Take, for instance, the recent decision by a bunch of medical specialty groups to stop taking industry money when coming up with guidelines for treatment. The Council of Medical Specialty Sciences, representing groups like the American College of Physicians, the American College of Cardiology and the American Society of Clinical Oncology, unveiled new rules on conflicts of interest last week. Thirteen of the member groups have adopted them so far, with the others saying they aren’t far behind. The rules also require that all funding from pharmaceutical and device-making companies to board members or groups will be publicly disclosed. Swag at medical conferences becomes a no-no, although big drugmakers had said a few years back they were going to stop the giveaways of medicine-branded pens, logoed tote bags and that sort of thing anyway.
Fluportal.org, a Corporation for Public Broadcasting-funded site built to help public media cover H1N1 and related issues, has completed its grant and will stop updating at the end of this month.
As a fitting capstone to a very well-executed and valuable resource, the staff has posted an exhaustive, honest review of what the site did, where things went right and where they went wrong. It’s a lengthy read, but one that gives insight into how best to organize and execute a health-related, issue-oriented Web resource.
Other resources on the site look into health reporting and how to communicate information about H1N1 to the public:
A new version of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders has come out every decade or so (it varies widely) since 1952. It hasn’t substantially changed since 1994, but the next revision is slated to come out in 2013. It’s a pretty big event, as the book’s diagnostic criteria are used around the world to determine who is diagnosed with mental disorders.
“Anything you put in that book, any little change you make, has huge implications not only for psychiatry but for pharmaceutical marketing, research, for the legal system, for who’s considered to be normal or not, for who’s considered disabled,” said Dr. Michael First, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University who edited the fourth edition of the manual but is not involved in the fifth.
“And it has huge implications for stigma,” Dr. First continued, “because the more disorders you put in, the more people get labels, and the higher the risk that some get inappropriate treatment.”
Despite constant reminders and a high-level of industrywide awareness, studies indicate that less than half of American health care workers wash their hands as frequently as they ought to. This contributes to the health-care-associated infections that kill tens of thousands annually. Now, NPR’s Gigi Douban reports, one Alabama hospital has resorted to high-tech monitoring devices to keep tabs on the handwashing practices of its employees.
Workers wear a special wireless transmitter, from which, Douban writes, “the hospital can tell when she entered a patient’s room, whether she washed her hands and whether she washed again on the way out. The information is sent to hospital officials, including the CEO.”
“If they’re habitually not complying, we can send them an e-mail or send them a text message, something that goes to them personally,” says Harvey Nix, CEO of Proventix, the company that developed the monitoring system at Baptist Princeton.
According to Douban, the CDC is currently investigating the effects of the technology upon the behavior of health workers.
One of the creative commons licensed shots of H1N1 street art spotlighted by fluportal.org. Photo by Brazilian artist guitavares via Flickr.
Fluportal also has tackled some media ethics issues related to the outbreak, notably in a post where staff from PRI’s The World had to consider how to frame the German medical establishment’s reluctance to recommend the H1N1 vaccine. After all, they did not want to confuse listeners or have a negative impact on public health, but they also weren’t going to “censor” the sincere opinions of German doctors, even if they conflicted with CDC advice.