Latest Leapfrog scores show hospitals need to improve patient safety

Joseph Burns

About Joseph Burns

Joseph Burns (@jburns18), a Massachusetts-based independent journalist, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health insurance. He welcomes questions and suggestions on insurance resources and tip sheets at joseph@healthjournalism.org.

A new report from the Leapfrog Group couldn’t be more timely given the attention hospitals have received recently on the need to improve patient safety, particularly infection-control procedures.

hospital corridor

Image by Julie Kertesz via flickr.

On Wednesday, Leapfrog released a report showing a lack of progress on patient outcomes and a decline on certain patient-safety measures, such as preventing surgical site infections during major colon surgery.

The data also show that hospitals made improvements in processes and safe practices, such as instituting hand-hygiene policies and physician staffing in intensive care units. For the safety scores of 2,500 general hospitals, Leapfrog assigns A, B, C, D and F grades based on a hospital’s ability to prevent errors, injuries and infections.

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Journalist offered money to cover Alzheimer’s briefing

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates social media efforts of AHCJ and assists with the editing and production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

A representative of Banner Alzheimer’s Institute, which treats and researches Alzheimer’s disease, has issued invitations to cover an hour-long briefing hosted by its principal scientist.

Image by Logan Campbell via flickr.

Image by Logan Campbell via flickr.

The lure?

“Participants will receive $100 for their commitment to write about the impact of Alzheimer’s and what readers can do to help combat the disease.”

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New Harvard report says U.S. unprepared to help seniors age in place

Liz Seegert

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic editor on aging. Her work has appeared in Kaiser Health News, The Atlantic.com, New America Media, AARP.com, Practical Diabetology, Home Care Technology report and on HealthStyles Radio (WBAI-FM, NYC). She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health, Media & Policy at Hunter College, NYC, and a co-produces HealthStyles for WBAI-FM/Pacifica Radio.

A newly-released report from the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University says the U.S. is woefully unprepared to meet the escalating need for affordable, accessible housing that offers social connectivity and support services for America’s seniors. Many older adults already must decide between paying for food, medication or rent, and as the population ages this crisis is getting worse.

The new report, Housing America’s Older Adults, says that existing housing often lacks basic features needed by seniors, such as wheelchair accessibility. This lack of necessary features forces many frail and disabled older adults from their own homes. Additionally, isolation among adults who can no longer drive is an increasing problem, due to lack of public transportation and inadequate pedestrian infrastructure. These “disconnects between housing programs and the health care system put many older adults with disabilities or long term care needs at risk for premature institutionalization,” the report says.

The report calls for a combined effort of public, private, non-profit organizations to assess and address housing options that support aging in community. It also calls on individuals and families to be more proactive in determining current and future housing requirements. Many adults who are about to turn 65 are not doing enough to prepare themselves or their environments for aging in place, according to this article in the Washington Business Journal. AARP’s Public Policy Institute documented the decline in living standards many people face as they reach retirement age and struggle with changes in income and rising health care costs due to multiple chronic conditions.

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How does food labeling affect consumer choice?

Kris Hickman

About Kris Hickman

Kris Hickman (@the_index_case) is a graduate research assistant for AHCJ, pursuing a master’s degree in public health. She has a bachelor's degree in anthropology, with a minor in journalism, from the University of Missouri. She spent two years in Zambia as an HIV/AIDS community education volunteer in the Peace Corps. She aspires to be an epidemiologist and science writer.

If you’ve ever wondered about the real impact of those little black-and-white nutrition labels, or felt that perhaps food labeling could be more meaningful, consider the results of a new study, published recently in The American Journal of Public Health.

Image by Tojosan via flickr.

Image by Tojosan via flickr.

A team of researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health wanted to know what makes people change their habits – specifically, low-income black adolescents. In 2012 – the most recent year of CDC data – obesity was more prevalent among both African-Americans and low-income groups than the general population. (But remember that the relationship between income and obesity varies by poverty level, gender and race is a complicated one.)

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Separating fact from fiction on water fluoridation

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on oral health resources at mary@healthjournalism.org.

Image by Ben Kraal via flickr.

Image by Ben Kraal via flickr.

For close to seven decades now, jurisdictions across the country have been supplementing naturally-occurring fluoride in community water supplies to promote oral health. Numerous studies credit water fluoridation efforts with major reductions in tooth decay during the second half of the 20th century. Many too, attest to the safety of fluoridation at optimum levels. Yet in spite of reams of scientific evidence, debate and fear remain in some places. Last year in Portland, for example, voters overturned a city council decision to fluoridate the local water supply.

“Late last night, Portlanders rejected a plan to fluoridate their city’s water supply (and the water of over a dozen other cities),” wrote Scientific American blogger Kyle Hill in a morning after column. “It’s the fourth time Portland has rejected the public health measure since 1956. It’s the fourth time they’ve gotten the science wrong.”

Meanwhile, similar debates over fluoride have been unfolding. How can reporters in these communities separate the science from the pseudo-science and keep the public informed?

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Rise in nursing home infection rates lead to avoidable complications, deaths

Liz Seegert

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic editor on aging. Her work has appeared in Kaiser Health News, The Atlantic.com, New America Media, AARP.com, Practical Diabetology, Home Care Technology report and on HealthStyles Radio (WBAI-FM, NYC). She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health, Media & Policy at Hunter College, NYC, and a co-produces HealthStyles for WBAI-FM/Pacifica Radio.

Infections among nursing home residents are rising, according to a study presented Oct. 8, 2014, at IDWeek (an international gathering of experts in infectious disease and epidemiology).

Image by Ulrich Joho via flickr.

Image by Ulrich Joho via flickr.

Researchers from Columbia University School of Nursing and RAND Corporation analyzed infections in nursing homes over a five-year period from 2006-2010, using Minimum Data Set assessment data – the information submitted by the facilities to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. They found significantly increased infection rates for pneumonia, urinary tract infections (UTIs), viral hepatitis, septicemia, wound infections, and multiple drug-resistant organisms (MDROs), conditions that raise the risk of complications and death. Only tuberculosis rates did not show an increase.

Approximately 1.6 million to 3.8 million infections occur among U.S. nursing home residents each year. The new study found that UTIs remain, by far, the most frequently reported type of infection, but they also showed the smallest rise in prevalence – just 1 percent. Pneumonia was the second most common infection, and its prevalence rose 11 percent from 2006 to 2010. Infection rates increased 69.7 percent  for viral hepatitis, 25.2 percent for septicemia, 24.1 percent for pneumonia, 15.7 percent for MDRO and 4.6 percent for wound infections.

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When covering health insurance is personal

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates social media efforts of AHCJ and assists with the editing and production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

Randy Dotinga

Randy Dotinga

California journalist Randy Dotinga has written several pieces about his own efforts to obtain health insurance. His “long-running tale of woe” features several twists and turns but it isn’t that unusual in the grim world of 21st-century health insurance in the United States.

Since 2000, I’ve been jilted by a grand total of seven insurance companies. The eighth — the one covering me now — comes courtesy of Obamacare and looks like it might actually stick around for a while. Expensive? Yes. A relief? Absolutely.

What is unusual is for a journalist who covers health and medicine to be so open about his own experiences. In an article for AHCJ, he offers journalists some tips on how to do the same.

High costs cause some Americans to skip needed care, survey shows

Joseph Burns

About Joseph Burns

Joseph Burns (@jburns18), a Massachusetts-based independent journalist, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health insurance. He welcomes questions and suggestions on insurance resources and tip sheets at joseph@healthjournalism.org.

Image by C x 2 via flickr.

Image by C x 2 via flickr.

More than 16 million privately insured Americans face significant financial hardships as a result of high medical bills, forcing some to go without food and others to burn through all of their savings, a new survey shows.

Out-of-pocket health care costs force 1 out of every 8 privately insured Americans to skip necessary medical treatment, according to the survey, Privately Insured in America: Opinions on Health Care Costs and Coverage.

For the survey, researchers at the AP-NORC Center interviewed 1,004 privately insured adults aged 18 to 64 between July 22 and September 3. Among the interviewees, 267 reported having high-deductible health plans. The study was done with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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Looking ahead to the second ACA enrollment period

Joanne Kenen

About Joanne Kenen

Joanne Kenen, (@JoanneKenen) the health editor at Politico, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health reform and curates related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on health reform resources and tip sheets at joanne@healthjournalism.org.

Photo by jfcherry via Flickr

Photo by jfcherry via Flickr

We’re closing in on the start of the ACA’s second open enrollment season. Both Kevin Counihan, the new HealthCare.gov “CEO” within the Department of Health and Human Services, and HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell have been speaking out a bit more about the upcoming season.

But there’s a lot they aren’t saying – or touting. Here are a few things we do – or don’t – know about what to expect by Nov. 15, the start of the three-month enrollment period: Continue reading

Frailty affects quality of life, makes seniors more vulnerable

Liz Seegert

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic editor on aging. Her work has appeared in Kaiser Health News, The Atlantic.com, New America Media, AARP.com, Practical Diabetology, Home Care Technology report and on HealthStyles Radio (WBAI-FM, NYC). She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health, Media & Policy at Hunter College, NYC, and a co-produces HealthStyles for WBAI-FM/Pacifica Radio.

Image by Alex E. Proimos via flickr.

The term “frailty” seems to be practically synonymous with aging. And while it’s true that adults naturally have a gradual physical decline as they age, not every older adult is frail and not every frail person is old.

Aging, also called senescence, refers to the biological process of growing older. As people age, it becomes more difficult for the body to repair itself and maintain optimal health, according to Neal S. Fedarko, Ph.D., professor of medicine, division of geriatric medicine and gerontology, Johns Hopkins University. People age differently based on both genetics and lifestyle factors.

Frailty is considered a chronic and progressive condition, categorized by at least three of five criteria: muscle weakness, unintentional weight loss, low physical activity levels, fatigue and slow walking speed. The body loses its ability to cope with everyday or acute stress, becoming more vulnerable to disease and death, as Samuel Durso, M.D., director of geriatric medicine and gerontology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine explained in a recent AHCJ webcast.

Learn more about frailty, and how it affects people’s quality of life as they age, in this new tip sheet.