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Bill would expand VA mental health services
A group of senators is seeking to increase access to mental health services for military veterans. Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chair Patty Murray (D, Wash.) has introduced legislation that would require more oversight of federal suicide prevention programs. The bill also would expand mental health coverage to family members of servicemen and women to help them cope with deployments. “The Dept. of Defense and the [Dept. of Veterans Affairs] are losing the battle against the mental and behavioral wounds of these wars,” she said. “To see that, you don’t need to look any further than the tragic fact that already this year over 150 active duty service members have taken their own lives, or the fact that one veteran commits suicide every 80 minutes.” The committee held a June 27 hearing to discuss the Mental Health Access to Continued Care and Enhancement of Support Services and several other pieces of legislation. The VA has taken steps to improve access, said Madhu [Read more]
Residents willing to work when they’re sick
Resident physicians who come to work sick risk passing their illness to colleagues and patients, yet many doctors-in-training take the gamble. A survey of 150 Illinois medical residents found that 51% reported coming to work with flu-like symptoms in the past year, and 16% said they had done so at least three times, says an article published online June 18 in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Medical educators and residency program leaders should educate residents that sometimes staying home is the most professional thing to do, said Anupam B. Jena, MD, PhD, lead author and an assistant professor of health care policy and medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston. “Working while sick may demonstrate an admirable sense of responsibility to patients and colleagues, but clinicians also need to worry about the real danger of infecting vulnerable patients as well as colleagues and staff,” Deborah Grady, MD, MPH, the journal’s deputy editor, said in an accompanying editor [Read more]
Older women are advised against taking supplements to prevent fractures
Physicians should advise postmenopausal women against taking low doses of vitamin D and calcium supplements to prevent fractures, says the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Such supplements often are recommended for older women to help strengthen bones, but evidence shows that the risks outweigh the benefits, says a task force draft recommendation, which is open for public comment through July 10. Specifically, the group advises against postmenopausal women taking daily supplements of 400 international units or less of vitamin D3 and 1,000 milligrams of calcium to prevent fractures. “The evidence is clear that [the dosage] is really not effective and is associated with a small but measurable harm,” said Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, MD, PhD, task force member and associate professor of medicine at University of California, San Francisco. About 1.5 million osteoporosis-related fractures occur in the U.S. each year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate [Read more]
House Democrat presses HHS for details on 2013 budget cuts
A senior Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee wants more details from the Obama administration on how upcoming budget cuts will impact federal medical research priorities and other health care programs. The failure of a congressional “super-committee” created under the Budget Control Act in 2011 to reach agreement on a plan to cut federal budget deficits triggers $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts over 10 years, divided between defense and non-defense spending, starting in 2013. The first round of these cuts brings with them “reductions in billions of dollars to critical medical research and development, access to new medical treatments, and other health and well-being programs in the jurisdiction of the Dept. of Health and Human Services,” Rep. Edward Markey (D, Mass.) said in a statement accompanying a June 7 letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Unless the act is repealed or amended, federal agencies dedicated to research, health, and commu [Read more]
Educating med students about nutrition and physical activity could curb obesity
To help stem the tide of the nation’s escalating obesity epidemic, a nonprofit think tank is calling for improved training in nutrition and physical activity for health professionals. Expanding physician knowledge in those areas not only would help patients maintain a healthy weight and reduce chronic disease but also lower health care costs, said a report issued June 5 by the Washington-based Bipartisan Policy Center. “Obesity is the most urgent public health problem in America today,” the report said. “[It’s] not just a health crisis, but a major contributor to our fiscal crisis.” The U.S. spends about $2.6 trillion a year on health care. By 2020, that figure is expected to grow to $4.6 trillion and consume about 20% of the gross domestic product, the study said. Driving the increase, in part, are medical costs associated with obesity and obesity-related chronic diseases, such as diabetes, said the four-member committee of former government officials that wrote t [Read more]
AMA strategic plan debuts at opening of Annual Meeting
AMA Executive Vice President and CEO James L. Madara, MD, on June 16 presented a three-part strategic plan at the beginning of the AMA’s 161st Annual Meeting in Chicago. Dr. Madara told the House of Delegates, the AMA’s policy-making body, that the five-year plan focuses on three areas: Improving health outcomes. The AMA’s efforts will seek to demonstrate improvements in clinical and patient-reported outcomes, ensure health equity, and advance the safety and quality of health care, among other efforts, Dr. Madara said. To reach these goals, the Association will identify a focused set of outcomes, starting with two or three this year and then expanding the list. Impacting health outcomes can lead to greater patient satisfaction and reduce health care costs, he said. Accelerating change in medical education. The AMA will work to reshape medical education to better align physician training with the needs of the health care system, he said. The Association’s work will incl [Read more]
Thousands lose Medicare billing rights during revalidation
Medicare has revoked or deactivated the billing privileges of more than 23,000 health professionals and equipment suppliers during the initial stages of a nationwide enrollment re-validation effort. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has enrolled or re-validated more than 275,000 professionals since March 25, 2011, when the agency began using strengthened measures to re-screen 1.5 million participants. Medicare officials have targeted areas of the program, such as the durable medical equipment field, that are susceptible to fraud and removed invalid suppliers from the program, CMS Center for Program Integrity Director Peter Budetti, MD, said during a June 7 House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee hearing. Dr. Budetti did not have a breakdown of the types of health professionals and suppliers whose privileges have been ended. But CMS has used an automatic screening process to remove several physicians because they did not have state licenses or were not in fed [Read more]
Checklist approach to be tested in end-of-life care planning
Researchers from Harvard Medical School soon will begin testing a checklist-style approach to helping cancer patients get the kind of end-of-life care they want. The plans, detailed in June at a meeting of the International Society of Advance Care Planning and End of Life Care, are aimed at helping oncologists discuss end-of-life care issues with patients at an earlier stage in the disease process. The trial of the serious illness communication checklist will involve 60 practicing oncologists and begin enrolling 450 patients in June. Data on patient and family satisfaction and treatment choices will be collected over three years, researchers said. A wide body of research has found that patients who plan ahead are likelier to get the treatments they want as they near death. These patients tend to get less-aggressive care, earlier referral to hospice, are more satisfied with their care and see lower burdens placed on family members, experts say. Yet fewer than one in three American [Read more]
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