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Universal Cardiac Screening For All Young Athletes?

It’s heart wrenching when young athletes die of sudden cardiac death (SCD). Last week the death of Wes Leonard, a Michigan high school star athlete, was especially poignant since he collapsed right after making the game-winning shot. This sort of tragedy occurs about one hundred times each year in America. That’s a lot of sadness. The obvious question is: Could these deaths be prevented? Let’s start with what actually happens.

Most cases of sudden death in young people occur as a result of either hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), an abnormal thickening of heart muscle, or long QT syndrome (LQTS), a mostly inherited disease of the heart’s electrical system. Both HCM and LQTS predispose the heart to ventricular fibrillation — electrical chaos of the pumping chamber of the heart. The adrenaline surges of athletic competition increase the odds of this chaos. Unfortunately, like heart disease often does, both these ailments can strike without warning.

Sudden death is sad enough by itself, but what makes it even worse is that both these ailments are mostly detectable with two simple painless tests: The ECG and echocardiogram (heart ultrasound). Let’s get these kids ECGs and echos then. “Git ‘er dun,” you might say.

On the surface the solution seems simple: Implement universal cardiac screening of all young athletes. And you wouldn’t be alone in thinking this way. You could even boast the support of Dr. Manny Alvarez of Fox News and the entire country of Italy, where all athletes get ECGs and echos before competing. But America isn’t Italy, and things aren’t as simple as Fox News likes to suggest. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Dr John M*

“Overtreated” Is Underread

My daughter, Elana, home from college on winter break, offered me a book to peruse from one of her classes. She correctly suspected that her father, the MD Whistleblower, would enjoy reading a book authored by a whistleblower pro.

The book, “Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine Is Making Us Sicker and Poorer” by Shannon Brownlee should be required reading for first year medical students, who have not yet acquired views and habits that promulgate excessive medical care and treatment. For those of us already in practice, this book should be a required element of board recertification.

Brownlee understands the medical system well and describes a culture of excess, conflicts of interests, absence of universal quality control mechanisms and fractured and disorganized care with no one in charge of a particular patient. She presents some chilling anecdotes of medical tragedies that have occurred at our most prestigious medical institutions. And she introduces us to reform leaders who understand the system’s inherent deficiencies and their proposals to remedy them.

Brownlee states that explanations for waste in the healthcare system include:

  • Cost of a gargantuan bureaucracy
  • Medical malpractice fear and defensive medicine
  • Incentives for patients with medical insurance to overutilize care
  • Rising medical costs

The most important cause, she argues, is unnecessary medical care, which costs the nations hundreds of billions of dollars and exposes patients to the risk of harm from medical complications. She writes, “If overtreatment were a disease, there would be a patient advocacy group out there raising money for a cure.” Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at MD Whistleblower*

Five Dead Babies: A Lesson In Prenatal Politics

When the Nebraska lawmakers voted to end Medicaid prenatal care for approximately 1,500 women, their unborn babies paid the ultimate price.

Any labor room hospitalist who is responsible for the care of unassigned pregnant women will tell you that it is far easier to take care of pregnant women who have had prenatal care than it is to take care of women who haven’t. The recent vigil of the Equality Nebraska Coalition in front of their state capitol to honor five dead babies whose death can be related to the lack of access to prenatal care speaks volumes.

On or about February of 2010, Nebraska expectant mothers received a “Dear John” letter from Nebraska’s Health and Human Services stating that their pregnancies were no longer covered under Medicaid. It appeared that the rationale for making such a drastic decision involved a resistance of state politicians to pay for medical services of “illegal immigrants.”

However, when one reads the comments on a popular website called Baby Center.com, the pregnant women who were affected were U.S. citizens who were college students, wives of husbands who had lost their medical insurance, and unemployed women. Eventually all the women were able to receive government-sponsored healthcare coverage, but the panic preceding their reinstatement was palpable. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Dr. Linda Burke-Galloway*

Healthcare Repeal: How Would It Affect Coverage And Cost?

[Soon] the new GOP-controlled House of Representatives will be voting on and is expected to pass a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – lock, stock, and barrel. There is virtually no chance the repeal bill will get through the Senate, though, which maintains a narrow Democratic majority, and President Obama would veto it if it did.

But let’s say that the seemingly impossible happened, and the ACA was repealed. What would the impact be on healthcare coverage, costs, and the federal deficit?

In a letter to Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its preliminary estimates of the impact of repeal on the deficit, uninsured, and costs of care, and found that it would make the deficit worse, result in more uninsured persons, and higher premiums for many:

– Deficit: repeal of the ACA would increase the deficit by $145 billion from 2012-2019, by another $80 to $90 billion over the 2020-21 period, and by an amount “that is in the broad range of one-half percent of the GDP” in the decade after 2019* — or about a trillion dollars. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at The ACP Advocate Blog by Bob Doherty*

Another Look At Geographic Variation In Poverty And Healthcare

MedPAC has released another report in which they have tried to explain variation in healthcare utilization among metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs), of which there are approximately 400. MSAs more-or-less correspond to Dartmouth’s 306 hospital referral regions (HRRs), and the conclusions reached by the Dartmouth folks and MedPAC tend to correspond. In commenting about MedPAC’s last report, issued in December 2009, I noted that the major variation was caused by high Medicare expenditures in seven southern states, where patients are poorer and sicker and use much more care.   

In their new report, MedPAC went a step beyond measuring expenditures, which they adjusted for prices and other factors in their last report, to measuring the actual units of service, a far better way to assess the healthcare system. MedPAC’s new findings on the distribution of service use in MSAs are graphed below:

Based on this new approach, MedPAC concluded: “Although service use varies less than spending, the amount of service provided to beneficiaries still varies substantially. Specifically, service use in higher use areas (90th percentile) is 30 percent greater than in lower use areas (10th percentile); the analogous figure for spending is about 55 percent. What policies should be pursued in light of these findings is beyond the scope of this paper, which is meant only to inform policymakers on the nature and extent of regional variation in Medicare service use. However, we do note that at the extremes, there is nearly a two-fold difference between the MSA with the greatest service use and the MSA with the least.” Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at PHYSICIANS and HEALTH CARE REFORM Commentaries and Controversies*

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