Interesting and Noteworthy

Pathogen Killing Paint

Picture of Anthrax Pathogen sample

Public Domain Image of Anthrax Pathogen

Bacteria likes to hang around in hospitals and as we know, sometimes a hospital visit can result in infections we didn’t have when we came in. Paint company Sherwin-Williams thinks it may have an answer for part of the problem – pathogen killing paint. Called Paint Shield, this new paint will be offered for sale beginning the first quarter of 2016. This excellent article by DJ Pangburn at Good Magazine lays out the difficulties hospitals encounter when trying to eliminate the possibility of Hospital Acquired Infections (HAIs), how they are one of the leading causes of preventable deaths and how the new paint – which has not been tested extensively in the real world – will address them. Read the entire article here.

First Responders in Iceland

Picture of Search and Rescue Vehicle

Isak LandRover

It’s interesting to see how the work of being a first responder can vary. So many different things can affect it – environment, agencies, population, and country. At this moment there is an informative piece from New Yorker Magazine on the nationalized Slysavarnafélagið Landsbjörg, or, in English, the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue—ICE-SAR.  The terrain is extreme and situations often dire.

Read the article here and be amazed by the training and the effort.

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The Future of Big Data in Healthcare and News for Flu Victims

According to an article in Business Insider, in the future, when you report symptoms to your doctor, they will be cross-checked with your community to see if there is a trend which might indicate an outbreak. And when your doctor recommends treatment, it will be after looking at what other doctors have seen success with for other patients with your diagnosis.

Using your smartphone to record instances where you had difficulty breathing will make it easier to give your doctor actual numbers rather than guesses.

Primary caregivers as well as hospitals are moving into a new information technology area where they will have to be alert to potential uses of big data and its potential pitfalls, not the least of which is ensuring the data is used wisely and a patient’s privacy is protected. Read the entire article here.

Universal Flu Virus?

A new study shows that there may soon be an immunization that will protect against several kinds of flu virus, rather than just the one that seems to be most going around during any given flu season.

Every year a flu vaccine is manufactured based on what strains are currently circulating and how they’re spreading. But in the near future, a virus may be released that can combat several different strains. The new vaccine is based on a ‘cocktail’ of antigens and the trials so far look very promising. Not only are multiple flu strains addressed, but the study shows that the vaccine is both effective in older mice and can offer protection for as long as six months. IFL Science breaks down the study and explains what it means here.

Wireless Help for Elderly or Compromised

blood pressure monitoring device

Image via Wikipedia Commons

Having been in the tech industry for a couple of decades, I’m naturally enthusiastic about tech solutions for health-related problems. Recently, I found this article on MakeUseOf about some wireless tools that can be used by people who are infirm or have otherwise compromised health but still have the ability to remain in their own homes.

Ignore the title – “Keeping Grammy Safe” – the author was thinking of her own grandmother when she wrote the article and it’s not intended to be an implication that all grandmothers are in need of technological keepers. In fact, the number of people over the age of 60 who use computers daily has increased and continues to do so.

Among the tech listed are:

  • A bio patch for using wireless to monitor someone’s condition after a hospital stay
  • Wireless alert buttons for falls or other accidents
  • An online portal for talking to your doctor about test results or specialist referrals
  • Wireless tools for monitoring blood pressure, blood sugar, etc.

And there’s something for Alzheimer’s/dementia patient caregivers – a wireless GPS transmitter that can be placed in someone’s shoe so that if they wander off, they can be more quickly found.

Technology has the potential of providing better healthcare for all of us, though – as the market becomes more crowded with enthusiastic developers – it will pay to examine any potential tool carefully.

Earthquake Preparedness in Santa Cruz County

It’s been 26 years since the Loma Prieta earthquake, and the systems, services, and technologies that served Santa Cruz County during that time are ripe for re-examination. The Emergency Medical Care Commission, which advises our county supervisors on emergency medical care issues, has put together a subcommittee for Earthquake Emergency Preparedness. Response systems and protocols for earthquakes happening outside of our county still apply, so we will be looking at what we can do should another big earthquake hit inside Santa Cruz.

To create the strongest plan, the subcommittee will work with some assumptions about the imaginary quake. As of February, 2015, those assumptions include:

  • That roadway loss has isolated Santa Cruz County.
  • That telecommunications, including cell service and internet service do not exist.
  • That, as with the Loma Prieta quake, 60% of 911 calls for ambulance services will result in the caller having evacuated before the ambulance arrives.
  • That Santa Cruz County will not have ready access to services other than what already exist in the county.
  • That Fire will be too busy to assist in most cases.
  • That Police will be too busy to assist in most cases.

Areas we’ll be coming up with responses and systems for include:

  • Communications – how will Ambulance/Police/Fire dispatch handle medical injury calls, what will Medcom be tasked with?
  • Pre-hospital treatment
  • Triage
  • Supplies
  • Staffing
  • Service hand-off (housing, food, mental health, etc.)
  • Security for staff and resources
  • Scenario where operations are disrupted at Dominican Hospital or Watsonville
  • Managing multiple critical injuries
  • Transportation
  • How will we manage to acquire a ‘big-picture’ view of what’s happening in the County?

It’s likely that the subcommittee will begin by reviewing:

Other areas to be addressed later in the process will likely include:

  • Consumer education
  • Possible school drills

Finally, it is accepted that it would be a best practice to ensure that systems and protocols revolve around job functionality, and not specific persons.

If you have any questions or concerns you’d like to bring up regarding this subject, please email me at RobynMcIntyre at gmail dot com

When Does Mobile App Data Become Medical Data?

The EU’s privacy watchdog, The Working Party, has set guidelines for when information gathered by mobile phone/tablet applications shades into medical data.

“When conclusions are drawn about someone’s health, regardless of their reliability, these conclusions are to be treated as health data,” it said. “There has to be a demonstrable relationship between the raw data set and the capacity to determine a health aspect of a person, based on the raw data itself or on the data in combination with data from other sources.”

(Read the whole article here.)

In the U.S., the FDA issued their final guidelines on mobile medical apps in 2013, saying that they were “tailored” to support innovation without compromising patient safety and privacy.

In a press release issued in September of that year, they said they focused on medical apps that:

  • are intended to be used as an accessory to a regulated medical device – for example, an application that allows a health care professional to make a specific diagnosis by viewing a medical image from a picture archiving and communication system (PACS) on a smartphone or a mobile tablet; or
  • transform a mobile platform into a regulated medical device – for example, an application that turns a smartphone into an electrocardiography (ECG) machine to detect abnormal heart rhythms or determine if a patient is experiencing a heart attack.

The FDA said that more than 130 comments were received during the commenting period and that opinion was overwhelming in favor of the tailored approach.

“We have worked hard to strike the right balance, reviewing only the mobile apps that have the potential to harm consumers if they do not function properly,” said Shuren. “Our mobile medical app policy provides app developers with the clarity needed to support the continued development of these important products.”

(Read the FDA’s finalized guidelines here.)

As a consumer of medical services with a concern over the easy availability of ‘private’ information on the internet, I will be giving the guidelines a close reading.

The ACA’s Penalty Program for Patient Harm

Possible Contaminated Surfaces

Kaiser Health News published an article listing the 721 Hospitals penalized for patient safety. While this is interesting and probably good to know, it’s just a list. As a consumer of medical services, I would like to know which categories of Hospital Acquired Conditions these errors fell into. There’s a big difference between catching a cold in a hospital and getting bed sores. In addition, there’s no link in it to any information which might help with further data. The good news for us is that only one hospital in our county made it onto the list at all.

I went looking for more data on this subject, since it was all new to me. I found that the ACA (Affordable Care Act) has instituted three types of Medicare reimbursement penalty programs:

This is a lot of information to digest, but basically if a hospital does not score appropriately in these programs, it can be penalized a percentage of its CMS (Medicare/Medicaid) reimbursements. Since the programs are new, there isn’t enough data yet to tell whether the programs will be successful. When a retailer has an unsuccessful season or must raise its overhead, the losses end up getting passed to the consumer in the form of higher prices in order to keep the profit margins the same. Will hospitals do the same?

This Shot’s for You!

appointment for flu shot

You may have heard that this year’s flu shot is “not effective.” That is wrong. Here’s why (via CNN):

In February, a panel of experts decided on 3 strains of the virus to include in this year’s vaccine, based on data about the common strains circulating around the globe throughout the year. Some years the vaccine is a better match to the circulating strains than others.

It’s too late to create another version of the flu vaccine this year, Frieden said, because even with modern production technology, it typically takes about four months to produce the vaccine.

While this year’s version is not as protective against a mutated strain, it can still decrease the severity of illness caused by the virus. It can also protect against other circulating strains of the virus, which is why the CDC still recommends getting the vaccine.

If you haven’t gotten your flu shot, get it. The flu is already going around and you don’t want it!

 

NOTE:

This post was written on New Year’s Eve – please spare a thought tonight for our First Responders – don’t drink and drive! They will have their hands full as it is and you don’t need to be one of their customers!

The New Yorker: The Holly and the I.V.

graph of emergency room visits related to Christmas decorations

The New Yorker has a great article on how getting jolly for the holidays can land you in the E.R. As you might guess, chair and ladder injuries top the list, but there are the interesting outliers like damage done by holding lights or ornaments in your mouth while decorating. According to author, Professor Ben Wellington, the E.R. is busiest between December 4th and December 7th, which may correspond to the most popular decorating days. Another bump between New Year’s Day and January 5th may correspond to the days the decorations are removed.

Traveling for the holidays has its pitfalls, but being home for the holidays is no guarantee of safety – particularly if you decorate for it.

 

Cardiac Risk in Young Athletes

 

Terrifying (and hopefully motivating) Public Service Announcement for a program of cardiac testing in children in the UK.

In Santa Cruz County, there are now defibrillators in our high schools, thanks to the efforts of the “Save a Student” program initiated by Harbor High coach Pat Ryan. Save a Student received forward momentum from County Paramedics headed by Scott Vahradian and Scotts Valley Fire District paramedic Greg Vandervoort. This program was started in 2013 and you can read about it here.

But knowing help is available if your child should have a cardiac event at school is not as good as knowing beforehand that there may be a problem.

Have your kids tested.

MSF to Start West Africa Clinical Trials

Image from BBC News

 

“An exceptional measure in exceptional circumstances.”

The BBC News reports that Medicins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) will begin three separate research projects at three different ebola treatment centers.

The first project will involve using the blood of recovered ebola patients to treat the ill. The second and third locations will each use a different antiviral drug.

For more information: BBC World News, Africa