Thursday, January 26, 2017

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Welcome to Morning Rounds, where I get you ahead of the day's top stories in health and medicine.

If you're interested in hospitals and health care delivery, check out our newsletter On Call. Or, if you're looking to keep up specifically on the slew health and science changes in the new administration, sign up for our Trump in 30 Seconds newsletter. 

Doctors can't agree on disability claims

About half of all disability claims around the world are rejected based on independent medical evaluations — but the outcomes of those evaluations largely depend on the doctor doing them, according to a new analysis. The review, published in the BMJ, finds that doctors frequently disagree on which patients should qualify for assistance due to disability. Disability benefits can help individuals who can’t work at full capacity because of an accident or serious illness. What’s causing the disparate evaluations? A lack of medical standards to guide doctors through the evaluation process, the study’s authors say. They’d like to see a global toolset developed to streamline how clinicians assess an individual’s ability to work amid medical issues. 

HHS sinks its teeth into alleged fraud by former dentist

A rogue former dentist has been dealt one of the lengthiest penalty periods ever given by HHS’s inspection office. Roben Brookhim allegedly owned and operated a dental practice with several locations in New Jersey between 2005 and 2012, despite having lost his own dental license in 2004. He’s alleged to have pulled it off by posing as another dentist — even after that dentist had died. Brookhim was given a 50-year exclusion — a ban on being paid by any federal health care program — which HHS officials say is one of the longest ever imposed. He’s also on the hook for a $1.1 million fine.

Knit one, purl two for better prosthetics

Macgyver takes up knitting on the side. (Thor Balkhed/Linköping University)

Scientists are knitting their way to better, less bulky prosthetics and exoskeletons. The first step: Cover knitted and woven fabrics with a polymer that can conduct electricity. The researchers then fashioned this electric sweater, of sorts, onto a Lego arm. Both knitted and woven fabrics were able to respond to electrical stimulation and pick up the arm along with a 2 gram weight. The knitted fabric had better mobility but wasn't able to exert as much force as the woven fabric. Going forward, the scientists are hopeful the knitted goods could be used to create soft wearables that can help humans with muscle or movement disorders to move.

Sponsor content by Destination Medical Center

Destination Medical Center is building America’s City for Health in Rochester, MN

In the middle of innovation, medicine, growth, and so much more, Destination Medical Center (DMC) is transforming Rochester, MN. DMC is a 20-year, $5.6 billion economic development plan set to bring talent, jobs, and investments to America’s City for Health. Together, DMC and Mayo Clinic are accelerating new advancements in life science research, medical technology, patient care, and education. DMC creates the opportunity for entrepreneurs and established businesses to be part of something big. Learn more.

Inside STAT: Herpes data skewed by false positives

Some patients who’ve been diagnosed with herpes, a lifelong infection, find out just months later they don’t actually have the disease. Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease that’s most commonly caused by herpes simplex virus type 2. Blood tests for the condition can be highly unreliable — one type, an IgM test, has been rejected by the CDC but is still used by some doctors. The CDC also says that another widely available herpes test, called HerpeSelect, shouldn’t be used to screen people without symptoms because it runs a high risk of delivering a false positive. Because there isn’t any data on screening rates, it’s not clear how many patients might be living with an incorrect herpes diagnosis. STAT contributor Lindzi Wessel has more here.

Cities haul drug companies to court over opioid crisis

US cities are increasingly hauling drug makers into court to seek damages for drugs that have torn apart their communities. Everett, Wash., has sued Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin. Officials allege the company pushed pills onto a black market through drug rings and pill mills. "Their drive for profit caused this epidemic," Mayor Ray Stephanson told STAT's Ed Silverman earlier this week. "We are taking a stand." Similar lawsuits have popped up in Chicago and in two California counties in recent years. And last week in Huntington, W.V., city officials filed a suit against three distributors who shipped more than 420 million pain pills to the state between 2007 and 2012. West Virginia currently has the highest drug death rate in the US. 

Doctors weigh in on Obamacare repeal

Just 15 percent of primary care docs in the US say they’d like to see the ACA totally repealed, according to a new survey of primary care physicians published in the New England Journal of Medicine. More than 95 percent said the provision barring insurers from denying coverage or charging higher prices for care based on pre-existing conditions was important for improving public health. Another 88 percent said they support letting young adults stay on their parents’ plans until age 26. 

And some scientists are making their voices heard about the new administration in a more visible way. A Facebook group to coordinate a "science march" on Washington has already amassed over 220,000 members. More on that here

How age factors into colon cancer treatment, survival

Young colon cancer patients are much more likely to receive chemotherapy than older patients, but a new study suggests that doesn't translate to better survival rates. Researchers ran an analysis of colon cancer patients between ages 18 and 75 to see how age might’ve shaped their treatment and outcomes. Young and middle-aged patients — between ages 18 and 64 — were between two and eight times more likely to receive chemo after surgery than older patients. But there wasn’t any difference in survival rates between those two groups, suggesting some of those younger patients are likely being overtreated. The authors say they’d like to see more research into how various colon cancer treatment options affect prognosis in younger patients.

What to read around the web today

  • Blame technology, not longer life spans, for health spending increases. New York Times
  • At least 80 sick in massive mumps outbreak in Washington. ABC
  • Mary Tyler Moore, advocate and role model for type 1 diabetes patients. USA Today

More reads from STAT

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,


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