Why Your Doctor’s White Coat Can Be a Threat to Your Health

A defining symbol of a profession may also be teeming with harmful bacteria and not washed as often as patients might hope.

A recent study of patients at 10 academic hospitals in the United States found that just over half care about what their doctors wear, most of them preferring the traditional white coat.

Some doctors prefer the white coat, too, viewing it as a defining symbol of the profession.

What many might not realize, though, is that health care workers’ attire — including that seemingly “clean” white coat that many prefer — can harbor dangerous bacteria and pathogens.

A systematic review of studies found that white coats are frequently contaminated with strains of harmful and sometimes drug-resistant bacteria associated with hospital-acquired infections. As many as 16 percent of white coats tested positive for MRSA, and up to 42 percent for the bacterial class Gram-negative rods.

Both types of bacteria can cause serious problems, including skin and bloodstream infections, sepsis and pneumonia.

It isn’t just white coats that can be problematic. The review also found that stethoscopes, phones and tablets can be contaminated with harmful bacteria. One study of orthopedic surgeons showed a 45 percent match between the species of bacteria found on their ties and in the wounds of patients they had treated. Nurses’ uniforms have also been found to be contaminated.

Among possible remedies, antimicrobial textiles can help reduce the presence of certain kinds of bacteria, according to a randomized study. Daily laundering of health care workers’ attire can help somewhat, though studies show that bacteria can contaminate them within hours.

Several studies of American physicians found that a majority go more than a week before washing white coats. Seventeen percent go more than a month. Several London-focused studies had similar findings pertaining both to coats and ties.

A randomized trial published last year tested whether wearing short- or- long-sleeved white coats made a difference in the transmission of pathogens. Consistent with previous work, the study found short sleeves led to lower rates of transmission of viral D.N.A. It may be easier to keep hands and wrists clean when they’re not in contact with sleeves, which themselves can easily brush against other contaminated objects. For this reason, the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America suggests clinicians consider an approach of “bare below the elbows.”

With the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizer — often more effective and convenient than soap and water — it’s far easier to keep hands clean than clothing.

But the placement of alcohol-based hand sanitizer for health workers isn’t as convenient as it could be, reducing its use. The reason? In the early 2000s, fire marshals began requiring hospitals to remove or relocate dispensers because hand sanitizers contain at least 60 percent alcohol, making them flammable.

Fire codes now limit where they can be placed — a minimum distance from electrical outlets, for example — or how much can be kept on site.

Hand sanitizers are most often used in hallways, though greater use closer to patients (like immediately before or after touching a patient) could be more effective.

One creative team of researchers studied what would happen if dispensers were hung over patients’ beds on a trapeze-bar apparatus. This put the sanitizer in obvious, plain view as clinicians tended to patients. The result? Over 50 percent more hand sanitizer was used.

Although there have been fires in hospitals traced to alcohol-based hand sanitizer, they are rare. Across nearly 800 American health care facilities that used alcohol-based hand sanitizer, one study found, no fires had occurred. The World Health Organization puts the fire risk of hand sanitizers as “very low.”

An article in The New York Times 10 years ago said the American Medical Association, concerned about bacteria transmission, was studying a proposal “that doctors hang up their lab coats — for good.” Maybe one reason the idea hasn’t taken hold in the past decade is reflected in a doctor’s comment in the article that “the coat is part of what defines me, and I couldn’t function without it.”

It’s a powerful symbol. But maybe tradition doesn’t have to be abandoned, just modified. Combining bare-below-the-elbows white attire, more frequently washed, and with more conveniently placed hand sanitizers — including wearable sanitizer dispensers — could help reduce the spread of harmful bacteria.

Until these ideas or others are fully rolled out, one thing we can all do right now is ask our doctors about hand sanitizing before they make physical contact with us (including handshakes). A little reminder could go a long way.

 

 

Considering “Single Payer” Proposals in the U.S.: Lessons from Abroad

https://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/2019/apr/considering-single-payer-proposals-lessons-from-abroad

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ABSTRACT

  • Issue: When discussing universal health insurance coverage in the United States, policymakers often draw a contrast between the U.S. and high-income nations that have achieved universal coverage. Some will refer to these countries having “single payer” systems, often implying they are all alike. Yet such a label can be misleading, as considerable differences exist among universal health care systems.
  • Goal: To compare universal coverage systems across three areas: distribution of responsibilities and resources between levels of government; breadth of benefits covered and extent of cost-sharing in public insurance; and role of private insurance.
  • Methods: Data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the Commonwealth Fund, and other sources are used to compare 12 high-income countries.
  • Key Findings and Conclusion: Countries differ in the extent to which financial and regulatory control over the system rests with the national government or is devolved to regional or local government. They also differ in scope of benefits and degree of cost-sharing required at the point of service. Finally, while virtually all systems incorporate private insurance, its importance varies considerably from country to country. A more nuanced understanding of the variations in other countries’ systems could provide U.S. policymakers with more options for moving forward.

Background

Despite the gains in health insurance coverage made under the Affordable Care Act, the United States remains the only high-income nation without universal health coverage. Coverage is universal, according to the World Health Organization, when “all people have access to needed health services (including prevention, promotion, treatment, rehabilitation, and palliation) of sufficient quality to be effective while also ensuring that the use of these services does not expose the user to financial hardship.”1

Several recent legislative attempts have sought to establish a universal health care system in the U.S. At the federal level, the most prominent of these is Senator Bernie Sanders’ (I–Vt.) Medicare for All proposal (S. 1804, 115th Congress, 2017), which would establish a federal single-payer health insurance program. Along similar lines, various proposals, such as the Medicare-X Choice Act from Senators Michael Bennet (D–Colo.) and Tim Kaine (D–Va.), have called for the expansion of existing public programs as a step toward a universal, public insurance program (S. 1970, 115th Congress, 2017).

At the state level, legislators in many states, including Michigan (House Bill 6285),2 Minnesota (Minnesota Health Plan),3 and New York (Bill A04738A)4 have also advanced legislation to move toward a single-payer health care system. Medicare for All, which enjoys majority support in 42 states, is viewed by many as a litmus test for Democratic presidential hopefuls.5 In recent polling, a majority of Americans supported a Medicare for All plan.6

Medicare for All and similar single-payer plans generally share many common features. They envision a system in which the federal government would raise and allocate most of the funding for health care; the scope of benefits would be quite broad; the role of private insurance would be limited and highly regulated; and cost-sharing would be minimal. Proponents of single-payer health reform often point to the lower costs and broader coverage enjoyed by those covered under universal health care systems around the world as evidence that such systems work.

Other countries’ health insurance systems do share the same broad goals as those of single-payer advocates: to achieve universal coverage while improving the quality of care, improving health equity, and lowering overall health system costs. However, there is considerable variation among universal coverage systems around the world, and most differ in important respects from the systems envisioned by U.S. lawmakers who have introduced federal and state single-payer bills. American advocates for single-payer insurance may benefit from considering the wide range of designs other nations use to achieve universal coverage.

This issue brief uses data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the Commonwealth Fund, and other sources to compare key features of universal health care systems in 12 high-income countries: Australia, Canada, Denmark, England, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, and Taiwan.

We focus on three major areas of variation between these countries that are relevant to U.S. policymakers: the distribution of responsibilities and resources between various levels of government; the breadth of benefits covered and the degree of cost-sharing under public insurance; and the role of private health insurance. There are many other areas of variation among the health care systems of other high-income countries with universal coverage — such as in hospital ownership, new technology adoption, system financing, and global budgeting — that are beyond the scope of this discussion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Segment 3 – Healthcare Reform Successes & Failures

Segment 3 – Healthcare Reform Successes & Failures

Slide15

In Segment 2, we looked at the history of medical care in the U.S. until 1965, the year Congress enacted Medicare and Medicaid.

In Segment 3 we will look at reform movements, starting with Medicare and Medicaid. We will look at why later reforms failed and where that leaves us now.

By the early 1960s, nearly all employees were covered by Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

But problems emerged. First, low-wage workers were often not covered by their small businesses, and elderly retirees were not covered. Costs were going up because pre-paid insurance increased patient demand for services. Harry Truman had proposed national health insurance after he surprisingly was re-elected in 1948. But the AMA launched a multi-million-dollar publicity campaign to deride the plan as “Communism” and “socialized medicine.” Truman’s public insurance plan failed.

The next attempt at reform was successful – the 1965 passage of Medicare and Medicaid. Lyndon Johnson succeeded because coverage targeted the uninsured poor-and- elderly, leaving the rest of the private for-profit health system unaffected.

Senator Teddy Kennedy tried in 1971 to extend Johnson’s success to build a single-payer system, and won support from President Nixon. But this plan was derailed by the Watergate scandal.

The next attempt came from Bill and Hillary Clinton. After Clinton took office in 1992, Hillary and expert panels devised a plan for universal coverage including essential benefits and pre-existing conditions with mandated employer insurance and expanded Medicaid. This plan failed because the insurance industry launched a stinging publicity campaign featuring a down-home couple named “Harry and Louise.” Americans also balked at the tax increases needed to fund it.

The Clinton’s failure made it necessary to find another solution to rising costs. Managed care, which had first appeared in 1973, became that solution. And it did work, slowing growth to under 6%. But around the year 2000 came a backlash over mammograms and so-called “drive-by” deliveries, which undermined the ability of managed care to control costs.

What do we make of this history? Here are the main take-aways that help us understand our present health system. First, there has always been a tension between the profit motive in the free marketplace and a health promotion motive. Second, Americans have given special treatments to the health industry in return for medical advances. And third, powerful vested interests (doctors, hospitals, insurance, drug companies) have often used polemics and ideological arguments to defend their favored status, not necessarily actual health outcome data.

Slide09

So, this leaves the US with the largest, most expensive healthcare system in the world. In 2011 shown here it took in payments of 2.7 trillion dollars, mostly private insurance, Medicare, Medicaid and out-of-pocket. The figure for 2015 was 3.2 trillion dollars, representing 1/6 of the entire economy of the entire Gross Domestic Product. Government’s share of payments was almost 50% in 2016.

Slide10

This graph shows the dollars spent in 2011 – mostly on hospitals, doctors, drugs, long-term care. Remember that 25% of this pie graph actually goes to administrative costs, not medical services.

Slide11

In defense of U.S. healthcare, in 2012 then-House-Speaker John Boehner and then Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell famously said, “the U.S. has the finest health care system in the world,” and further that “wealthy foreigners flock to the U.S. because of its cutting edge facilities.”

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However, the World Health Organization rates the U.S. 15th in performance (life expectancy and delays in care), and only 37th in overall attainment (including financial and service fairness).

In 2015 the Kaiser Foundation compared the US with 10 other developed countries. Here are their results showing areas in which US is better, equal or lacking.

Here are the Commonwealth Fund’s 20-11 rankings – US is in the middle of the pack for most areas but dead last on several others and overall rank.

Slide14Source: http://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/fund-reports/2014/jun/mirror-mirror

What about “foreigners flocking-for-care”? This pertains to highly specialized treatments available only in certain centers such as Mayo, Cleveland Clinic or Hopkins. Some centers in Florida and Texas do market to wealthy foreigners, who pay the full charge in cash, not discounted insurance rates like the rest or us. Boehner and McConnell pointed to Canadians coming to Michigan hospitals, but the Commonwealth study found that Canada is worst in timeliness and 10th worst overall, just ahead of the US in 11th place, so not surprising.

The further truth is that, according to Centers for Disease Control, 3/4 million Americans go abroad each year for medical treatments, such as for holistic care or dental care, but mostly seeking lower cost.

In the next Segment we will talk about cost, namely how the rising cost of healthcare is affecting our economy, our politics, our society – and some say our very existence.

I’ll see you then.

 

 

 

‘What The Health?’ ACA Under Fire. Again.

Podcast: KHN’s ‘What The Health?’ ACA Under Fire. Again.

Image result for ‘What The Health?’ ACA Under Fire. Again.

Democrats in the Senate are gearing up to fight President Donald Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, U.S. Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh. They argue he is not only a potential threat to abortion rights, but also to the Affordable Care Act.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration continues its efforts to undermine the workings of the Affordable Care Act. This week, officials announced a freeze on payments to insurers who enroll large numbers of sicker patients, and another cut to the budget for “navigators” who help people understand their insurance options and enroll for coverage.

This week’s panelists for KHN’s “What the Health?” are:

Julie Rovner of Kaiser Health News

Margot Sanger-Katz of The New York Times

Anna Edney of Bloomberg News

Julie Appleby of Kaiser Health News

Among the takeaways from this week’s podcast:

  • One reason Democrats are rallying around the health issue rather than the abortion issue is that there is more unity in their caucus over health than abortion. Also, the two key Republican senators who support abortion rights — Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) — also voted against GOP efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act last year.
  • The Trump administration’s action on risk-adjustment payments sent yet another signal to insurers that the federal government does not necessarily have their backs and is willing to change the rules along the way.
  • The Trump administration says it wants to cut to payments for navigators because they are not cost-effective. But the navigator money does not come from taxpayers or government sources. It is paid from insurance industry user fees. These funds also go to support ACA advertising — which has also been cut. However, the user fees have not been reduced. In theory, reducing these fees could provide savings that could be passed on to consumers.
  • After being called out on Twitter by Trump, drugmaker Pfizer this week announced it would delay some already-announced price increases on about 100 of its drugs. It is worth noting that the president used his bully pulpit and gained some success. The six-month delay will mean that consumers will not experience an increase in cost at the pharmacy for at least that time period. But it still raises questions.
  • The Trump administration worked to block a World Health Organization resolution to promote breastfeeding. But while this seemed a clear case of promoting the interests of infant formula companies over public health experts, there was pushback from some women who say they are unable to breastfeed and feel stigma when they opt for formula instead. On the other hand, formula can be dangerous in developing countries without easy access to clean water.

 

The Looming Consequences of Breathing Mold

https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2017/08/mold-city/538224/

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Flooding means health issues that unfold for years.

The flooding of Houston is a health catastrophe unfolding publicly in slow motion. Much of the country is watching as 50 inches of water rise around the chairs of residents in nursing homes and submerge semitrucks. Some 20 trillion gallons of water are pouring onto the urban plain, where developers have paved over the wetlands that would drain the water.

The toll on human life and health so far has been small relative to what the images suggest. Authorities have cited thirty known deaths as of Tuesday night, while 13,000 people have been rescued. President Donald Trump—who this month undid an Obama-era requirement that infrastructure projects be constructed to endure rising sea levels—offered swift reassurance on Twitter: “Major rescue operations underway!” and “Spirit of the people is incredible. Thanks!”

But the impact of hurricanes on health is not captured in the mortality and morbidity numbers in the days after the rain. This is typified by the inglorious problem of mold.

Mirror, Mirror 2017: International Comparison Reflects Flaws and Opportunities for Better U.S. Health Care

http://www.commonwealthfund.org/interactives/2017/july/mirror-mirror/?omnicid=EALERT1254143&mid=henrykotula@yahoo.com

Image result for Mirror, Mirror 2017: International Comparison Reflects Flaws and Opportunities for Better U.S. Health Care

The United States Health System Falls Short

The United States spends far more on health care than other high-income countries, with spending levels that rose continuously over the past three decades (Exhibit 1). Yet the U.S. population has poorer health than other countries. 1 Life expectancy, after improving for several decades, worsened in recent years for some populations, aggravated by the opioid crisis. 2 In addition, as the baby boom population ages, more people in the U.S.—and all over the world—are living with age-related disabilities and chronic disease, placing pressure on health care systems to respond.

Timely and accessible health care could mitigate many of these challenges, but the U.S. health care system falls short, failing to deliver indicated services reliably to all who could benefit. 3 In particular, poor access to primary care has contributed to inadequate prevention and management of chronic diseases, delayed diagnoses, incomplete adherence to treatments, wasteful overuse of drugs and technologies, and coordination and safety problems.

This report uses recent data to compare health care system performance in the U.S. with that of 10 other high-income countries and considers the different approaches to health care organization and delivery that can contribute to top performance. We based our analysis on 72 indicators that measure performance in five domains important to policymakers, providers, patients, and the public: Care Process, Access, Administrative Efficiency, Equity, and Health Care Outcomes.

Our data come from a variety of sources. One is comparative survey research. Since 1998, The Commonwealth Fund, in collaboration with international partners, has supported surveys of patients and primary care physicians in advanced countries, collecting information for a standardized set of metrics on health system performance. Other comparative data are drawn from the most recent reports of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies, and the World Health Organization (WHO).

 

WHO puts medication-related errors on global hit list

http://www.fiercehealthcare.com/healthcare/who-puts-medication-related-errors-global-hit-list

Medication errors cause at least one death every day and injure roughly 1.3 million people each year in the United States alone. But it’s not only a national problem, and the World Health Organization is taking action to reduce these preventable adverse events worldwide.

The WHO aims to reduce severe, avoidable medication-associated harm in all countries by 50% over the next five years.

“We all expect to be helped, not harmed, when we take medication,” said WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan in an announcement about its new initiative. “Apart from the human cost, medication errors place an enormous and unnecessary strain on health budgets. Preventing errors saves money and saves lives.”

Indeed, the costs related to medication errors are high. The WHO estimates the costs are $42 billion worldwide, almost 1% of total global health expenditure

To reduce these errors, the WHO intends to address weaknesses in health systems that lead to medication errors, offer ways to improve the way providers prescribe and distribute medicine, and increase patient awareness about the risks associated with the improper use of medication.

Reasons for the errors are often associated with health worker fatigue, overcrowding, staff shortages, poor training and wrong information given to patients. In many cases any of these causes or a combination of them can affect the prescribing, dispensing, consumption and monitoring of medications, according to WHO.

But all of these medication errors are potentially avoidable, according to WHO, if organizations put systems and procedures in place to ensure the right patient receives the right medication at the right dose via the right route at the right time.

“Most harm arises from systems failures in the way care is organized and coordinated, especially when multiple health providers are involved in a patient’s care. An organizational culture that routinely implements best practices and that avoids blame when mistakes are made is the best environment for safe care,” the WHO said in the announcement.

Although many organizations rely on health IT systems that are designed to improve prescription ordering and medication administration, a recent study finds these systems can actually contribute to medical errors. Some experts warn that digital prescription systems miss potential drug errors, and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT has called on vendors and providers to reduce the number of “pick list” medication errors.

To achieve its goal of cutting the number of these mistakes by half, WHO is calling on countries to focus on medicines with a high risk of harm if used improperly, patients who take multiple medications for different diseases and conditions, and patients who are going through transitions of care.

The initiative aims to make improvements in each stage of the medication use process including prescribing, dispensing, administering, monitoring and use. WHO aims to provide guidance and develop strategies, plans and tools to ensure that the medication process has the safety of patients at its core, in all healthcare facilities.

 

12 superbugs that pose the greatest danger to human health

http://www.fiercehealthcare.com/population-health/who-releases-list-12-priority-pathogens-to-encourage-drug-development?utm_medium=nl&utm_source=internal&mrkid=959610&mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiWkRjeU1tTTFPVEUyTjJaaCIsInQiOiJBNGU4aWlDQkpcL3l6eURqQUMyR2w3aVFtNStxVzBraUpQcTVOamQ4SVNEVUNDeXFQQ1RDWG5qdmptMjI4VWpiVTdHUDltN0ZTMG5ObWlHOWl0cXRmVEpjQ0h2bFU1NXJKM2YzaHBrcnc2VlVJVkoyTHJrQjBndGI5b3BGWmdJV1oifQ%3D%3D

Bacteria

The World Health Organization has released a list of 12 antibiotic-resistant superbugs that pose the greatest danger to human health.

The purpose of the list of “priority pathogens,” according to WHO, is to promote continued research and development of drugs that can be used to treat patients with these resistant infections.

The agency has divided the list according to the urgent need for new antibiotics. The bacteria considered the most critical pose a particular threat to hospitalized patients who may require blood catheters or ventilators. These bacteria, which can cause severe and deadly infections, such as bloodstream infections and pneumonia, are also resistant to drugs designed as a last line of defense for patients.

“This list is a new tool to ensure R&D responds to urgent public health needs,” Marie-Paule Kieny, Ph.D., assistant director-general for health systems and innovation at the WHO, said in an announcement. “Antibiotic resistance is growing, and we are fast running out of treatment options. If we leave it to market forces alone, the new antibiotics we most urgently need are not going to be developed in time.”

Three bacteria resistant to carbapenem, an antibiotic that often treats bacteria that are resistant to other drugs, are listed as critical. Six bacteria are ranked as high-priority and the final three are listed as medium-priority. Bacteria listed as high- or medium-priority are increasingly becoming resistant to different antibiotics and are producing hard-to-treat strains of common conditions, such as gonorrhea and salmonella.

One of the three critical bacteria, carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, resulted in the death of a Nevada woman last year, and estimates suggest the infection may be more widespread than previously thought.

Global health experts have increasingly warned that superbugs are poised to be a significant threat to patient health. In the next decades, drug-resistant infections could kill more people than cancer. Providers can do their part by focusing on antibiotic stewardship. National healthcare organizations, including the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, have offered guidelines.

Here is the complete list compiled by WHO:

‘Superbug’ scourge spreads as U.S. fails to track rising human toll

http://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/usa-uncounted-surveillance/

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.

http://www.healthleadersmedia.com/quality/hidden-toll-drug-resistant-superbugs-0?spMailingID=9540993&spUserID=MTMyMzQyMDQxMTkyS0&spJobID=1001565259&spReportId=MTAwMTU2NTI1OQS2#

 

PREPARING FOR PANDEMICS

http://paidpost.nytimes.com/gates-foundation/preparing-for-pandemics.html?WT.mc_id=2016-May-NYTNative_article-GatesPandemic-0520-0729&WT.mc_ev=click?action=click&module=Marginalia&region=Marginalia&pgtype=article&version=PaidPostDriver

During the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, as many as 100 million people died — up to 5 percent of the world’s population. If a similar outbreak were to happen today, the death toll could reach 360 million, despite the availability of vaccines as well as modern antiviral and antibacterial drugs. The economic impact would also be devastating, resulting in a $3 trillion economic loss, or nearly 5 percent of global GDP.