Category: Disease

Dr Lisa on the Streets: An approach to improve health literacy

Health literacy has become a buzzword not only in the public health world but in general. As the technologies, treatments and advancements are improving the quality of medicine, the way that these new discoveries are communicated are not. One physician and public health professional has made it her mission to increase the awareness of the health literacy crisis here in the United States by taking it to who it affects the most, Americans. She has launched a “Dr. Lisa on the Streets” campaign to increase awareness and gather support to improve the way health information is communicated. In her TedX talk “Are you confused about health information? You’re not alone” she discusses the economic consequences of low health literacy and how as a nation we can attempt to improve this. She refers to the “grapevine” (casual conversations, internet etc.) as one of the most powerful educators and needing to capitalize on this as a means of sharing health information.

Here are few strategies mentioned in the video about improving health literacy:

  • Manage the grapevine, it’s like ivy if it isn’t maintained it will get out of control
    • Need grapevine to counteract misinformation through verification before spreading information
  • Doctors need to embrace technology
    • Change is inspired by the masses
  • Health literacy is up to you!
    • Avoid gaps in care
    • Find your provider
    • Be persistent

To learn more about this movement and health literacy watch the full TedX talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-x6DLqtaK2g

Free Lyft to the Pharmacy

Blue Cross and Blue Shield Institute has started a partnership with the ride sharing company Lyft to provide their members with free rides to pick up their medications. The Blue Cross Blue Shield Institute is a new organization that’s mission is to reduce the barriers of accessing healthcare. One of the largest identified barriers to accessing healthcare is transportation. Last year, their big initiative was a similar program with Lyft to provide free transportation for their patients to their doctors’ appointments. By investing in these types of programs, the organization is hoping to reduce costs in the long -term and improve the health outcomes of their consumers. With this newest imitative they are also partnering with pharmaceutical organization such as CVS Health and Walgreens to increase medication adherence. These programs are still under pilot testing and are currently funded by CVS and Walgreens in Chicago and Pittsburgh with patients who are living in “transportation deserts”. These types of unique partnerships are allowing for creative solutions and addressing the social determinants of health in order to solve the most dire healthcare problems. Let’s hope to see more of these types of collaborations in the future.

References

https://www.forbes.com/sites/brucejapsen/2018/03/14/cvs-and-walgreens-partner-with-lyft-to-get-blue-cross-patients-to-pharmacies/#34f4fa0f76c8

https://www.bcbs.com/news/press-releases/blue-cross-and-blue-shield-and-lyft-join-forces-increase-access-health-care

Discrimination and Health Part II: People of Color

Last week, I talked about how discrimination faced in healthcare settings can impact LGBTQ+ individuals’ attitudes towards healthcare, and how facing discrimination in everyday life can negatively impact their health outcomes. People of color (PoC) in the U.S., including immigrants, refugees, and Indigenous Peoples, face this double-barreled oppression as well.

Of course, one way racism affects health is through the broad structures that have placed many PoC groups at disadvantaged positions, intersecting with poverty – one study found that almost 100,000 black people die prematurely each year who would not die were there no racial disparities in health.

But discrimination itself, even on an individual level, can impact the health and healthcare experiences of PoC. Microaggressions, or everyday interactions rooted in racism, are a daily stressor for PoC, and these stressors can lead to premature illness and mortality.

Of course, this discrimination doesn’t just happen in daily interactions, but also in medical settings, which rightfully leads to mistrust and under-use of healthcare for PoC. Language and cultural barriers faced by immigrants can have similar effects.

Because race, socioeconomic status, and health are so intertwined, it may never be possible to know what levels of discrimination have the greatest ultimate effects on health outcomes. But we know they all have at least some, which should be enough to demand action.

Sources: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12042611

https://www.hindawi.com/journals/tswj/2013/512313/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2821669/#!po=2.38095

https://health.usnews.com/health-news/patient-advice/articles/2016-02-11/racial-bias-in-medicine-leads-to-worse-care-for-minorities

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2696665/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17001262

Doctors are humans too

In binge watching the newest medical show “The Resident” this past weekend, the show made me consider the role of medical error and transparency. The show portrays an arrogant surgeon with a secret tremor unwilling to give up his career despite his inability to perform successful surgeries. While the story plot line is dramatized and designed to pull viewers in for higher ratings, it highlights the importance of medical error and transparency. According to The BMJ, medical error is the third leading cause of death in the United States. Examples of medical error include medication errors (wrong dose, wrong drug) and hospital infections. Medical errors are challenging to comprehend since healthcare providers are only human and they are bound to make mistake just like the rest of us. The amount of stress and pressure these providers face all while working at all hours undoubtedly will result in mistakes. However, their mistakes have much more severe consequences. The show discusses transparency as a way to address the stigma surrounding medical error and by having more transparency could result in lower rates of medical error. An interesting fact to note is that these are errors are not recognized as cause of death on death certificates. To me, this further stigmatizes the errors and places blame on the healthcare provider and doesn’t change the narrative that providers are human and errors will happen. We treat these healthcare providers as superhuman but we need to remember that they are just like us and as a humans we make mistakes and hopefully we learn from them.

References:

https://health.usnews.com/health-news/patient-advice/slideshows/5-common-preventable-medical-errors?slide=4

https://www.bmj.com/content/353/bmj.i2139.full

App Grindr under scrutiny over privacy concerns

In an article published yesterday by BuzzFeed News, it was released that Gay Dating App Grindr has been sharing its users’ HIV status with two outside companies, a move which many consider dangerous to the queer community that the app claims to serve.

The sites, Apptimize and Localytics, work with Grindr to optimize the app and user experience. While it has been noted that these companies do not share information with third parties, there are still concerns with the sharing of sensitive information of a historically vulnerable population. This could raise flags for users sharing their HIV status on the app, which could negatively impact public health interventions that work to reduce HIV transmission and stigma.

Grindr recently announced that they would remind users to get tested for HIV every three to six months, offering a cue to action for users to be more aware of their HIV status. Knowing ones status is a crucial component for reducing the number of new HIV infections, such as by offering the opportunity to those who are living with HIV to be connected to care and achieve viral suppression.

 

Sources:

BuzzFeed News: Grindr Is Sharing The HIV Status Of Its Users With Other Companies –https://www.buzzfeed.com/azeenghorayshi/grindr-hiv-status-privacy?bfsplash&utm_term=.eu9v16ZaQ#.akvOQgNJj

Headache Me This

What causes headaches? I find myself Googling this at least once every few months when a particularly nasty or persistent headache of my own decides to show up. And I think it’s because I never really get a satisfying explanation from my searches, likely due to the fact that there are hundreds of headache types and only 10% have a known cause. Let’s focus on primary headaches, ones not caused by an underlying condition.

There are a lot of culprits for primary headaches. Nerves/blood vessels/tissue around the skull, muscles of the head/neck, and chemical changes within the brain can spur on that pain. So what triggers these physical pain signalers? It is probably no surprise that stress or alcohol are included. Skipping meals, poor posture (thanks, laptops), disrupted sleep patterns, and changing weather as well.

Some of these triggers are outside of our control like the weather, but there are measures we can take for prevention. Even though yes, easier said than done, try to avoid known stressors where possible. Eat low-processed meals at regular intervals and prioritize consistent sleep habits. Deficiencies in magnesium may play a role so eat some avocado and nuts. And when all else fails, put the screens away, take a warm shower, apply a soothing compress to the neck, and go the heck to sleep. Admittedly just writing about all the things that I should be doing right now has not made my headache go away, so off to self-care I go.

Discrimination and Health Part I: LGBTQ+ Americans

Past research has suggested that discrimination can impact health outcomes – perhaps through vehicles such as stress of daily interactions and negative experiences with the healthcare system. One group whose experiences with discrimination can be linked to negative health outcomes is LGBTQ+ Americans. A study found that over half of LGBTQ people have experience slurs and offensive comments, and over half have been sexually harassed or experienced violence, or had an LGBTQ friend or family member experience such trauma.

We can make the connection between discrimination and trauma through various factors. One is through microaggressions –  seemingly harmless daily interactions with others who express, in this case, homophobic or transphobic views. These have been found to negatively impact health. Another is through discrimination within the healthcare system that lead LGBTQ Americans to seek healthcare less frequently. 18% of this population has avoided necessary medical care. Various forms of discrimination they face at the hands of medical professionals, police, and community members are much worse for those of color and those who are transgender.

Unfortunately, we can already see the health outcomes of discrimination to this population – they have higher rates of psychiatric disorders, substance dependence (including higher tobacco use), and suicide; lesbian women are less likely to get preventative services for cancer, and gay men are at higher risk for certain STIs.

How can we work to eliminate these gaps, even when interpersonal discrimination may take longer to tackle as our culture continues to evolve? HealthyPeople2020 provides several recommendations. First, healthcare providers should discuss sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) respectfully with patients, and collect data on it. Medical students should be trained in LGBTQ culturally-responsive care. In addition, we must be spokespeople against legal discrimination of this population in social services such as employment, housing, and health insurance.

Sources:

https://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/topics-objectives/topic/lesbian-gay-bisexual-and-transgender-health

https://www.npr.org/documents/2017/nov/npr-discrimination-lgbtq-final.pdf

https://www.centerforhealthjournalism.org/2017/11/08/how-racism-and-microaggressions-lead-worse-health

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/microaggressions-in-everyday-life/201011/microaggressions-more-just-race

http://www.apa.org/topics/health-disparities/fact-sheet-stress.aspx

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2747726/pdf/nihms134591.pdf

The Duck-Billed Platypus

Antibiotic resistance is an alarming public health threat and who better to help in our fight against Superbugs than the super platypus? Not the platypus we deserve, but the platypus we need.

Part of the monotreme family, the platypus both lays eggs and produces milk to feed their young. Where does this milk come from though? Platypuses (it’s disappointingly not actually “platypi”) don’t have teats. The milk is instead secreted from their belly.

With the milk exposed to the environment before the platypus babies (highly recommend that adorable Google search) drink it, bacteria could pose a problem to the babies. Enter researchers at Australia’s national research agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), and Deakin University; they sought to examine the unique protein in platypus milk that protected it from becoming contaminated with bacteria. What they found and imaged was aptly named the “Shirley Temple,” a three-dimensional fold in the protein that looks like a ringlet. This newly discovered protein and its structure is only present in monotremes and may prove promising once traditional antibiotics reach their limit. Thanks platypus! Nature is so cool.

The Highs and Lows

In the hospital, the nurse told me that by the time I turned 10 they’d have a cure. This voice echoed in my head for years, as I imagined those very doctors and nurses working overtime in their labs, after their long days helping kids like me. Each birthday after the 10th one, I became more and more bitter thinking about that nurse, realizing she had delivered a false promise.

Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is misunderstood, even within the public health field. It’s rare – only 3% of all diabetes cases in the U.S. – and cannot be cured. T1D people live 12 years shorter on average.

T1D is an autoimmune disorder that occurs when the pancreas stops producing insulin. Unlike for Type 2, scientists still aren’t sure why. They have found that some T1D patients share a particular HLA (human leukocyte antigen) complex, but in order for this to trigger an immune response, it has to be triggered by something else, like a viral infection. Because it takes years for the T-cells to completely destroy the beta cells of the pancreas, it can be hard to track.

But this theory checks out for me: I had a nasty virus as an infant, and was diagnosed with T1D 5 years later.

Managing T1D is incredibly difficult. Every variable of everyday life affects blood sugars, and interact with each other such that it’s nearly impossible to know what causes a high or low. Today, by blood sugar was 152 when I woke up, I ate 18 carbs for breakfast, gave 2.1 units of insulin, and remained steady through the morning. Tomorrow, I might wake up at 152, eat 18 carbs, give 2.1 units, and end up with a dangerous low in the middle of an important meeting.

Despite this, I am lucky. I have health insurance, allowing me to have technology that makes it more likely I’ll beat the odds. For the uninsured, the estimated cost of T1D is over $13,000 a year – and that’s just for the bare minimum. What are we doing for the people who need the 6th most expensive liquid on earth to survive, but can’t afford it?

Sources:

https://www.scienceabc.com/eyeopeners/what-which-are-the-most-expensive-liquids-in-the-world.html

http://www.diabetes.org/advocacy/news-events/cost-of-diabetes.html

https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2015/01/06/375395383/tight-control-of-type-1-diabetes-saves-lives-but-its-tough

https://www.endocrineweb.com/conditions/type-1-diabetes/type-1-diabetes-causes

https://login.medscape.com/login/sso/getlogin?urlCache=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cubWVkc2NhcGUuY29tL3ZpZXdhcnRpY2xlLzg2MTU0Mg==&ac=401

 

Photo retrieved from: Insulin Nation

STOP Act: Implementation and Effects on the Opioid Epidemic in North Carolina

The rise of the opioid epidemic nationwide has led to an increase of attention from both media and policy makers. Here in North Carolina, a recently passed policy is the Strengthen Opioid Misuse Prevention, or STOP Act, which aims to reduce the amount of Opioids prescribed a one approach to tackle the epidemic. The STOP Act was signed into law by Governor Roy Cooper on June 29, 2017, and since then its four stage implementation has been put into effect, which will continue until 2020.

The first step of implementation occurred almost immediately after the law’s passage, on July 1st 2017, requiring Physician Assistants (PAs) and Nurse Practitioners (NPs) to personally consult with a supervising physician. This applied to Pas and NPs at facilities that primarily engage in treating pain, and the prescription will, or is expected to, last longer than 30 days. Additionally, PAs and NPs have to consult with a supervising physician every 90 days for patients for are continuously prescribed opioids.  Providers are also required to provide information on the disposal of controlled substances, both written and orally, when a patient concludes a course of treatment. The second aspect, implemented on September 1st, 2017, requires that pharmacies report targeted prescriptions to the North Carolina Controlled Substance Reporting System within a day of the prescription is dispensed.

The most recent aspect of the STOP Act was implemented on January 1st, 2018, and limits the amount of opioids prescribed for acute pain. Practitioners are not able to prescribe more than five days’ worth of any Schedule II or III Opioid or Narcotic, with an exception to things like pain after surgery, where the prescription cannot for longer than seven days. The final part of the law will be implemented on January 1st, 2020, and will require practitioners to electronically prescribed targeted controlled substances, with a few exceptions.

While it is still unclear what impact the law will have on overdose deaths in the state, it appears that the State government is attempting to address this issue. While more resources could be devoted to mental health services, naloxone access and syringe exchanges, and more programs geared toward injecting drug users rather than only those who use prescription drugs, it’s commendable that a joint effort was reached to combat this ongoing epidemic.

 

Sources:

New! Summary of NC’s new opioids law, the STOP Act: North Carolina Medical Board – https://www.ncmedboard.org/resources-information/professional-resources/publications/forum-newsletter/notice/new-summary-of-ncs-new-opioids-law-the-stop-act

FAQs: The STOP Act of 2017: North Carolina Medical Board – https://www.ncmedboard.org/resources-information/professional-resources/publications/forum-newsletter/article/faqs-the-stop-act-of-2017

STOP Act Provision Takes Effect Jan. 1, Will Limit Opioid Prescriptions: NC Governor Roy Cooper – https://governor.nc.gov/news/stop-act-provision-takes-effect-jan-1-will-limit-opioid-prescriptions

STOP Act Bill Summary: North Carolina Medical Board – https://www.ncmedboard.org/images/uploads/article_images/The_STOP_Act_summary-OnLetterhead.pdf