How bad teeth and a lack of dental care can lead to discrimination and poverty (Manuela Tobias, Fresno Bee, 10-16-19)
• Maggie Clark’s Two Million Kids series for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune has 'explored many facets of the state’s troubled Medicaid program: a dearth of preventive and specialty care in many communities, problems faced by providers and a decade-long legal battle to reform the system. In a recent installment, Clark focused upon the shortage of oral health care services for Florida’s poor children....Clark looked at how the state’s chronic shortage of Medicaid dental care has affected young Floridians. She delved into how the system got so bad and described how evolving reform efforts, driven by the settlement of a decade-long lawsuit, might improve it....inaccurate provider lists offered to beneficiaries by their Medicaid dental plans further complicated an already difficult search for care, the newspaper found. “For Medicaid-enrolled kids, dental care is an entitlement in federal law,” Scott Tomar, chairman of the Department of Community Dentistry and Behavioral Science at the University of Florida College of Dentistry, told Clark. “The current system is neither adequately funded or user friendly. It seems like it was designed to create as many barriers to utilization for parents, kids and dentists, as possible.”' Poor kids end up in emergency rooms when their dental problems become bad enough, but ER does not provide adequate dental care there. (Hat tip to AHCJ, Covering Health).
Kentucky reporter shares insights on covering cuts to Medicaid dental coverage (Mary Otto Q&A with reporter Will Wright, who wrote about Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin’s July decision to cut dental and vision benefits for about 460,000 state Medicaid beneficiaries: Appointments at this Kentucky dental clinic down by half after Bevin’s Medicaid cuts (Lexington Herald-Leader, 7-10-18)
Top 10 Facts Your Dentist Wants You to Know (Tammy Davenport, VeryWell, 10-6-16) Useful information; annoying ads slow down the reading experience.
Dentists keep dying of this lung disease. The CDC can’t figure out why. (Cleve R. Wootson Jr., WashPost, 3-10-18) "It’s estimated that about 200,000 people in the United States have Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF) at any one time.But the common denominator of a small group of patients at a Virginia clinic over a 15-year period is worrying the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Eight were dentists; a ninth was a dental technician."
When Dental Surgery Lands A Patient in a World of Everlasting Regret (Dianna Wray, Houston Press, 8-9-16) It seems there are few rules governing dental surgery and its outcomes in Texas.
HHS targets oral care gaps in ‘health infrastructure’ awards (Mary Otto, Covering Health, 10-4-19) "More than $85 million in new federal awards will help health care centers from Aniak, Alaska, to Miami Gardens, Fla., increase access to dental care in their communities. The awards of up to $300,000 each will enable 298 federally funded clinics to start or expand oral health care services. The money will be used to buy and install dental and X-ray equipment, train staff, renovate facilities and purchase mobile dental units."
Tip sheet, series provide template for investigating Medicaid dental care for children (Mary Otto, Covering Health, Association for Health Care Journalists, 9-19-16)
Medicaid Adult Dental Benefits: An Overview (fact sheet from the Center for Health Care Strategies)
Dentist Participation in Medicaid or CHIP (by state, by gender, by age) (Health Policy Institute, American Dental Association)
Dental Benefits and Medicaid
Dentists under pressure to drill ‘healthy teeth’ for profit, former insiders allege (David Heath, USA Today, Mark Greenblatt and Aysha Bagchi, Newsy, 3-19-2020) A reporting team's in-depth investigation into a growing dental chain offers a troubling chronicle of dentists under pressure to meet revenue targets and patient allegations of overtreatment. "Reporters spent more than a year examining the inner workings of North American Dental Group. The Pittsburgh-based chain represents "a new trend of dental offices bought by private-equity investors and turned into revenue-generating machines," their project explained. Johannah Lancaster's son, Gregory, now 9, received seven root canals at a dental clinic when he was 3. The dentist never took X-rays and Gregory later had to have four of the teeth pulled."
Painful Mistakes (Arthur Kane Las Vegas Review-Journal, 10-28-19) Six-part series. (1) Injured Patients Claim Botched Dental Work. Why didn’t the board revoke licenses? (2) Patients reveal the impact of failed dental work. (3) Dental board benefiting itself, not patients, records show. (4) Longtime dental feud sparks state investigation. (5) This patient complained. The dental board filed a restraining order against him. (6) Two videos: How to check your dentist’s background. How to file a complaint against a Nevada dentist.
Nevada is not the only state with dental oversight problems (William Heisel, Investigating Health, 1-2-2020) Problems in your state? Check out your state dental board.

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Basic healthcare explanations: How things (in the body) work

Antibodies: Friend & Foe (Thomas Packard, Healthcare in America,12-29-16)
Blood tests and results, explained
Blood Pressure Monitors (those validated as reliable, dabl Educational Trust)
Types of blood tests (National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute, NHBLI)
So You Might Actually Not Be Allergic to Penicillin (Jeanette Beebe, Daily Beast, 1-16-18) "Nearly 90 percent of patients who had 'penicillin allergy' listed on their medical charts were found to actually have no such allergy at all....The only way to know if you’re actually allergic to penicillin is a skin test. Khan argues that getting the right diagnosis lowers health care costs and weakens antibiotic-resistant bugs (and infections) for all of us."
Risk Assessment Tool for Estimating Your 10-year Risk of Having a Heart Attack (NHBLI)
Questions and Answers on Cholesterol and Health with NHLBI Nutritionist Janet de Jesus, M.S., R.D. (NHBLI)
Testosterone (This American Life, Program 220, 8-30-2002) Stories of people getting more testosterone and coming to regret it. And of people losing it and coming to appreciate life without it. The pros and cons of the hormone of desire.
Doctors Might Stop UTIs from Ever Happening Again (Nicole Wetsman, Precise Welfare, Daily Beast, 6-19-18) There are around 8 million urinary tract infections diagnosed each year in the United States, making up around 25 percent of all infections. Unlike traditional antibiotics, which wipe out good and bad bacteria indiscriminately, precision treatments would target the specific bug responsible for the urinary tract infection, while leaving the rest intact.
Fighting the Plague: A Story of HIV/AIDS (Thomas Packard, Healthcare in America, 12-2-16)

Mapping the Secret Lives of Human Cells (Daniela Hernandez, WSJ, 4-6-17) What does a human cell look like? That is somewhat of a mystery because most current cellular models are static and based on limited data, according to scientists from the Allen Institute for Cell Science in Seattle. Until recently researchers lacked the tools to assess cells and their tiny internal structures, known as organelles, in real time on a large scale, they say.
In Giant Virus Genes, Hints About Their Mysterious Origin (Rae Ellen Bichell, Shots, NPR, 4-6-17) Viruses are supposed to be tiny and simple — so tiny and simple that it's debatable whether they're even alive. They're minimalist packets of genetic information, relying entirely on the cells the infect in order to survive and reproduce. But in 2003, researchers identified a new kind of virus that that turned scientific understanding of viruses upside down, and tested the boundary of what can be considered life.

Thanks to Kaiser Health News (http://khn.org/.
Many of the links posted on this website I became aware of through Kaiser Health News, which I highly recommend. You can subscribe here..

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The truth about screening tests

Annual physicals and health care screening tests Physicals, yes--just not annually. Definitely get a physical when something is wrong.
A Check on Physicals (Jane Brody, Well, 1-21-13) A 'Danish team noted that routine exams consist of “combinations of screening tests, few of which have been adequately studied in randomized trials.” Among possible harms from health checks, they listed “overdiagnosis, overtreatment, distress or injury from invasive follow-up tests, distress due to false positive test results, false reassurance due to false negative test results, adverse psychosocial effects due to labeling, and difficulties with getting insurance.”'
Screening Recommendations of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. See, for example, Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm and BRCA-Related Cancer: Risk Assessment, Genetic Counseling, and Genetic Testing.
Is my test, item, or service covered? (Medicare.gov) Which preventive & screening services are covered by Medicare.
Clinical Preventive Services Across the Life Stages (HealthyPeople.gov) Which screenings and services are recommended, at what life stage?
Barbara Ehrenreich: Why I’m Giving Up on Preventative Care (Lit Hub, 4-9-18) How Contemporary American Medicine is Testing Us to Death. "What could be more ridiculous than an inner-city hospital that offers a hyperbaric chamber but cannot bestir itself to get out in the neighborhood and test for lead poisoning?" She grudgingly agrees to a bone density scan. "The result was a diagnosis of “osteopenia,” or thinning of the bones, a condition that might have been alarming if I hadn’t found out that it is shared by nearly all women over the age of 35. Osteopenia is, in other words, not a disease but a normal feature of aging. A little further research, all into readily available sources, revealed that routine bone scanning had been heavily promoted and even subsidized by the drug’s manufacturer. Worse, the favored medication at the time of my diagnosis has turned out to cause some of the very problems it was supposed to prevent—bone degeneration and fractures."
Can screenings be too much of a good thing? (Liz Seegert, Covering Health, AHCJ, 6-30-15) "For years, evidence has grown about wasted Medicare dollars on needless screenings....Yet despite this news, Medicare continues to reimburse for many common tests like PSA and screenings for breast cancer – as well as MRIs, and CT scans in older adults that are not medically necessary, or sometimes, even appropriate."
Overkill (Atul Gawande, New Yorker, 5-4-15) An avalanche of unnecessary medical care is harming patients physically and financially. What can we do about it? Cancer screening with mammography, ultrasound, and blood testing has dramatically increased the detection of breast, thyroid, and prostate cancer during the past quarter century. We’re treating hundreds of thousands more people each year for these diseases than we ever have. Yet only a tiny reduction in death, if any, has resulted.
Which screening tests are worth getting? sidebar to story Annual physical exam is probably unnecessary if you’re generally healthy (Christie Aschwanden, Washington Post, 2-8-13).
Private health screening tests are oversold and under-explained (UK physician Margaret McCartney, The Guardian, 9-17-14) The message in this article for the UK is equally valid for the USA: "Health screening can cause more harm than it prevents, so companies have a duty to provide full information to customers." Life Line Screening markets its for-profit tests without providing fair information and an evidence base for taking them. She provides examples and links, particularly to PrivateHealthScreening: What to Think About When You’re Thinking About Screening Tests. (Click on and read all the links there.) Links below (via Gary Schwitzer) get more specific. Unless your doctor recommends them, there are reasons to think twice about screening tests for which you receive marketing material--say, for aortic aneurysms.
Screening For Asymptomatic Carotid Artery Stenosis (PDF, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Evidence Synthesis No. 50)
Screening Asymptomatic Adults With Resting or Exercise Electrocardiography: A Review of the Evidence for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (Annals of Internal Medicine, 9-20-11)
Effect of Screening on Ovarian Cancer Mortality (JAMA, The Prostate, Lung, Colorectal and Ovarian (PLCO) Cancer Screening Randomized Controlled Trial, June 8, 2011)
The UK NSC policy on Osteoporosis screening in women after the menopause (Systematic screening in postmenopasual women is not recommended.)
Liver function tests in patients with computed tomography demonstrated hepatic metastases (Springer, 1989) "Although liver function tests (LFTs) (enzyme levels) are inexpensive and simple to perform, they failed to detect a significant number of patients with liver metastases."
Incidental Findings on Brain MRI in the General Population (New England Journal of Medicine, 11-1-07). "Incidental brain findings on MRI, including subclinical vascular pathologic changes, are common in the general population. The most frequent are brain infarcts, followed by cerebral aneurysms and benign primary tumors. Information on the natural course of these lesions is needed to inform clinical management." See full discussion.
"Preventive health screenings" that are hardly a Life Line (Dr. Kenny Lin, Common Sense Family Doctor, 2-7-11)
How Doctors and Patients Do Harm (Tara Parker-Pope, Well, NY Times, 4-20-12). "That was the beginning of Otis Brawley becoming a loudmouth in the prostate cancer screening debate. We’re making promises to patients and making them think we know things we don’t know and making money off of them. There is a subtle little corruption in medicine. We’re selling chemo to people who don’t need it, giving prostate screening when it might save lives, but we make them think it definitely does..."
Articles about screenings (Covering Health, Association of Health Care Journalists).
Iowa hospitals drop controversial mobile testing firm ( Tony Leys, Des Moines Register, 9-5-14). University of Iowa Health Alliance plans to stop using HealthFair, "a mobile heart-testing company that has been accused of 'fear-mongering' to induce healthy people to undergo scans of their hearts and arteries." This came about after the advocacy group Public Citizen called for an investigation and a halt to recommending tests for most patients. "Such widespread screenings are not recommended by medical experts because each of the six tests either benefits only appropriately selected high-risk patients or has not been scientifically shown to provide any clinically meaningful benefit to anyone.

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Vitamins, supplements, and "natural products"

Have you noticed that the price for your vitamins and supplements has been rising? The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate the safety and sale of nutritional supplements. Because they're classified as food products, not medicines, they aren't regulated by the strict standards governing the sale of prescription and over-the-counter drugs.
Vitamin D supplements: Panacea, placebo or something in between? (Dan Hurley, WaPo, 9-14-15) The public’s faith in vitamin D as a modern panacea has far outpaced what the scientific evidence proves. JoAnn E. Manson, chief of the division of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, "has led or collaborated on more than a dozen large, randomized, placebo-controlled studies, dating back more than two decades, which found none of the expected protection against cancer, heart disease, dementia or other diseases that scientists once attributed to beta carotene, vitamin E or vitamin C supplements. (She did find, however, that supplementation with folic acid, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 offered modest protection against age-related macular degeneration and, for those with a diet low in B vitamins to begin with, a hint of protection against the loss of cognitive abilities.) Manson heads the VITamin D and OmegA-3 TriaL (VITAL) at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Health News Review's comments: Nuanced portrait of evidence on prevention benefits of vitamin D "This story examines the history of controversy over whether vitamin D has any preventive role in a laundry list of conditions including diabetes, depression and multiple sclerosis. There’s no controversy over its role in bone health. Different studies have reached different conclusions, and the story predicts that large randomized studies might help resolve these disputes a few years from now."
Studies Show Little Benefit in Supplements (Jane E. Brody, NY Times, 11-15-16)
What is melatonin and can it help me sleep? (Brian Resnick, Vox, 8-19-16) Melatonin may work best for jet lag and in people who have low melatonin. One reason for caution:Melatonin isn't well regulated. A pat on the back for excellent reporting on melatonin (Health News Review).
Is Sunscreen the New Margarine? (Rowan Jacobsen, Outside, 1-10-19) Current guidelines for sun exposure are unhealthy and unscientific, controversial new research suggests—and quite possibly even racist. Vitamin D is a hormone manufactured by the skin with the help of sunlight. It’s difficult to obtain in sufficient quantities through diet and vitamin D supplementation has failed spectacularly in clinical trials. True, the sun worshippers had a higher incidence of [melanoma]—but they were eight times less likely to die from it. Over the 20 years of the study, sun avoiders were twice as likely to die as sun worshippers. In a 2016 study published in the Journal of Internal Medicine, Lindqvist’s team put it in perspective: “Avoidance of sun exposure is a risk factor of a similar magnitude as smoking, in terms of life expectancy.” See more on Vitamin D under Nutrition, including vitamins and supplements.
Risky stimulants turn up — again — in weight loss and workout supplements (Rebecca Robbins, STAT News, 11-8-17) "The ingredients, apparently new, were popping up on the labels of dietary supplements marketed for weight loss and workouts. Sometimes the label said DMHA. Sometimes, Aconitum kusnezoffii. Or other, even harder-to-parse names... Octodrine did indeed show up in one of the products Cohen analyzed. But the others contained three different stimulants, with unknown or potentially risky side effects. They could speed up heart rate and raise blood pressure. And none, including octodrine, has gone through the process required by the FDA to be included as ingredients in dietary supplements...The new findings also highlight just how hard it has been for the FDA to keep potentially unsafe supplement ingredients off the market. For example, regulators warn that the best-known of these stimulants, called DMAA, can cause cardiovascular problems ranging from shortness of breath to a heart attack."
Fish Oil and Vitamin D Pills No Guard Against Cancer or Serious Heart Trouble (Liz Szabo, KHN, 11-10-18) A widely anticipated study has concluded that neither vitamin D nor fish oil supplements prevent cancer or serious heart-related problems in healthy older people, according to research presented Saturday at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions. Researchers defined serious heart problems as the combined rate of heart attacks, stroke and heart-related deaths. The study also suggests there’s no reason for people to undergo routine blood tests for vitamin D. (Vitamin D testing has become a huge business for commercial labs — and an enormous expense for taxpayers.) But Manson's team also found no serious side effects from taking either fish oil or vitamin D supplements. When researchers singled out heart attacks — rather than the rate of all serious heart problems combined — they saw that fish oil appeared to reduce heart attacks by 28 percent, Manson said. As for vitamin D, it appeared to reduce cancer deaths — although not cancer diagnoses — by 25 percent. (Slicing the data into smaller segments — with fewer patients in each group — can produce unreliable results. The links between fish oil and heart attacks — and vitamin D and cancer death — could be due to chance, Kramer said.) Experts agree that vitamin D is important for bone health. Consumers who want to reduce their risk of cancer and heart disease can follow other proven strategies. “People should continue to focus on known factors to reduce cancer and heart disease: Eat right, exercise, don’t smoke, control high blood pressure, take a statin if you are high risk,” said Dr. Alex Krist, a professor of family medicine and population health at Virginia Commonwealth University.)
Knowing What’s Worth Paying For in Vitamins Lesley Alderman, NY Times, Patient Money, NY Times, 12-4-09) Use only what you need: "Popping too many vitamin pills is not only a waste of money but can be bad for your health. Talk to your doctor about what added vitamins or minerals you might require; you can ask for a blood test to learn what you might be lacking." A multivitamin will not provide the level of a vitamin you may be deficient in. If your doctor recommends a specific supplement, like omega-3, ask in what form you should be taking it. Find a reputable source. "Purchase your vitamins from well-known retailers that do a brisk business and restock frequently, whether that’s Costco or Drugstore.com." Price may not indicate quality."ConsumerLab.com says it has found a few patterns that consumers may find helpful. Products sold by vitamin chains tend to be more reliable than drugstore brands, and Wal-Mart and Costco’s vitamin lines are usually worth considering. In a recent test of multivitamins, ConsumerLab.com found that Equate-Mature Multivitamin 50+ sold by Wal-Mart was just as good as the name brand Centrum Silver, but at less than a nickel a day is half the price."
Are Calcium Supplements Safe? (Richard Klasco, NY Times, 10-12-18) Kidney stones are a known risk, but studies have investigated other potential safety concerns, including an increased risk of death, cancer and heart disease. Many people, especially women, take calcium supplements in the hope of building stronger bones, but whether calcium supplements prevent fractures remains uncertain. "The Women’s Health Initiative, a randomized placebo-controlled trial of calcium and vitamin D in more than 36,000 postmenopausal women, found a 17 percent increase in the incidence of kidney stones. A report prepared for the Preventive Services Task Force supported this conclusion, but noted that the risk disappeared when calcium was taken without vitamin D."
ConsumerLab.com. Among sources ConsumerLab.com recommends for buying vitamins, supplements, and "natural products" (but check their site!):
---eVitamins
---Lucky Vitamin
---Swanson Vitamins
---iHerb
---VitaCost
Check the price at your local store against prices for the same product on Amazon. They are often notably higher at the vitamin shop I have frequented.
Supplements Can Make You Sick (Jeneen Interlandi, Consumer Reports, 7-27-16) Dietary supplements are not regulated the same way as medications. This lack of oversight puts consumers' health at risk.
Vitamin B.S. (Cari Romm, The Atlantic, 2-26-15) How people came to believe the myth that nutritional supplements could make them into better, healthier versions of themselves. From an interview with Catherine Price, the author of Vitamania (for which I've seen two different subtitles: "How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food" and "Our Obsessive Quest for Nutritional Perfection").
What Heart Patients Need to Know About Herbal Supplements (Lauren Friedman, Consumer Reports, 3-2-17) A new study says they may be an especially risky choice for patients taking heart meds

Liver Damage From Supplements Is on the Rise (Lauren Cooper, Consumer Reports, 5-19-17) Green-tea extract and bodybuilding pills pose a particular risk, study finds
The Truth About Calcium and Vitamin D Supplements (Lauren Cooper, Consumer Reports, 7-27-16) Consumers take them to strengthen bones and prevent fractures. Do they work? "Taking daily calcium pills can increase bone density in people over 50 years old by 1 to 2 percent—not enough to prevent fractures. That’s according to a review of 59 randomized controlled trials, published last year in the British Medical Journal. “That small gain is not worth the risks, including an increased likelihood of heart disease, kidney stones, and gastrointestinal problems,” Lipman says."
"The best way to get that calcium is to eat calcium-rich foods including milk, cheese, and yogurt. Good sources of vitamin D are mushrooms, eggs, fortified milk, soy beverages, and salmon. Our bodies also make vitamin D when our skin is exposed to sunlight, so our experts suggest getting 10 minutes of sunshine per day. Exercise is important, too. “Weight-bearing aerobic activities, such as walking and dancing, may slow bone loss."
15 Supplement Ingredients to Always Avoid (Consumer Reports, 3-21-17) These supplement ingredients can cause organ damage, cardiac arrest, and cancer: Aconite, caffeine powder, chaparral, coltsfoot, comfrey, germander, greater celandine, green tea extract powder, kava, lobelia, methylsynephrine, pennyroyal oil, red yeast rice, usnic acid, yohimbe. A useful chart with "claimed benefits" vs. "risks."
4 Supplements to Question After Age 50 (Lauren Cooper, Consumer Reports, 12-16-16) Who might need folic acid, calcium, iron, and vitamin E supplements, do they do what is claimed, and what problems might there be with them (for whom).
Fish Oil Supplements May Not Help Prevent Heart Disease (Sally Wadyka, Consumer Reports, 3-14-17) Those who already have certain forms of heart disease may benefit, though, a new report finds. "One thing most heart disease experts do agree on: The best way to get the protective benefits of omega-3s is to eat fish rather than take fish oil supplements.Salmon, sardines, mackerel, and other fatty fish, have the highest amount of omega-3s, and are low in mercury. Fish may be protective, says Lipman, not just because of its omega-3 content, but because it is a lean source of protein, low in saturated fat, and rich in other nutrients.:
‘Natural’ Sleep Supplements Carry Serious Safety Concerns (Ginger Skinner, Consumer Reports, 12-29-16) There's little research to suggest melatonin and valerian work, plus the popular supplements come with clear risks

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Complementary and alternative medicine


Complementary, Alternative, or Integrative Health: What’s In a Name? (National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, NIH)
Complementary and Alternative Medicine (National Cancer Institute) Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is the term for medical products and practices that are not part of standard medical care. Are CAM approaches safe? Natural does not mean safe.
Health Topics, A to Z (National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health)
6 Things To Know When Selecting a Complementary Health Practitioner (National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health)
Frequently asked questions about dietary supplements (NIH Office of Dietary Supplements)
What Exactly Is Alternative Medicine? (WebMD's mostly positive description of such practices as acupuncture, chiropractic medicine, energy therapies, magnetic field therapy, Reiki, therapeutic ("healing") touch, herbal medicine, and ayurvedic medicine)
Naturopathy Is 99.9% Bull$hit, But Here’s What That 0.1% Can Teach Us (Zubin Damania, Medium, 2-18-18). See also Naturopathy vs. Science: Facts edition (Scott Gavura, Science-Based Medicine, 8-28-14)
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Good e-resources for patients/consumers/patient advocates and e-patients

Kaiser Health News (best, most thorough coverage of medical news)
PubMed (reliable information for consumers, providing good basic understanding of specific diseases, with literature searches and references to articles that provide a state of the art overview
Essential and helpful medical links
CAAR e-clippings (the Current Awareness in Aging Report) is designed to provide researchers, educators, and professionals in the field of aging with up-to-date information about news and internet resources that are pertinent to the field. The daily E-Clippings service provides subscribers with a daily email message that highlights important news stories related to aging--a daily snap shot of the latest news in the field (not an archive). There is also a CAAR blog. See explanations of the two at Center for Demography of Health and Aging (CDHA, at University of Wisconsin Madison)
ePatient Dave (a voice of patient engagement). See The New Life of e-Patient Dave "In 2007, supported by an extraordinary team of family, friends, and medical staff, I stomped the snot out of a nasty cancer that was on its way to killing me. I've since learned that the way I did it has a lot in common with the advice of the "e-patients" movement, so I've changed my blogger name from Patient Dave to e-Patient Dave."
e-patients.net (because providers can't do it alone)
Charles Ornstein's Morning Health Reads (subscribe, Nuzzel)
Kevin MD (doctors' voices blog, like medical Op Eds)
• On Symptom Checkers: e-Patient Dave's "A Turing Test for Diagnosis: BMJ evaluates online symptom checkers" ( BMJ 2015;351:h3480). See also Tools to diagnose symptoms online often get it wrong, study finds (Boston Globe).
Health Net Navigation Never trust a librarian… unless you want good information.
HealthWeb Navigator ("comprehensive reviews by medical professionals" of health websites.
Health videos (Medline Plus)
HealthWeb Navigator
Medical Encyclopedia (Medline Plus)
Medical Dictionary (Medline Plus)
Blogs and news for science and medical writers (WritersAndEditors.com)
Patiient Empowerment (About.com)
New America Media (collaboration of 3,000 ethnic news organizati0ns in US) with special sections such as Paul Kleyman's Ethnic Elders or posts on Health.
Journal of Participatory Medicine
Empowered Patient (Elizabeth Cohen's column, CNN)
Not Running a Hospital (Paul Levy, former CEO of a large Boston hospital, shares thoughts about hospitals, medicine, and health care issues)
The Health Care Blog
Blogs and news for science and medical writers (Writers and Editors)
Geek Doctor (life as a healthcare CIO)
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For your medical reference shelf


Sometimes you can't go online. And sometimes the information is not available online. So stock at least one medical reference book. Purchases made from these links provide me a small commission.
The Body Clock Guide to Better Health by Michael Smolensky and Lynne Lamberg
The Cornell Illustrated Medical Encyclopedia: The Definitive Medical Home Reference Guide (Weill Cornell Health Series) by Antonio Gotto
The Johns Hopkins Complete Home Guide to Symptoms & Remedies by Editors of The Johns Hopkins Medical Letter Health After 50
The Johns Hopkins Consumer Guide to Medical Tests: What You Can Expect, How You Should Prepare, What Your Results Mean by Simeon Margolis
Know Your Body: The Atlas of Anatomy by Emmet B. Keefe
Mayo Clinic Family Health Book, 3rd edition, by the Mayo Clinic
Mosby's Manual of Diagnostic and Laboratory Tests by Kathleen Pagana and Timothy Pagana (this is especially helpful in interpreting lab test results)

Online:
MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia (National Library of Medicine) See version en espanol (Información de Salud de la Biblioteca Nacional de Medicina)
Cochran Library (evidence-based research).
Medical Dictionary (Web MD)
MedTerms (Medicine.Net.com)

Many diseases and conditions are listed on this website (with links) under Coping with chronic, rare, and invisible diseases and disorders . When you reach a blog about a particular condition, look along the right side of the page and you'll usually find a "blog roll," listing other resources on the same subject. Some will provide more reliable information and insights than others, but patient-written blogs (which may certainly contain misinformation) often provide practical insights into how to live with a disease or condition (psychologically and otherwise).
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Dealing with rape and sexual assault and abuse


National Resources for Sexual Assault Survivors and Their Loved Ones (RAINN--Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network--the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization) An important list of resources, with links.
What is sexual assault? (RAINN) "Rape is a form of sexual assault, but not all sexual assault is rape....The majority of perpetrators are someone known to the victim. Approximately eight out of 10 sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim, such as in the case of intimate partner sexual violence or acquaintance rape." RAINN answers questions about what is sexual assault, rape, and force.
Sexual assault (WomensHealth.gov) "Sexual assault is any type of sexual activity or contact that you do not consent to. Sexual assault can happen through physical force or threats of force or if the attacker gave the victim drugs or alcohol as part of the assault. Sexual assault includes rape and sexual coercion. In the United States, one in three women has experienced some type of sexual violence.1 If you have been sexually assaulted, it is not your fault, regardless of the circumstances." Answers to many questions about sexual assault.
An Unbelievable Story of Rape (T. Christian Miller, ProPublica and Ken Armstrong, The Marshall Project, 12-16-15) An investigative piece. Marie’s case led to changes in practices and culture.
Why Don't Police Catch Serial Rapists? An Epidemic of Disbelief (Barbara Bradley Hagerty, The Atlantic, Aug.2019) What new research reveals about rape kits, and why police fail to catch serial rapists. Police officers continue to reflexively disbelieve women who say they've been raped. But in 49 out of every 50 rape cases, the alleged assailant goes free—often, we now know, to assault again.  Previously, officers didn't bother to test rape kits in so-called acquaintance-rape cases, instances in which the victim knew the assailant. But some of these men are likely repeat offenders; testing their DNA can help solve other cases. When kits go untested, sexual predators can flourish.
Why the Backlog Exists (End the Backlog) The backlog of untested rape kits represents the failure of the criminal justice system to take sexual assault seriously, prioritize the testing of rape kits, protect survivors, and hold offenders accountable. Here are key factors contributing to creation of the backlog.
When Abuse Victims Commit Crimes (Victoria Law, The Atlantic, 5-21-19) New laws in New York and elsewhere could keep women out of prison for crimes against their abusers.
ICE Detention Center Says It’s Not Responsible for Staff's Sexual Abuse of Detainees (Victoria López and Sandra Park, ACLU, 11-6-18) The Prison Rape Elimination Act was passed by Congress in 2003 to protect against sexual assault in prisons and jails across the country. It took the Department of Homeland Security until 2014 to finalize regulations implementing PREA. Immigrants in detention are put at serious risk for sexual violence while they are detained because officials are not doing enough to detect and respond to incidents of sexual abuse. The Trump administration continues to aggressively target immigrants and asylum seekers by stripping away legal protections, ramping up enforcement, and expanding immigration detention.
‘An Entire Community Got Together to Rape a Child’: India Recoils at Girl’s Assault (Kai Schultz and Suhasini Raj, NY times, 7-18-18) In the gated community in Chennai, India, a group of men took turns raping an 11-year-old girl.
Here Are All the Public Figures Who’ve Been Accused of Sexual Misconduct After Harvey Weinstein (Samantha Cooney, Time, 3-27-19)
‘Where there is more rape culture in the press, there is more rape’ (Denise-Marie Ordway, Dart Center, 9-7-18) 'Rape occurs more often in communities where the news media reflects “rape culture” — the tone of the coverage and word choices can be interpreted as showing empathy for the accused and blame for victims, according to a new study published in the Quarterly Journal of Political Science.'
Jesuits identify 33 Alaska clergy and volunteers ‘credibly accused’ of sexually abusing children (Kyle Hopkins, Anchorage Daily News, 12-26-18) Created by Jesuits West, a Dec. 7 report puts names, places and dates to generations of sexual abuse inflicted by ordained priests, church volunteers and employees in 35 villages and cities across Alaska. Many of the offender priests were assigned by the church to tiny Alaska communities, prompting accusations that remote villages here became dumping grounds for predators. Jesuit leaders have denied that the order used Alaska as a hiding place for pedophile clergy. See also Lawless (5-16-19) At least one in three Alaska villages has no local law enforcement. Sexual abuse runs rampant, public safety resources are scarce, and Gov. Mike Dunleavy wants to cut the budget.

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Telemedicine and virtual medical visits

Hearing Amazon's footsteps, Walgreens unveils new digital platform to connect patients to doctors (Lisa Schencker, Chicago Tribune, 7-27-18) "Walgreens has unveiled a new digital platform to connect customers to medical services, just weeks after its stock dove on news that Amazon is expanding into the pharmacy business. Deerfield-based Walgreens’ new Find Care Now platform, available online and on the pharmacy chain’s app, allows patients to schedule appointments at its in-store Advocate clinics, talk with doctors and therapists through telehealth company MDLIVE, and schedule online dermatology appointments through online dermatology service DermatologistOnCall. Patients can also get second opinions through the NewYork-Presbyterian health care system and make eye and hearing appointments at Walgreens stores. In other parts of the country, Walgreens has partnered with a number of other regional health care providers. "
More Than Half of Kaiser Permanente's Patient Visits Are Done Virtually (Kia Kokalitcheva, Fortune, 10-6-16) "For the first time, last year, we had over 110 million interactions between our physicians and our members," said Tyson, adding that 52% of them were done via smartphone, videoconferencing, kiosks, and other technology tools. "What were now seeing is greater interaction with our members and the health care system," said Tyson. "They're asking different questions, they're behaving more like consumers, and medical information now is becoming a critical part of how they're making life choices."
Charlotte patients take control of their medical records, doctor visits with virtual care (Karen Garloch, Charlotte Observer, 12-20-14) After downloading a new app to her iPhone, within minutes Beth Straeten was talking face-to-face with a physician assistant. As Straeten described the poison ivy rash on her arms, PA Dimple Joshi sat across town at Carolinas Medical Center-Pineville, in front of two computer monitors. On one, Joshi could see Straeten and on the other she could read Straeten’s medical record. This has been called medicine’s “Gutenberg moment” by Dr. Eric Topol, one of the nation’s leading cardiologists. Much like the printing press liberated knowledge from control of the elite class, Topol says digital health technology is poised to democratize medicine in ways that were unimaginable until now. “It goes from being the doctor’s medical record to being the patient’s medical record,” said Dr. R. Henry Capps Jr.
Telehealth back in the spotlight (Covering Health, Association of Health Care Journalists, 8-7-17) Lack of reimbursement for telehealth has for many years been an impediment to adoption.Three proposed initiatives would remove some longstanding roadblocks to wider adoption of telehealth services. One proposal would eliminate the state-by-state licensure requirement for telehealth delivery for all federal programs, including Medicare (so the patient wouldn't have to be in the same state as the doctor). The proposed Evidence-Based Telehealth Expansion Act of 2017 would waive current Medicare restrictions on telehealth coverage as long as it saves money. The proposed CHRONIC Care Act of 2017 would offer accountable care organizations and Medicare Advantage plans greater flexibility in reimbursement for telehealth services, and eliminate geographic restrictions for telestroke service payments.
Get Your Checkup by Phone or Video (Beth Howard, The Investing Revolution, US News, 8-26-16) "When 11-month-old Jack Causa's eyes became red and developed a yellow discharge last winter, his mother Izzy immediately recognized the problem: pinkeye. Because the pediatrician's office was closed, she used a service called Teladoc, provided through her health benefits, to reach a physician on her smartphone....Teladoc is one of several services, including MDLIVE, American Well, and Doctor on Demand, offering secure access to a doctor anytime, anywhere to anyone with a smartphone or tablet. "
Choice, Transparency, Coordination, and Quality Among Direct-to-Consumer Telemedicine Websites and Apps Treating Skin Disease (Jack S. Resneck Jr, MD, et al., JAMA Dermatology, 5-1-13) Telemedicine has potential to expand access to high-value health care. Our findings, however, raise concerns about the quality of skin disease diagnosis and treatment provided by many DTC telemedicine websites. Until improvements are made, patients risk using health care services that lack transparency, choice, thoroughness, diagnostic and therapeutic quality, and care coordination. We offer several suggestions to improve the quality of DTC telemedicine websites and apps and avoid further growth of fragmented, low-quality care.
Big business backs virtual doctor visits as Texas loses fight for limits (Jayne O'Donnell, USA Today, 6-3-15) Video or telephone visits with doctors — the practice known as telemedicine — have survived one of their biggest legal challenges yet in Texas, but hurdles remain in Arkansas and some other states.
The FDA Just Opened Up Abortion Pill Access. Next Up: Webcam Prescriptions (Sarah Zhang, Wired, 3-31-16)
Telemedicine fans point to CBO's history of cost overestimates (David Pittman, Politico, 12-21-15) The Congressional Budget Office's track record with telemedicine isn’t very positive. Advocates need to find better ways to show CBO their proposed changes work and will save money. “They do seek to be fair, but they’re also careful,” Schwartz said.
Virtual reality: More insurers are embracing telehealth (Bob Herman, Modern Healthcare, 2-20-16)
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Books about how healthcare professionals train, think, and act

An Uncertain Inheritance: Writers on Caring for Family edited by Nell Casey. Wonderful writing, excellent insights into the complexities both of caring and of being cared for, during an illness.
An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison (about manic depression).
Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance by Atul Gawande
Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science by Atul Gawande
Emergency!: True Stories From The Nation's ERs by Mark Brown
Hot Lights, Cold Steel: Life, Death and Sleepless Nights in a Surgeon's First Years, Michael J. Collins memoir of his grueling surgical residency at the Mayo Clinic
How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman
How We Die by Sherwin Nuland (excellent descriptions of exactly how the various body systems fail, when they fail -- a primer even for healthy readers)
Illness as Metaphor: AIDS and Its Metaphors by Susan Sontag
Intern: A Doctor's Initiation by Sandeep Jauhar
In the Country of Hearts: Journeys in the Art of Medicine by John Stone
Just Here Trying to Save a Few Lives: Tales of Life and Death in the ER by Pamela Grim
Life Disrupted: Getting Real About Chronic Illness in Your Twenties and Thirties, by Laurie Edwards
Life Support: Three Nurses on the Front Lines (The Culture and Politics of Health Care Work) by Suzanne Gordon, author of Nursing Against the Odds: How Health Care Cost Cutting, Media Stereotypes, And Medical Hubris Undermine Nurses And Patient Care.
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales, by Oliver Sachs
The Measure of Our Days: New Beginnings at Life's End by Jerome Groopman
Medical Detectives, by Berton Roueche
My Own Country: A Doctor's Story , Abraham Verghese's memoir of being a doctor during the early years of AIDS.
On Call: A Doctor's Days and Nights in Residency by Emily R. Transue
Pulse: Voices From the Heart of Medicine - The First Year, ed. Paul Gross and Diane Guernsey (excellent essays, poems and short narratives from the hearts and in the voices of patients and their health care providers, from the online magazine Pulse)
Second Opinions: Stories of Intuition and Choice in the Changing World of Medicine by Jerome Groopman
Silence Kills: Speaking Out and Saving Lives , edited by Lee Gutkind (essays about communication failures that lead to potentially lethal medical error)
Unholy Ghost: Writers on Depression, ed. Nell Casey
When the Air Hits Your Brain: Tales from Neurosurgery by Frank Vertosick Jr.
You: The Smart Patient, An Insider's Handbook for Getting the Best Treatment, by Drs. Michael F. Roizen and Mehmet C. Oz, with the Joint Commission (one of a series by the charismatic Oprah favorite, Dr. Oz, and the knowledgeable Dr. Roizen)
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Managing pain and improving health with yoga

Yoga overview (National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health)
38 Health Benefits of Yoga (Timothy McCall, Yoga Journal, 8-28-07) "Each time you practice yoga, you take your joints through their full range of motion. This can help prevent degenerative arthritis or mitigate disability by "squeezing and soaking" areas of cartilage that normally aren't used. Joint cartilage is like a sponge; it receives fresh nutrients only when its fluid is squeezed out and a new supply can be soaked up. Without proper sustenance, neglected areas of cartilage can eventually wear out, exposing the underlying bone like worn-out brake pads." Here's one I've used: Yoga for back pain.
What the Science Says About Yoga "Current research suggests that a carefully adapted set of yoga poses may reduce low-back pain and improve function. Other studies also suggest that practicing yoga (as well as other forms of regular exercise) might improve quality of life; reduce stress; lower heart rate and blood pressure; help relieve anxiety, depression, and insomnia; and improve overall physical fitness, strength, and flexibility. But some research suggests yoga may not improve asthma, and studies looking at yoga and arthritis have had mixed results." From Yoga: In Depth
Effectiveness of Iyengar yoga in treating spinal (back and neck) pain: A systematic review. (Crow EM, Jeannot E, Trewhela A, Intl J Yoga, on PubMed, Jan. 2015). "This systematic review found strong evidence for short-term effectiveness, but little evidence for long-term effectiveness of yoga for chronic spine pain in the patient-centered outcomes. "
Health conditions benefited by yoga (Timothy McCall, MD, from Yoga as Medicine ), a list followed by links to many references.
Western Science vs. Eastern Wisdom (PDF, Timothy McCall). See also Does Yoga Kill? Yoga, Truthiness and the New York Times, in which McCall argues against New York Times writer William Broad's claims that yoga is responsible for hundreds of strokes per year, the emotional linchpin of his yoga-wrecks-your-body arguments. About which, see next entry:
How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body (William J. Broad, NY Times, 1-5-12) and this follow-up piece: The Healing Power of Yoga Controversy (William Broad, The 6th Floor: Eavesdropping on the Times Magazine, 1-10-13) "Yet, for all the bad news about yoga, I still see the rewards as outweighing the risks. A century and a half of science shows the benefits to be many — and the serious dangers to be few and comparatively rare."

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