Tag Archives: department of defense

Stories focus on suicides of doctors, soldiers

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

New York Times columnist Pauline Chen, M.D., serves up a reminder that suicide prevention isn’t just a matter of access to counseling and resources, in the form of a story about high physician suicide rates. If there’s any sector of the population that should be able to recognize that they are suffering from mental illness, and that the condition is treatable, it should be doctors, Chen writes. Yet still they kill themselves at a rate above the American average.

For several decades now, studies have consistently shown that physicians have higher rates of suicide than the general population — 40 percent higher for male doctors and a staggering 130 percent higher for female doctors. While research has traced the beginning of this tragic difference to the years spent in medical school, the contributing factors remain murky. Students enter medical school with mental health profiles similar to those of their peers but end up experiencing depression, burnout and other mental illnesses at higher rates. Despite better access to health care, they are more likely to cope by resorting to dysfunctional behaviors like excessive drinking and are less likely to receive the right care or even recognize that they need some kind of intervention.

Chen mentions two recent studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that shed more light on the issue, one showing that in medical school depression and burnout are separate entities, and the other showing that depressed students believe others view them as incompetent. In the end, she calls for further long-term research, but does not take the next logical step and investigate comparative research and statistics. Is it just American medical students who are depressed? Do countries with low-cost, low-pressure med schools produce doctors with better mental health? There’s a lot of room for investigation.

Suicides in another high-access group

Chen’s New York Times colleague, James McKinley, writes that as many as 20 soldiers connected with the Army base at Ft. Hood have killed themselves this year, despite the Army’s suicide prevention efforts.

The spate of suicides in Texas reflects a chilling reality: nearly 20 months after the Army began strengthening its suicide prevention program and working to remove the stigma attached to seeking psychological counseling, the suicide rate among active service members remains high and shows little sign of improvement. Through August, at least 125 active members of the Army had ended their own lives, exceeding the morbid pace of last year, when there were a record 162 suicides.

As of July, the Army requires all returning soldiers to be evaluated by a mental health specialist, though veteran advocates still point to a shortage of psychiatrists and an emphasis on treatment through medication rather than through therapy. The system is taxed by record numbers of soldiers seeking help for psychological problems, and mental health was the leading reason for hospitalization in the Army last year, McKinley writes.

Each suicide is unique, McKinley writes, and it’s hard to find patterns.

Patient data errors force VA to close EMR system

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Nextgov’s Bob Brewin reports that errors in patient data have forced the Department of Veterans Affairs to close access to the Bidirectional Health Information Exchange, the Defense Department’s vast electronic medical record system. The bug first surfaced in February when a physician noticed that the system claimed one of his female patients had been prescribed an erectile dysfunction drug. The errors have been blamed on old code in the six-year-old system which could not handle peak usage rates.

The glitch did not cause harm to any patient, but “the potential exists for decisions regarding patient care to be made using incorrect or incomplete data,” said Jean Scott, director of the Veterans Health Administration’s Information Technology Patient Safety Office, in the alert issued on Wednesday.

… The VA clinician may see the patient’s data during one session, but another session may not display the data previously seen,” the alert noted. “This problem occurs intermittently and has been reported when querying DoD laboratory, pharmacy and radiology reports.”

The system is expected to go back online March 9. Until then, Brewin writes, “VA doctors will have to obtain a patients’ health information from their paper medical files, faxes or PDF attachments that are e-mailed to the physicians.”

According to its tagline, Nextgov focuses on “Technology and the Business of Government.”

Blog: H1N1 shows gov’t needs social media

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

On the blog Social Media Strategery, Michael Dumlao writes about how the rapid viral spread of disinformation about H1N1 showed the need for government agencies to engage the public directly via social media and to provide steady streams of accessible, accurate information in order to control rumors similar to those delivered by the Centers for Disease Control via Twitter.

AHCJ resourcesAHCJ resources for covering flu, pandemics and preparedness

Dumlao quotes Department of Defense new and social media director Jack Holt as saying that if the government is not an active participant in the social media universe, then it abdicates control of that arena to folks who are, and to folks who may be impersonating government agencies, either directly or indirectly. Therefore, Dumlao says, it’s the government’s job to engage social media and protect the public from potentially malicious or damaging disinformation.

Dumlao chronicles the well-documented spread of H1N1 disinformation and how it was contained once formal media started to address the inaccurate claims, and suggests that the government must use social media to monitor the spread false information at the same time that it is using it to disseminate a more accurate picture of events.

Kuklo scandal spotlights DoD/Medtronic ties

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

In the wake of news of a falsified study published in a British bone and joint medicine journal by former Walter Reed Medical Center surgeon Timothy Kuklo, reported by The New York Times‘ Duff Wilson and Barry Meier, the Center for Public Integrity’s M.B. Pell, Aaron Mehta and Nick Schwellenbach have help paint a broader picture of Medtronic-funded travel at the Department of Defense. First, some background from Wilson and Meier:

The former Army surgeon, Dr. Timothy R. Kuklo, reported that a bone-growth product sold by Medtronic Inc. had much higher success in healing the shattered legs of wounded soldiers at Walter Reed than other doctors there had experienced, according to Colonel Coots and a summary of an Army investigation of the matter.

The two reporters mentioned that Kuklo indulged in privately funded travel, and the Center for Public Integrity helped put some numbers to the relationship, finding that “Between 2001 and 2006, Medtronic paid for at least 15 trips taken by Dr. Kuklo, worth more than $13,000.”

Kuklo isn’t the only one at DoD who benefited from being cozy with the folks at Medtronic, which “paid more than $90,000 for about 80 Defense Department trips from 1998 through 2007, according to the Office of Government Ethics data.”