Weekly Dose of Health News

In this summary, you’ll find information on how new technology is changing patient care, new research on Alzheimer’s treatments, the benefits of access to free birth control and more!

Please let us know us what you think and if there is a particular topic you would like to see covered.

Technology in Health Care

The  New York Times highlights how technology continues to change the way physicians and health care providers deliver care to their patients. Videoconferencing between providers has become an increasingly popular way for patients in remote or rural areas to be seen by experts in larger metropolitan hospitals. Telemedicine is being used by a number of hospitals and health care providers to offset the impact of severe physician shortages in certain practice areas and geographic regions (Belluck, 10/8).

New research shows that physicians who use electronic health records provide better quality of care than providers who rely on paper records. Researchers from the Weill Cornell Medical College examined 466 doctors in a physician practice association in the Hudson Valley to determine if the use of electronic health records improved delivery of care in an outpatient setting. The study, published online in the Journal of General Internal Medicine  found that 56% of doctors who use electronic health records provide “significantly better” quality of care in four key areas.

The New York Times examines the use growing of electronic health records by health care providers. The article finds that while there are many advantages to the electronic systems there are real obstacles and technology glitches that slow doctors down and potentially imperil patient care (Freudenheim, 10/11).

Health Studies

A new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine  found that a shift in Medicare reimbursement policy designed to reduce the rate of hospital-acquired infections did not have an impact on the rate of preventable infections. The Medicare policy changed hospital reimbursement in October 2008 to ensure that hospitals did not get paid additional money to treat hospital-acquired infections. Researchers studied data on infection rates from almost 400 hospitals between January 2006 and March 2011. The researchers did not find any significant difference in the rate of preventable infections after the change in Medicare policy.

A study published this week in the Journal of Pediatrics found that physicians are increasingly relying on CT scans to diagnose children with suspected cases of appendicitis. The study found that CT scans in children with abdominal pain rose from less than one percent to more than 15 percent between 1998 and 2008. These findings have caused some alarm in the medical community as there is a concern that exposure to the radiation emitted by these scans may increase cancer risk in young patients (Reuters, Joelving, 10/8).

Alzheimer’s Research

The New York Times  reports that an international effort is underway to conduct three major studies on the potential benefits of drugs for Alzheimer’s disease.  While previous studies have focused on testing medications with individuals who already have Alzheimer’s disease, these studies will focus on testing subjects that do not yet have symptoms of the disease but who are expected to start showing signs of the disease in the near future. One study will focus on 160 people from the United States, Britain and Australia that have a variety of gene mutations that cause Alzheimer’s disease, a second study will involve an extended family in Colombia whose members share a mutated gene that causes Alzheimer’s disease, and a third study will focus on individuals in the United States over the age of 70 that do not have known genetic mutations but whose brain scans demonstrate manifestation of the disease. All three studies are slated to begin early next year (Kolata 10/10).


As the debate continues around the provision of the Affordable Care Act that will make cost-free birth control available to more women, a new study shows that access to free birth control dramatically reduced unplanned pregnancies.  USA Today profiles the experimental project that gave free birth control to more than 9,000 teen girls and women in St. Louis between 2007 and 2011.  Researchers credited both access to free contraception and the use of long-acting methods of contraception, such as IUDs and hormonal implants, for the reduction in unplanned pregnancies (Painter, 10/5).

The Social Security Administration maintains a database, the Social Security Death Master File, which is an index of 90 million deaths that have been reported to the agency over 75 years by survivors, hospitals, funeral homes and state offices.  The New York Times  writes about a recent change in policy at the SSA to limit access to individuals’ death records. The move by the SSA seeks to prevent identity theft but has inadvertently slowed down a number of medical research efforts that rely on information about a patient’s cause of death (Sack, 10/8).

Reuters examines the growing number of businesses in the United States that are opening in-house medical clinics for their employees. These clinics offer a full range of medical services and care management to employees. Businesses profiled in the article cite the rising cost of health care and loss of worker productivity as reasons to invest in running an onsite health clinic (Emery, 10/9).

-Jaime Venditti, 10/12/12