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Global Health, Health Policy, Public Safety, Women's Health

Lobbying Congress on bill to stop violence against women

Lobbying Congress on bill to stop violence against women

capitol - smallWhen I walked into the U.S. Capitol building this week, it was with the weight of history – my own and my country’s. Years ago, I had walked these hallowed halls as a writer for a Congressional publication and had lived in a house just blocks away. But this time I was there for a very different purpose: I was going to try my hand at lobbying, plying Congress for a cause that had become dear to my heart.

I came to Washington, D.C. with nearly 150 volunteers and staff from the American Jewish World Service, an international development organization that promotes human rights and works to end poverty in the developing world. This year, one of the group’s legislative priorities is passage of the International Violence Against Women Act, now pending in Congress. In February, I had traveled to Uganda as a Global Justice Fellow with AJWS, learning first-hand why this bill is so crucial to the lives of women around the world. I met a gay woman whose life had become hell because of her gender identity; she’d been beaten, raped and robbed and was suffering the emotional trauma of being ostracized by family and community. I also met sex workers, many of them single mothers just trying to make a living, who had been subjected to unprovoked beatings and police brutality. And I met a transgender woman whose home had been burned to the ground and who had been terrorized by her community simply because of who she was. In fact, I would learn that one in three women around the world are beaten, abused or raped at some point in their lifetime – an appalling figure.

The bill would help combat this trend by using the full force of U.S. diplomacy, as well as existing U.S. foreign aid funding, to support legal, social, educational, economic and health initiatives to prevent violence, support victims and change attitudes about women and girls in society. When women become victims of violence, everyone suffers; gender-based violence can reduce a nation’s GDP by as much as 3 percent because women are so key to collective productivity.

“If you want to get a barometer on how a country will fare – its stability – just look at the way it treats its women,” Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) told our group as we prepared to head out to visit Members of Congress. “Women invest in children and family. Men invest in war.”

With the recent kidnapping of more than 250 Nigerian school girls, the need for the legislation has become all the more pressing. “This is the moment to strike,” Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said during a meeting with 20 members of our group. We met with Boxer in the sumptuous President’s Room in the U.S. Capitol, adorned with gilt, frescoes and historical portraits and the spot where Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King once stood. Boxer had just come from a vote on several new judges and was gracious enough to stop by to spend 20 minutes listening to our pitch and discussing strategy.

A strong women’s rights activist, she has been an ardent supporter of the bill from the start. With 300 nonprofit groups now clamoring for its passage, she said she felt it was time to introduce it into the Senate, which she did a week ago. It’s now critical, she said, to enlist additional Republican co-sponsors of the legislation, particularly among members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to give it greater weight and bipartisan appeal. In the House, the bill already has 63 Democratic and 11 Republican co-sponsors, with more being sought.

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Chronic Disease, Health Costs, Health Policy, Research, Stanford News

Keeping kidney failure patients out of the hospital

Keeping kidney failure patients out of the hospital

Keeping kidney patients healthy enough to stay out of the hospital certainly sounds like a good thing – both for the patients and the economy. Now there’s scientific evidence to show how this can be done.

Reducing hospital readmissions was a focus of the the Affordable Care Act, and Kevin Erickson, MD, an instructor in nephrology at Stanford, decided to study a group of patients who are often hospitalized. He and his colleagues examined whether an additional doctor’s visit in the month after hospital discharge would help keep kidney-failure patients on dialysis from being readmitted. He and his colleagues analyzed data collected between 2004-2009 by the United States Renal Data System, a national registry of nearly all end-stage renal disease patients in the country.

It’s nice to find something that may generate both cost savings and better health outcomes

Results showed that there was a significant reduction in hospital readmissions with that extra doctor’s visit in the month after hospital discharge. And while the percentage doesn’t sound all that significant – 3.5 percent -  in real numbers that translates to 31,370 fewer hospitalizations and $240 million per year saved, according to the study published this month in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology.

“It’s nice to find something that may generate both cost savings and better health outcomes,” Erickson told me. “Patients with end-stage renal disease suffer from poor quality of life. Some of that I suspect is related to multiple trips in and out of the hospital.”

Patients with kidney failure are at a particularly high risk of hospital readmission: In 2009 patients getting dialysis were admitted to the hospital nearly two times per year, 36 percent of whom were rehospitalized within 30 days, according to the study.

Previously: Study shows higher Medicaid coverage leads to lower kidney failure rates; Study shows higher rates of untreated kidney failure among older adults; Study shows daily dialysis may boost patients’ heart function, physical health.

Chronic Disease, Health Policy, Nutrition, Obesity, Pediatrics, Videos

Fed Up: A documentary looks for answers about childhood obesity

Fed Up: A documentary looks for answers about childhood obesity

I can’t wait to see Fed Up, a new documentary about childhood obesity.

In the early 2000s, when I was earning a PhD in nutrition at UC Davis, I heard a lot of scientific debate about possible causes of the U.S. obesity epidemic. Was it too much fat in our diets? Too much sugar? Processed food? Junk food ads on TV? An “obesogenic environment” – one in which snacks are ubiquitous, adults drive everywhere and neighborhoods aren’t safe enough for kids to play outside?

Or was it something else?

“The message has been pushed on us: It’s your fault you’re fat,” says Mark Hyman, MD, chair of the Institute for Functional Medicine, in the Fed Up trailer above.

The movie assembles an impressive roster of experts in nutrition research, pediatric health and public advocacy to oppose that message. Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman, Robert Lustig, Marion Nestle, Harvey Karp, former President Bill Clinton and others say we should not be blaming individuals – especially kids – for struggles with their weight. Instead, they are taking a hard look for answers at the food environment.

“This is the first generation of American children expected to lead shorter lives than their parents,” says a voice-over in the Fed Up trailer. That definitely makes untangling the causes of the obesity epidemic worthy of the efforts of our best scientists. Like I said, I can’t wait to see it.

Previously: Childhood obesity a risk for imminent heart problems, research shows, Using hip hop to teach children about healthy habits and Sugar intake, diabetes and kids: Q&A with a pediatric obesity expert
Via Food Politics

Health Costs, Health Policy, Podcasts, Stanford News

Considering the costs of treatment while making clinical decisions

Considering the costs of treatment while making clinical decisions

The headline of the front page New York Times article caught my attention: “Cost of Treatment May Influence Doctors.” The piece read in part:

Saying they can no longer ignore the rising prices of health care, some of the most influential medical groups in the nation are recommending that doctors weigh the costs, not just the effectiveness of treatments, as they make decisions about patient care.

The shift, little noticed outside the medical establishment but already controversial inside it, suggests that doctors are starting to redefine their roles, from being concerned exclusively about individual patients to exerting influence on how health care dollars are spent.

In reading further, I discovered that one of Stanford’s cardiologists, Paul Heidenreich, MD, was a c0-chair of the policy review that led to new guidelines from the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association. I thought it would be interesting to delve deeper in a 1:2:1 podcast with Heidenreich about why, as he told the Times, “we couldn’t go on just ignoring costs.” Did escalating health-care costs that are consuming GDP spur the action? Are these guidelines a threat to individual decision-making between a physician and patient? And, what role do patients have in these decisions? Shouldn’t they be included in potential key life-and-death verdicts?

I was also especially intrigued by a quote from the societies’ paper outlining the changes: “Protecting patients from financial ruin is fundamental to the precept of ‘do not harm.’ ” Hmm… a new take on the Hippocratic Oath that I’ve never considered.

Why the new guidelines?  Just consider for a moment the iconic rock lyrics of Bob Dylan. They say it all:

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’

Previously: Personal essays highlight importance of cost-conscious medical decisions and Educating physicians on the cost of care

Global Health, Health Policy, Podcasts, Research, Stanford News

Foreign health care aid delivers the goods

Foreign health care aid delivers the goods

Eran Bendavid, MD, knows there’s a lot of debate about whether foreign aid for health care is really making an impact. So he and his colleague, Jay Bhattacharya, MD, PhD, devised a statistical tool to address a basic question: Do investments in health really lead to health improvements?

My colleague Ruthann Richter encapsulated the research in a recent article and blog entry. I followed up in a 1:2:1 podcast with Bendavid, and we started our conversation by talking about the perception that foreign aid is wasted and isn’t making significant inroads in changing the health-care trajectory in developing nations. Bendavid told me that the common perception of inefficiency was eroding confidence in foreign aid health care spending, so he decided to test it.

As Richter wrote, the researchers examined both public and private health-aid programs between 1974 and 2010 in 140 countries and found that, contrary to common perceptions about the waste and ineffectiveness of aid, these health-aid grants led to significant improvements with lasting effects over time. As Bendavid told Richter, “If health aid continues to be as effective as it has been, we estimate there will be 364,000 fewer deaths in children under 5. We are talking about $1 billion, which is a relatively small commitment for developed countries.”

Why are these dollars making an impact? Bendavid amplified to me what he told Richter: that foreign aid dollars were used effectively, largely because of the targeting of aid to disease priorities where improved technologies – such as new vaccines, insecticide-treated beds for nets for malarial prevention and antiretroviral drugs for HIV – could make a real difference.

Health aid in 1990 accounted for 4 percent of total foreign aid. It now accounts for 15 percent of all aid.

So something to cheer about when it comes to foreign aid. In health-care spending this study confirms it delivers the goods.

Previously: Foreign aid for health extends life, saves children, Stanford study finds and PEPFAR has saved lives – and not just from HIV/AIDS, Stanford study finds

Addiction, FDA, Health Policy, In the News, Podcasts

E-cigarettes and the FDA: A conversation with a tobacco-marketing researcher

E-cigarettes and the FDA: A conversation with a tobacco-marketing researcher

The FDA announced today its plans to regulate e-cigarettes. The news comes as little surprise to many, including Robert Jackler, MD, chair of otolaryngology at Stanford Medicine, who studies the effects of tobacco advertising, marketing, and promotion through his center, the Stanford Research Into the Impact of Tobacco Advertising. I asked Jackler this morning what he thought of the FDA’s plan, and he had this to say:

While I welcome the FDA proposal to deem electronic cigarettes as tobacco products under their regulatory authority, I’m disappointed with the narrow scope of their proposal and the snail’s pace of the process. Given its importance, I’m particularly troubled by the FDA’s failure to address the the widespread mixing of nicotine with youth-oriented flavorings (e.g. gummy bears, cotton candy, chocolate, honey, peach schnapps) in electronic cigarettes products.  Overwhelming evidence implicates such flavors as a gateway to teen nicotine addiction [which] led the FDA to ban flavors (except for menthol – which is presently under review) for cigarettes in 2009.  Give the lethargic pace of adopting new regulations, a generation of American teens is being placed at risk of suffering the ravages of nicotine addiction.

In a podcast last month, Jackler spoke in-depth about the rise of, and problems with, e-cigarettes. If you haven’t yet listened, now is a great time to.

Previously: E-Cigarettes: The explosion of vaping is about to be regulated, Stanford chair of otolaryngology discusses federal court’s ruling on graphic cigarette labels and What’s being done about the way tobacco companies market and manufacture products

Clinical Trials, Health Policy, Research, Science Policy, Stanford News, Videos

New Stanford center aims to promote research excellence

New Stanford center aims to promote research excellence

Updated 4-24-14: The center founders discuss METRICS in this just-posted 1:2:1 podcast.

***

4-23-14: Stanford has a new center, called the Meta-Research Innovation Center at Stanford, or METRICS for short, that will focus on ways to transform research practices to improve the reproducibility, efficiency and quality of scientific investigations.
When Stanford professor John Ioannidis, MD, DSc, discusses ideas on how METRICS might improve research quality, he points to the wealth of statistics within any newspaper’s sports section.

“Science needs as many ways to measure performance as sports do,” says Ioannidis. “More important, we need to find efficient approaches for enhancing this performance. There are many ideas on how to improve the efficiency of setting a research agenda, prioritizing research questions, optimizing study design, maximizing accuracy of information, minimizing biases, enhancing reporting of research, and aligning incentives and rewards so that research efforts become more successful. Possibly we can do better on all of these fronts.”

The center’s other co-director is Steven Goodman, MD, MHS, PhD, professor of medicine and of health research and policy.

METRICS’s core group of interdisciplinary scholars will be working on various aspects of meta-research, from methodologies to processes to policy. The center will also provide educational funding for students and scholars; organize collaborative working groups that include academics, policymakers, research funders and the public; and help establish similar initiatives worldwide.

You can learn more about “meta-research” and METRICS’s mission in the short interview above and in this release. Ioannidis discusses the center’s short- and long-term goals in the video clip below.

Previously: The Lancet documents waste in research, proposes solutions, “US effect” leads to publication of biased research, says Stanford’s John Ioannidis and Shaky evidence moves animal studies to humans, according to Stanford-led study
Photo in featured-entry box by Norbert Von Der Groeben

Chronic Disease, Health Disparities, Health Policy, Patient Care, Research, Stanford News

Study shows higher Medicaid coverage leads to lower kidney failure rates

Study shows higher Medicaid coverage leads to lower kidney failure rates

Years ago, nephrologist Manjula Tamara, MD, treated a 23-year-old uninsured patient whose kidneys were failing. The patient’s medical options, at that point, were life-long dialysis or a hoped-for kidney transplant – bleak options for such a young person, and ones that adequate preventive care could have been avoided.

That memory, along with the federal government’s recent expansion of Medicaid spurred Tamura as a scientific researcher to pose the question: Does expanded Medicaid coverage translate into better care for low-income patients with chronic diseases, such as kidney disease?

According to the Stanford study published today in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, the answer is yes. Using data from national registries, Tamura, who is lead author of the research, and colleagues collected data on the more than 400,000 American adults who developed end-stage renal disease (or ESRD) between 2001 and 2008. As I explained in a release:

Medicaid coverage during those years among low-income, nonelderly adults ranged from 12.2 to 66 percent, depending on the state, with California averaging between 30 and 35 percent. For each additional 10 percent of the low-income, nonelderly population covered by Medicaid, the study found there was a 1.8 percent decrease in ESRD incidence.

The study is particularly timely because states are in the process of deciding whether to adopt the recent changes to Medicaid, which came with the passage of the Affordable Care Act. So far, only about half of the states have. The study discusses these recent changes and what the expansion in Medicaid coverage could mean to low-income Americans with kidney disease, along with patients with other chronic diseases:

Before the Affordable Care Act, only low-income Americans who were pregnant, had a disability or were parents of minors could receive Medicaid coverage if they met their state’s income eligibility levels. States now have the option to increase Medicaid coverage to all adults under the age of 65 with incomes below 133 percent of the poverty level regardless of whether they are pregnant, disabled or parents of minors.

“The care of patients approaching kidney failure or end-stage renal disease is a useful model to study the potential effects of Medicaid expansion on chronic disease care because ESRD care is costly and the quality of pre-ESRD care is tracked nationally,” Tamura said.

What the study did not look at was whether this expansion could ultimately result in financial savings. In the United States, 75 percent of health care dollars goes into the treatment of chronic diseases and these conditions – which include heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and kidney disease – are all on the rise. In an interview, Tamura suggested that future research on this topic is needed.

Previously: Study shows higher rates of untreated kidney failure among older adults and Geography may determine kidney failure treatment level

Addiction, FDA, Health Policy, Podcasts, Public Health

E-Cigarettes: The explosion of vaping is about to be regulated

E-Cigarettes: The explosion of vaping is about to be regulated

E-cigarettes are about to get zapped. To date, across the globe, they’ve been largely unregulated – and their growth since they first came on the scene in 2007 has been exponential. Now, in the first big regulatory action that is sure to spur similar responses across the pond, the European Parliament approved rules last week to ban e-cigarette advertising in the 28 EU member nations beginning in mid-2016.  The strong action also requires the products to carry graphic health warnings, be childproof and contain no more than 20 milligrams of nicotine per milliliter. It’s expected that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will soon follow suit and the days of great independence for e-cigarettes will come to a crashing halt. A few U.S. cities, Los Angeles most recently, have banned e-cigarettes in public spaces.

e-cigUntil recently, I was completely ignorant about the whole phenomenon of e-cigarettes. What is the delivery system? Where are they manufactured? Are they a safe alternative to smoking? And how are they being marketed and to whom? Well here’s an eye opener: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, e-cigarette usage more than doubled among middle and high school students users from 2011 to 2012. Altogether, nearly 1.8 million middle and high school students nationwide use e-cigarettes.

Robert Jackler, MD, chair of otolaryngology at Stanford Medicine, has long studied the effects of tobacco advertising, marketing, and promotion through his center, SRITA (Stanford Research Into the Impact of Tobacco Advertising). After years of detailing how tobacco use became ubiquitous in the U.S. he’s now tracking the marketing of e-cigarettes, and what he’s found probably won’t surprise you. The same sales techniques that brought about the explosive growth of tobacco use are being deployed again to make e-cigarettes look sexy, cool and defiant.

While there are claims by the e-cigarette industry that e-cigarettes are important tools to help people kick the tobacco habit, there’s little evidence to date to back up that claim. And Jackler isn’t completely sold on the notion that e-cigarettes will bring about a great cessation of tobacco smoking; he sees them more as a continuity product. He told me:

What the industry would like to see you do is when you go to a place that you can’t smoke, that you pick up your e‑cigarette and you vape, and you get your nicotine dose in the airport when waiting, or when you’re in your workplace, or when you’re even in school, and that way, when you leave school or the workplace, you go back to the combustible tobacco products.

Sorry if I’m a bit cynical, but as an ex-smoker I find it hard to believe that Big Tobacco – which is increasingly getting into the e-cigarette business – doesn’t also see vaping as a way to continue to keep smokers smoking. Bubble gum flavors and packaging designed to resemble lipstick containers! Who’s really being targeted here?

After my 1:2:1 podcast (above) with Jackler, I’m convinced we’ve been down this road before and it wasn’t pretty health-wise. More than 16 million Americans suffer from a disease caused by smoking. Listen to the podcast and you be the  judge about the true intentions of those promoting e-cigarettes.

Previously: Stanford chair of otolaryngology discusses federal court’s ruling on graphic cigarette labelsWhat’s being done about the way tobacco companies market and manufacture products and Image of the Week: Vintage Christmas cigarette advertisement
Photo by lindsay-fox

Addiction, Health Policy, In the News, Mental Health, Stanford News

A reminder that addiction is a chronic disease

A reminder that addiction is a chronic disease

holding pills - smallerThis morning on KQED’s Forum, guests discussed addiction in the wake of the apparent heroin overdose of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman.

During the show, Stanford’s Keith Humphreys, PhD, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, noted that addiction is a disease:

Addiction is like other chronic disorders that are not curable – I mean, they can be managed, but we can’t eliminate them. Just like diabetes or low back pain or high blood pressure, you can go through treatment periods and recover your function, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t come back. And people are particularly prone to relapse in times of stress, in times of deprivation. Sometimes in also very good times people haven’t learned to celebrate and be happy without reaching for their drug or alcohol.

Humphreys, who recently served as a senior advisor in the Office of National Drug Control Policy in Washington, outlined two common barriers to receiving treatment: “Not having enough money, and being stigmatized.” But he also shared good news on how addiction is being viewed by the American public – and treated as a medical condition worthy of health insurance coverage.

“Several hundred million Americans, although they might not know it, just got better coverage for addiction treatment in their insurance,” Humphreys said. “The Affordable Care Act defines substance abuse for the first time as an essential health-care benefit. So all new plans must offer benefits, and they must offer them at parity.”

Previously: We just had the best two months in the history of U.S. mental-health policy, Is it damaging to refer to addicts as drug “abusers?”, “Brains are unmentionable:” A father reflects on reactions to daughter’s mental illness, Breaking Good: How to wipe out meth labs, How police officers are tackling drug overdose and Addiction: All in the mind?
Photo (modified from original) by vmiramontes

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