What’s New in Health Care Reform: July 25

What's New in Health Care Reform provides an overview of the past week’s news, updates, and commentary in health care reform and utilization management.

Hospitals Gear up for New Diagnosis: Human Trafficking

There are few hard figures for how many people are harmed by human trafficking, the term used when individuals are forced to work or have sex for someone else's commercial benefit. Polaris, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that advocates for these people and runs help lines for them, says calls and texts to its national hotlines have steadily ticked up in recent years, increasing the number of cases 13% to 8,759 between 2016 and 2017. But health care providers frequently fail to recognize these patients' situation. Via NPR.

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Health Care Industry Branches into Fresh Meals, Rides to Gym

That hot lunch delivered to your door? Your health insurer might pick up the tab. The cleaning crew that fixed up your apartment while you recovered from a stroke? The hospital staff helped set that up. Health care is shifting in a fundamental way for millions of Americans. Some insurers are paying for rides to fitness centers and checking in with customers to help ward off loneliness. Hospital networks are hiring more workers to visit people at home and learn about their lives, not just their illnesses. Via AP.

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The Opportunity "Is Huge": Why Tech Developers Are Trying to Tackle Mental Health

Even as big tech players have conquered the markets in industries like transportation and lodging, they’ve largely steered clear of mental health treatment. Now, however, with an influx of funding, companies are revamping pills with digital sensors, designing virtual reality worlds to treat addiction and other conditions, and building chatbots for interactive therapy. Via STAT.

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Urgent Care Clinics Are Prescribing Too Many Unnecessary Antibiotics, Study Says

Nearly half of patients who go to urgent care clinics seeking treatment for a flu, cold or other conditions that do not require antibiotics received a prescription for one anyway. That is three times as often as antibiotics are prescribed to patients with the same illnesses in traditional doctors’ offices, according to a study published. Patients who get unnecessary antibiotics are at risk for severe side effects, even with just one dose of the medicine, doctors say. Inappropriate use of these lifesaving drugs also puts everyone else at risk because overuse accelerates the emergence of resistant bacteria, or “superbugs,” that cannot be stopped with drugs. Via Washington Post.

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Doctors Raise Alarm about Shortages of Pain Medications

In hospitals around the country, anesthesiologists and other doctors are facing significant shortages of injectable opioids. These drugs, like morphine, Dilaudid, and fentanyl are the mainstays of intravenous pain control and are regularly used in critical care settings like surgery, intensive care units and hospital emergency departments. The distance medical science has traveled over the last hundred years in pain management is practically miraculous. Walk into a pediatric intensive care unit at any major hospital in the country and, even though the children you'll see are critically ill from disease and surgery, you won't see any of them squirming in the bed in pain or discomfort. Though a child in this ICU may be diagnosed with an incurable disease, pediatric doctors are able to use hydromorphone, fentanyl, and liquid morphine to keep the patient's suffering at a distance all the way to the end. The same is true for pain management in adults. It's not just the patient who's spared—relatives, friends, not to mention doctors, nurses and the other health care providers don't have to experience a cherished human being writhing in agony. Via NPR.

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Deaths from Liver Disease Are Surging, and Drinking Is to Blame

Deaths from liver disease have risen sharply in the U.S., and doctors say the biggest factor is drinking —especially among young adults. A study published found a 65% increase in deaths from cirrhosis of the liver since 1999. The biggest increase is among millennials: the team found that deaths from cirrhosis are rising 10 percent a year among people aged 25 to 34. People so young might not even realize that they can drink themselves to death so quickly, but they can, said liver specialist Dr. Haripriya Maddur of Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. “Surprisingly, it only takes about 10 years of heavy drinking to actually lead to cirrhosis,” said Maddur, who was not involved in the study. Via AOL.

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Merck to Lower Prices on Some Drugs, But Not Its Blockbusters

The drugmaker Merck said that it would lower prices on several drugs by 10% or more, but its rollback affects minor products and would not lower the cost of its top-selling, expensive cancer and diabetes products. The move follows recent announcements by Pfizer and Novartis that they would freeze price increases for the rest of the year, as the industry confronts sustained criticism from President Trump, lawmakers and the public over the rising cost of prescriptions. Via NY Times.

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Foodborne Illness May Be on the Rise. Here's Why

Foodborne illness hits one in six Americans every year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says, estimating that 48 million people get sick due to one or another of 31 pathogens. About 128,000 people end up in the hospital while 3,000 die annually. Globally, almost 1 in 10 people are estimated to fall ill every year from eating contaminated food and 420 000 die as a result, according to the World Health Organization. Preventing foodborne illness in the United States is the job of the US Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service, which oversees the meat, poultry and processed egg supply, and the US Food and Drug Administration, responsible for domestic and imported foods. With frequent news of outbreaks, which are investigated by the CDC, many people might wonder whether foodborne illness is on the rise—and whether safety measures across the nation adequately protect our food supply. Via CNN.

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Outrage in China over Thousands of Faulty Vaccines for Children

Hundreds of thousands of vaccines provided for Chinese children have been found to be faulty, inciting widespread fury and prompting the country's President, Xi Jinping, to describe the incident as "vile and shocking." China's Food and Drug Administration (CFDA) has launched an investigation into vaccine manufacturer Changchun Changsheng Biotechnology, revoking its license for human rabies vaccines and beginning a recall of all unused vaccines produced by the company. Five senior executives of the company, including the chairwoman, were taken into custody for questioning by Changchun police, who announced they had begun an official criminal investigation into the company. In Chinese, the term Changsheng is a play on words meaning "long life." Via CNN.

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Wisconsin Hospitals Plagued by Persistent Drug Shortages

Hospitals in states including Wisconsin are dealing with medication shortages, forcing them to work with limited resources. Wisconsin Public Radio reports that a variety of drug shortages over the last six months have the state's hospitals seeking alternatives. Philip Trapskin is the program director for medication use safety and innovation with UW Hospitals and Clinics. He says the system has been able to weather the shortage without any impact on their patients, but that "some hospitals around the country are running out of morphine or other drugs they'd use in their emergency department." Via WXOW La Crosse.

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Andy Tofilon

Andy Tofilon is a Marketing Segment Manager at Mayo Medical Laboratories. He leads strategies for corporate communications, public relations, and new media innovations. Andy has worked at Mayo Clinic since 2003. Outside of work, Andy can be found running, hiking, snapping photos, and most importantly, spending time with his family.