Wednesday, November 2, 2016

On Call by Casey Ross

Good morning!  Welcome to another big day in hospital and health care news. Here's what you need to know. For more coverage, follow us @statnews on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

Just in: Putting money into the medical school curriculum

Money matters in medicine.

And now, in a seismic shift in US medical education, students will begin to learn that.

The American Medical Association is launching a new textbook that adds a third pillar to the current curriculum of basic and clinical sciences: How to make sure health care is cost-effective and valuable to patients.

That sounds simplistic, but medical education has not significantly changed in the past 100 years, and students are graduating without knowing how to function in a system that pays them based on patient outcomes.

“Physicians now and in the future need to be ready to handle the business side of health care, in addition to knowing how to diagnose and treat patients,” said Dr. Susan Skochelak, vice president for medical education at the AMA.

AMA's “Health Systems Science” textbook will be available in December. In addition to money and business, it focuses on social determinants of health, as well as electronic records, patient safety, and teamwork, among other topics.

Another shift at American medical schools?

Women applying in record numbers. The number of female applicants rose 6.2 percent last year, to 10,474, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. That’s the largest increase in a decade, and it happened in a year where applications increased overall.

The rise in applications is great news, AAMC says, because of our aging population and the shortage of doctors. 

A call to fight cancer’s crushing debt burden

Cancer doesn’t just attach to cells in your body. It also attacks your bank account.

At least a third of its survivors exhaust their savings to pay medical expenses, according to the National Cancer Institute. And the many patients forced to declare bankruptcy have significantly higher mortality rates than those who remain solvent.

In a STAT First Opinion today, Drs. Scott Ramsey and Veena Shankaran argue that any effective cure for cancer will have to also target its financial side effects. They offer up a number of possible solutions, including a government insurance program that would provide a safety net for those most likely to fall into financial hardship.

Read more.

Sponsor content by U.S. news

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U.S. News & World Report brings its legacy of healthcare reporting, analysis, and industry insights to life in this annual leadership forum. Healthcare of Tomorrow unites a community of forward-thinking executives to exchange ideas, share best practices, and set new standards for patient care. The fourth annual event will be held in Washington, D.C., from November 2-4, 2016. STAT readers can use code STAT50 for a 50% discount to the conference. For more information and to register, visit


New research: Americans still think the solution to obesity is willpower

Most Americans will tell you fighting obesity is simple: Eat salad and go running.

In fact, a new survey by the University of Chicago and American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery indicates 78 percent of Americans think diet and exercise is the most effective treatment for obesity; it found only 1 out of 3 people with obesity has even spoken to a doctor about their weight.

The survey suggests most people are still giving short shrift to medical interventions, such as medication and bariatric surgery. That might seem a self-serving finding for bariatric surgeons, but it also points to a huge gap between how patients and their doctors think about obesity.

Dr. John Morton, chief of bariatric and minimally invasive surgery at Stanford University and ASMBS immediate past president, said it shows misconceptions about obesity are as common as the disease itself, which presents a huge barrier to treatment.

“We have to get people, and even the medical community, to go beyond ‘eat less and exercise more,’” he said. “That’s too simple an answer for a complex disease like obesity.” 

Zag of the day: Competing for patients on cancer’s cutting edge

Immunotherapy scientists are hot on cancer’s trail, but the research pipeline can face surprising bottlenecks when it comes to things like having enough specialized treatment suites to properly monitor clinical trial patients.

That’s a problem the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, aka Fred Hutch, is targeting with the formation of a $7.2 million, 9,000 square foot immunotherapy clinic, named after the Bezos family of fame. STAT’s Bob Tedeschi reports that it will double to 200 the number of immunotherapy trial participants it can serve annually.

Fred Hutch performs cellular immunotherapy mostly on blood cancers, where patients are infused with their own T-cells engineered to battle malignancies. Scientists will also be able to study lung and breast cancer at the new clinic, said its medical director, Dr. David Maloney. 

Dr. Gary Gilliland, Fred Hutch's president told Tedeschi, “There’s real-time urgency with this. People are dying of these diseases while we’re talking, so we’re really trying to move as quickly as we can.”


Correction: Monday’s newsletter incorrectly referred to end-of-life orders by the acronym MOLST; in fact, the study we were discussing looked only at POLST forms, or physician orders for life-sustaining treatment.

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