Tag Archives: COVID-19

Advocates, hospitals at odds about CMS plan to suppress a patient-safety score

Photo by Pixabay via pexels.

Federal officials intend to give hospitals a break in quality scoring due to pandemic strains, by halting reporting of a measure known as the PSI 90 score. Patient-safety and business groups are fighting this plan, arguing it would erode quality of care.

Journalists may find good stories in looking at this battle over a quality measurement that pits Medicare and hospitals against patient-safety and employer groups.

The American Hospital Association (AHA) and the Federation of American Hospitals supported this proposal, which was one of myriad policy changes included in Medicare’s draft fiscal year 2023 rule on payments for inpatient services. They agree with Medicare officials who said they feared the effects of the pandemic might result in distorted results that might prove unfair to hospitals that served many people at highest risk from COVID-19.

Opposition to PSI 90 proposal

Among the leaders of the opposition to the PSI 90 proposal is nonprofit Leapfrog Group. Founded in 2000 by business organizations, Leapfrog has become a major force in lobbying for greater transparency about the quality and cost of health care.

“Suppressing PSI 90 would be a giant leap backward in patient safety and transparency, literally life-threatening, and an outrageous violation of the trust Americans place in the Medicare program,” wrote Leah Binder, M.A., M.G.A., chief executive officer of Leapfrog Group, in a June 17 comment letter to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

Continue reading

Expert insight and resources for covering Paxlovid and other COVID-19  treatments

Professor Jason Gallagher, Pharm.D., F.C.C.P., F.I.D.P., F.I.D.S.A., B.C.P.S.

In December 2021, Pfizer announced the significantly positive study results of its COVID-19 antiviral Paxlovid. The study enrolled unvaccinated people at high-risk for serious illness, and it was hailed by infectious disease specialists and President Biden’s administration as a tool for accelerating the end of the pandemic. 

 “I think it is the beginning of a ‘game-changer,’” said Yale Medicine infectious disease specialist Scott Roberts, M.D. “It’s really our first efficacious oral antiviral pill for this virus. It shows clear benefit, and it really can prevent hospitalization and death in people who are at high risk.” 

But there is currently public confusion about who should get a prescription for Paxlovid if they test positive for COVID-19.

To help our colleagues with coverage, we gathered a few resources and experts to call [see Q&A at bottom of this post] and spoke with Professor Jason Gallagher, Pharm.D., F.C.C.P., F.I.D.P., F.I.D.S.A., B.C.P.S., a pharmacist who specializes in infectious diseases and the director of Temple University’s post-graduate infectious disease pharmacy training program.

We wanted to begin by clarifying what Pfizer is studying and what experts understand about the results so far.

Continue reading

A closer glance at long COVID: What to know

Photo by Liza Summer via pexels.

Long COVID, long haulers, post-COVID syndrome, post-acute sequelae of COVID — from the early days of the pandemic — there have been news stories about people who don’t recover from the virus in 10 to 14 days. Instead, they are still ill weeks or months after their original infection and more than two years on, and no one completely understands why.

The uncertainty, combined with the millions affected, makes long COVID a trendy (but crucial) topic for health journalists to cover. 

In a panel at Health Journalism 2022 in Austin moderated by independent journalist Margaret Nicklas, two physicians and two long COVID researchers presented a primer on what we know about the condition and what remains a mystery.

The physicians’ perspective

Michael Brode, M.D., internal medicine specialist at the University of Texas at Austin Dell Medical School and medical director of UT Health Austin’s Post-COVID-19 Program, sees the symptoms of patients with long COVID as fitting into three categories:

  • Damage from the virus itself (usually correlated with the severity of the disease).
  • Post-viral lingering symptoms such as cough or chest pain.
  • Dysregulated post-immune response and neuroinflammatory syndrome.

Continue reading

Fungal infections are next chapter in reporting on superbugs

A medical illustration of Candida sp. fungal organisms. (Photo courtesy of the CDC Public Health Image Library)

Reporters looking to write about the next chapter in antimicrobial resistance should get up to speed on fungal infections.

“The future is going to be a fungal problem,” said Tom Chiller, M.D., M.P.H.T.M., chief of CDC’s mycotic diseases branch, during the “Antimicrobial resistance during and after COVID-19” panel at Health Journalism 2022 in Austin.

Fungi are spore-producing organisms like yeast, molds and mushrooms. About 100 of them are known to cause disease in humans. Deadly antimicrobial resistant fungal infection cases,  already rising in nursing homes and hospitals before the pandemic,  accelerated during the past two years, according to the CDC.

Hospital overuse of antibiotics, especially during the first year of the pandemic when there were few options for treating patients, plus the use of steroids to treat lung inflammation caused by COVID-19, both contributed to increases in resistant fungal infections with high mortality rates.

“COVID … introduced a bit of an unfortunate perfect storm” that enabled more and broader transmission of fungal infections in hospitals, Chiller said.

In 2017, according to the most recent CDC data, 75,000 people were hospitalized in the U.S. for fungal infections, but that’s likely an underestimate. These infections often go undiagnosed and there is no national public health surveillance of common fungal infections, according to the CDC. Globally, about 13.5 million severe fungal infections — and 1.6 million deaths — are reported annually to public health officials, according to the non-profit Global Action for Fungal Infections.

Continue reading

Resources for covering mysterious hepatitis in kids

Photo by cottonbro via pexels.

Hundreds of young children in the U.S. and the United Kingdom have developed hepatitis — inflammation of the liver — since October 2021— and public health officials cannot yet pinpoint the exact cause.

Between October 2021 and February 2022, hepatitis has been identified in 109 children in 24 U.S. states and one territory, Puerto Rico. Most of the children were hospitalized and recovered, but five died, CDC officials said during a May 6 media briefing. In the UK, 163 pediatric hepatitis cases were reported and 154 were identified in other countries.

In at least half the cases, scientists identified a strain of adenovirus (a kind of virus that usually only causes mild disease) in children, making it the leading theory of what is causing hepatitis. Hepatitis can spread through respiratory droplets and fecal and oral transmission.

Despite speculation, CDC officials are certain COVID-19 vaccines are not the cause of hepatitis in this population. None of the children had been vaccinated. Most were under the age of 5 and therefore not eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

“COVID-19 vaccination is not the cause of these illnesses, and we hope that this information helps clarify some of the speculation circulating online,” said Jay Butler, M.D., CDC deputy director for infectious diseases during the briefing.

Whether exposure to the SARS-CoV-2 virus could be the cause is uncertain, though Butler said none of the children had “a documented” case of COVID-19. However, public health officials haven’t ruled it out. There is also uncertainty about whether or not the adenovirus is the cause because typically, such viruses only cause severe illness in children with weakened immune systems; most of the children were healthy before getting hepatitis. Further, the virus wasn’t found in every case.

Continue reading