Photo: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
Something happened in our family early in August that set me behind in my work for more than three months. What we experienced holds an important lesson for health journalists.
It is something seemingly small and simple, but with significant potential consequences. However, I need to provide a bit of context in my story to illustrate a phenomenon journalists need to keep in mind when reporting on screening and diagnostic tests. Continue reading
Photo courtesy of The Dark ReportInvestigative reporter Ellen Gabler addressed a New Orleans meeting of clinical laboratory professionals at the annual Lab Quality Confab.
Last fall, I was fortunate to hear journalist Ellen Gabler give a presentation about one of her investigations to a gathering of administrators, executives and pathologists in the clinical laboratory industry.
The session at Lab Quality Confab in New Orleans was unusual because journalists rarely are invited to talk about their work before the industry they cover. Continue reading
Next month, all clinical laboratories must make patients’ laboratory test results available to patients who request them.
Under rules three federal agencies issued in February, labs must either mail the results to patients or put them up in a secure site online within 30 days of receiving a request from a patient or a patient’s representative.
When the rules were published Feb. 3, Joseph Conn explained in Modern Healthcare that the new regulations pre-empt laws in 13 states and lift a federal exemption in 26 other states. “Previously, in those 39 states, patients could receive or view their lab test results only through their physician or other authorized health care provider,” Conn wrote.
Labs in some health systems already make results available. Kaiser Permanente, for example, has allowed patients to see their test results since 2008. Since the new rules became effective on April 7, some labs have begun complying although compliance is not mandatory until Oct. 6. Continue reading
UPDATE: Commenter CT points out that the students involved were not medical school students but were in the University of New Mexico physician assistant program, a fact confirmed on the university’s web page about the incident.
Following news this week that two drug companies were hit with punitive damages after vials of the anesthetic propofol were re-used and infected patients with hepatitis C, The Associated Press’ Susan Montoya Bryan reports that “a group of New Mexico medical school students failed to properly change needles on devices used for blood glucose testing” putting people at risk for contracting serious diseases, such as hepatitis and HIV.
More than 50 people were tested during a free event during the American Indian Week Pueblo Day on April 24 in Albuquerque, N.M., which was attended by people from all over the world: “The center’s visitor list for that Saturday included more than 1,600 people from across the nation and abroad – including Canada, Italy, Sweden and Germany.”
Bryan reports that the students used devices, similar to home glucose testers, which contain six lancets that are triggered to draw a blood sample. “With each use, the device must be advanced manually to load a new lancet.”
A spokesman for University of New Mexico’s Health Sciences Center says “the devices should not have been used at the public event and not all of the students were properly trained to use them. ”
Public health authorities have requested that those who participated in the testing event call 888-899-6092 or visit the UNM website for more information and referral for screening.
Lindsey Tanner of The Associated Press addresses the overtesting and overtreatment that have become the focus of several studies and journal articles.
Tanner points to President Obama’s recent medical checkup, during which he had a prostate cancer screening and a virtual colonoscopy – neither of which is normally recommended for patients his age.
Increasingly, experts are questioning whether doctors are practicing “defensive medicine” – ordering tests and treatments to be sure they have covered all the bases even if they are not indicated. Other factors, such as a fee-for-service system and patients who insist on testing and treatments, also come into play.
This week alone, a New England Journal of Medicine study suggested that too many patients are getting angiograms — invasive imaging tests for heart disease — who don’t really need them; and specialists convened by the National Institutes of Health said doctors are too often demanding repeat cesarean deliveries for pregnant women after a first C-section.
Last week, the American Cancer Society cast more doubt on routine PSA tests for prostate cancer. And a few months ago, other groups recommended against routine mammograms for women in their 40s, and for fewer Pap tests looking for cervical cancer.
The focus on overtesting and overtreatment comes the same week CBS News sent out a press release announcing that Early Show anchor Harry Smith underwent a colonoscopy on live television, reported on by Katie Couric. The press release proclaims:
Following Couric’s on-air colonoscopy in 2000, University of Michigan researchers documented a 20% increase in the number of colonoscopies performed across the country, dubbing it “The Couric Effect.”
(Hat tip to Gary Schwitzer)