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Anti-smoking groups want crackdown on fraudulent tobacco marketing
Several public health organizations in February asked the U.S. Supreme Court to impose new requirements for anti-smoking efforts on tobacco companies that were found misrepresenting the health risks of cigarettes. A federal trial court in 2006 ruled that the nation's largest tobacco manufacturers violated federal racketeering laws when they conspired in various marketing tactics that misled the public, particularly youth, about the addictiveness of nicotine. The Tobacco-Free Kids Action Fund, the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Assn. were among six public health advocacy groups that joined the federal government in bringing the suit against Philip Morris USA Inc. and several other cigarette makers and retailers. The tobacco companies admitted no wrongdoing. In May 2009, an appeals court upheld the decision, which prohibited the tobacco companies from engaging in fraudulent advertising and ordered them to make certain health information regarding their products publ [Read more]
Public health departments to test accreditation program
A voluntary accreditation program for public health departments across the country is being tested by 30 departments before its national launch in 2011. The goal of the new program is to improve the quality of care delivered by public health agencies that are responsible for such services as immunizations, hearing tests for children and restaurant inspections. The initiative, believed to be the first of its kind, is being funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "With accreditation status, public health departments will be able to demonstrate increased accountability and credibility to the public, funders, elected officials and other stakeholders," said Kaye Bender, RN, PhD, president and CEO of the nonprofit Public Health Accreditation Board, which was established in 2007 to oversee the effort. At least two states accredit their local health departments, public health officials said. Those programs, in North Carolina and [Read more]
Doctor who linked vaccines, autism acted unethically, British medical council rules
Dr. Andrew Wakefield, the investigator whose research sparked fears of a link between autism and the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, was rebuked on ethical grounds in a British medical regulator's report released in late January. The General Medical Council said Dr. Wakefield acted "with callous disregard for the distress and pain" that children would experience after being subjected to blood draws, lumbar punctures and other tests that were clinically unnecessary and not approved by his hospital's ethics committee. The council, which registers and regulates physicians in the United Kingdom, said Dr. Wakefield misled an ethics committee at London's Royal Free Hospital about his work. The council released its findings Jan. 28 (www.gmc-uk.org/concerns/hearings_and_decisions/data/5614.asp). The council found that two of Dr. Wakefield's research colleagues also broke ethics rules. The council will next move to consider disciplinary action, which could include barring the docto [Read more]
National health spending may nearly double by 2019
A shrinking economy combined with greater public health spending in 2009 produced a 1.1 percentage point increase in national health spending as a share of gross domestic product -- the largest single-year jump since records began in 1960. National health spending as a share of gross domestic product reached 17.3% in 2009. This was largely because of a spike in Medicaid spending and relatively low growth in private spending, according to "Health Spending Projections Through 2019: The Recession's Impact Continues," published in Health Affairs on Feb. 4. National health spending increased by 5.7% in 2009 to reach $2.5 trillion, up from a 4.4% increase in 2008, according to the report's preliminary estimates, produced by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Office of the Actuary. Spending on physicians and clinical services increased by 6.3% in 2009 to $527.6 billion, 1.3 percentage points faster than in 2008. This increase also was driven largely by higher Medicaid spend [Read more]
Teen pregnancy rate up for 1st time in more than 10 years
The nation's pregnancy rate for teens ages 15 to 19 increased in 2006, after more than a decade-long decline, according to a January report by the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit that conducts research on reproductive health. The report found that after falling 41% between 1990 and 2005, the pregnancy rate among this age group climbed 3% to 71.5 pregnancies per 1,000 women in 2006. The teen abortion rate also increased for the first time in more than a decade, inching up 1% from 2005 to 2006. "It's a serious concern. Whether this is going to be a blip or a trend, we still don't know," said Janet Realini, MD, MPH, president of Healthy Futures, a San Antonio, Texas, nonprofit that works to prevent teen and unwanted pregnancies in the city. "It means we have to redouble our efforts and use what works." Physicians, Dr. Realini said, can play an important role by educating adolescent patients and their parents about preventing pregnancy and helping them access contraception. She [Read more]
Smokers need not apply at Tenn. health system
If you smoke and are looking for job at Memorial Health Care System, you might want to hold off on filling out an application. As of Feb. 1, the Chattanooga, Tenn.-based organization -- composed of two acute-care hospitals, home health services, an imaging center, satellite facilities and a physician practice management company -- stopped hiring those who use tobacco or other nicotine products if those substances were detected in the post-offer health screening. The health care system did not respond to requests for comment, but according to its Web site, the step was taken to "further our mission of building healthier communities" (www.memorial.org/about_us_careers.html). Memorial follows in the footsteps of the Cleveland Clinic, which stopped hiring smokers in July 2007. Thousands of other companies have similar rules. Such policies are not legal in all states. Institutions that want to follow suit should check local laws. Memorial's actions elicited mixed responses from [Read more]
Hormone therapy showed no heart benefits for women
Postmenopausal women who took combination hormone therapy did not have a lower risk of coronary heart disease during the first two years of treatment, according to an article in the Feb. 16 Annals of Internal Medicine. When considering whether to prescribe estrogen plus progestin hormone therapy, study author Sengwee Darren Toh, ScD, suggests that physicians use the lowest dose that helps for the shortest duration possible. That approach is consistent with the Food and Drug Administration's recommendation. "Coronary heart disease is one of many outcomes [physicians] should consider when initiating hormone therapy," said Toh, an instructor in the Dept. of Population Medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute, an affiliate of the school. Researchers analyzed the short-term effects of the combination treatment on coronary heart disease using data from 16,608 postmenopausal women ages 50 to 79 with an intact uterus at baseline. The women [Read more]
Neurosurgeons may limit Medicare participation
Neurosurgeons say they are very concerned about the current Medicare payment system and fear that beneficiary access will be affected unless the rate formula is fixed. A national survey of about 680 neurosurgeons revealed that while most participate in Medicare, many have been or are considering limiting the scope of their involvement. Nearly 40% of neurosurgeons said that if payments continue to decline, they will see fewer new Medicare patients; 18% would not take any new patients. The survey results were released Feb. 10 by the American Assn. of Neurological Surgeons, the Congress of Neurological Surgeons and the Council of State Neurosurgical Societies. More than half of neurosurgeons say they will stop providing certain services, and nearly 53% will reduce the time they spend with Medicare patients, the survey found. "These results really do paint a bleak path we are going down," said Troy M. Tippett, MD, AANS president. "Many neurosurgeons in our survey indicated that if [Read more]
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