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October 26, 2007
By Liz Kowalczyk, Globe Staff
The Partnership for Healthcare Excellence, a new nonprofit organization funded by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Massachusetts, launched a public education campaign this week to encourage patients to ask doctors and hospitals more questions about their treatment and about safety practices.
Newspaper advertisements and a website www.partnershipforhealthcare.org currently focus on medication safely, preparing for surgery and for a safe stay in the hospital, and on choosing doctors and preparing for visits. The website tells patients how to research a doctor's background, and how to ask surgeons questions about their experience.
“The Partnership believes that consumers need and deserve a stronger voice when it comes to improving the quality of their health care,” said Jim Conway, chairman of the Partnership and senior vice president at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, an organization in Cambridge that consults with hospitals.
Posted by Karen Weintraub at 12:16 PM
October 26, 2007
Despite more than a decade of efforts by hospitals and regulators to prevent such surgical errors, they remain a persistent problem. Hospitals reported 36 instances when doctors performed the wrong procedure or operated on the wrong site or wrong patient between January 2005 and last month, according to documents the Globe requested from the state Department of Public Health.
Red Sox Nation (including Gary Yessayan, left, who catnapped at North Station yesterday after working at Fenway Park) may be losing more than just sleep over the World Series. More studies are showing that lack of sleep can wreak harm in all kinds of ways, from increasing the risk of car accidents to lowering defenses against illness.
For the third year running, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care was named the best health insurance company in the country, according to rankings compiled by the respected nonprofit National Committee for Quality Assurance for US News and World Report magazine.
James D. Watson, the eminent biologist who ignited an uproar last week with remarks about the intelligence of people of African descent, retired yesterday as chancellor of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island and from its board.
In a deepening conflict with the White House, Democrats pushed a revised children's health bill through the House yesterday but lacked the votes to overcome a threatened second-straight veto by President Bush.
New York City's medical examiner concluded that the misuse of pills, not the dust of ground zero, caused the lung disease that killed a man who became an example of post-Sept. 11 illness, the examiner's spokeswoman confirmed yesterday.
Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:58 AM
October 25, 2007
As toys continue to be recalled for their high levels of lead paint -- including one announced by Mattel Thursday -- the City of Boston is promoting its lead poisoning prevention campaign with an event next month.
A daylong Lead Safe Awareness Resource Fair will highlight the city's home-deleading programs and also test toys for lead. The event will begin at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 3, at the First Parish Church, 10 Parish Street, Dorchester.
The fair is part of an effort by the Boston 2010 Project to eliminate lead poisoning that also includes billboards left), mailings to property owners, and outreach to churches and community organizations.
Cases of childhood lead poisoning in Boston have fallen from 1,300 in 2000 to 460 last year, according to city figures. The neighborhoods with the most cases are Dorchester, Roxbury, Mattapan and Hyde Park. Lead paint use was banned in the United States in 1978, but older homes may still contain lead paint whose flakes children can breathe or eat, causing potential mental and physical problems.
For more information about deleading homes, call (617) 635-4663. To register for the fair, call (617) 279-2289, ext. 513.
Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 03:49 PM
October 25, 2007
Brigham and Women’s Hospital has won federal funding to study how health information technology can help medications be used more safely.
The Boston hospital is one of four new Centers for Education and Research on Therapeutics named today by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. It will receive $4 million over four years.
Six previously funded research centers won renewals, including Harvard Pilgrim Health Care.
Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 02:06 PM
October 25, 2007
The Lahey Clinic Medical Center, North Shore, broke ground yesterday for a $50 million expansion in Peabody.
A new three-story wing will add 63,500 square feet to the current 162,000 square-foot space off Route 128. Its cancer center, orthopedic surgery and emergency departments will be enlarged and sleep disorders, spine and pain units will be added. About 25 doctors and 125 nurses, technical and clerical workers will be hired. The project is expected to be completed in spring of 2009.
Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 10:52 AM
October 25, 2007
Boston City Council President Maureen Feeney is expected to meet today with Senate President Therese Murray, and tomorrow will convene a larger group of elected officials to explore ways to shore up the Archdiocese of Boston's Caritas Carney Hospital (left), the 144-year-old Dorchester institution facing enormous financial pressures.
In a show of support for an impending campaign by the Service Employees International Union to organize workers at the Boston's teaching hospitals, city councillors voted 10-0 in favor of a resolution calling for hospital executives to sign "free and fair election agreements."
Children as young as 2 can be given a nasal spray flu vaccine, a federal advisory panel said yesterday.
The chairman of the Senate committee addressing climate change criticized the White House yesterday for editing testimony from a government specialist about the health effects of global warming.
Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:50 AM
October 24, 2007
By Stephen Smith, Globe Staff
About two dozen representatives from state and federal governments are in Cambridge this week as part of a fledgling campaign to improve collaboration among stem-cell scientists by identifying barriers to sharing research material across state lines.
As the pace of stem-cell research hastens, a patchwork of regulations has sprung up. What's legal in one state might not be in another, and scientists have expressed concern that differences in laws could impede research and potentially put researchers in legal jeopardy.
The Interstate Alliance for Stem Cell Research first met in March, and the gathering at the British consulate in Cambridge marks the third session, said Warren Wollschlager, chief of the Office of Research and Development in Connecticut's Department of Public Health.
Nine states that are hotspots of stem-cell research belong to the alliance: California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin. The British and Canadian governments are also members, as well as the International Society for Stem Cell Research, an independent scientific group established to foster the exchange of information on stem cells.
States differ in their interpretation of what constitutes a legal line of stem cells. In some states, such as New York, scientists hunting for treatments for a disease can produce embryos using sperm and eggs donated by families stricken with the ailment. The resulting stem cells can then be used to understand a disease and to look for treatments. But in Massachusetts, state law does not allow the production of embryos for the express purpose of scientific exploration.
Earlier this month, though, public health regulators in Massachusetts adopted a rule that allows scientists here to accept stem-cell lines from elsewhere, even if they were produced in states with less restrictive laws.
Wollschlager said the interstate consortium wants to assure that no matter where researchers do their work, they can benefit from material developed by colleagues elsewhere.
"If we have new lines being derived at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., we want to make sure they can be used in other states," Wollschlager said.
To that end, one of the alliance's first steps is compiling the laws in different states and analyzing their implications on research. Wollschlager said the consortium is not endeavoring to create "a cookbook for all the states to follow," but to instead share information with states about what regulations worked well and what didn't.
Posted by Karen Weintraub at 07:09 PM
October 24, 2007
Doctors aren’t the only ones who can become paralyzed by guilt, fear and isolation after medical errors occur.
Patients and families also struggle with these emotions, Dr. Tom Delbanco and Dr. Sigall K. Bell discovered when they made a documentary about the impact of medical errors. They write about the parallel experiences in tomorrow’s New England Journal of Medicine.
“I had no idea, frankly, and I’ve been a primary care provider for 36 years,” Delbanco said in an interview. He and Bell are both from Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. “It had never entered my mind that family members could feel the same kind of guilt that we as doctors feel. It had never entered my mind they would say, ‘If only I’d been more assertive with the doctor before this happened’ or ‘If only I’d listened to my instincts.’ ”
Another surprise, Delbanco said, was how reluctant people are to speak up, afraid that they will get worse care, particularly if they are from disadvantaged immigrant groups.
Doctors don’t talk for three different reasons, he said.
“We tend to run away from people we hurt rather than get close to them, we just plain don’t know what to say, and we’ve been told by lawyers to keep our mouths shut and that someone will take care of this,” he said. “We drift away rather than reach out to the people who need us.”
Building bridges to injured patients would be a first step, after the taboo of mentioning mistakes is dispelled, the authors write. They also suggest teaching healthcare providers about preventing errors and how to respond when they do happen. Their 2006 documentary has been shown to third-year medical students at Harvard.
"Everyone involved needs an organized structure that restores communication and supports emotional needs," they write. "The yield from working in partnership could be enormous, both improving people's experience with medical errors and preventing harm from occurring in the future."
Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 05:16 PM
October 24, 2007
For those of you who will be keeping score at home tonight, and especially you lucky ones who will be in the boxes or bleachers, McLean Hospital sports psychologist Dr. Jeff Brown has some advice for you to combat stress:
Stay in the moment
Control only the factors that you can control
Respect the Opponent; if they aren’t good, neither are you
Release emotion in healthy ways
Expect your team to compete again.
Back in 2004, when the Red Sox were clawing their way back against the Yankees and into the World Series, Brown developed a plan to help fans keep their equilibrium during that post-season roller-coaster ride. The Rockies aren’t exactly ancient rivals, but that doesn’t mean our stress is any less, he said in an interview.
“It’s easy to start thinking in a negative way,” he said, even without an 86-year-old curse. There’s that Colorado winning streak, for starters.
Fans can borrow some principles from cognitive behavioral theory to manage their anxiety, he said. Focus on the moment, pitch by pitch and swing by swing. While we really can’t do much about bad calls by the umpires or poor choices by managers -- or anything on the field -- we can do something about our own emotions.
“If you can’t deal with the game, get up and take a walk,” he said.
If the Rockies take the first one tonight, what’s a fan to do?
“All we can do is remember with the Red Sox, it ain’t over til it’s over,” he said.
Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 04:42 PM
October 24, 2007
Short White Coat is a blog written by second-year Harvard medical student Ishani Ganguli. Ishani's posts appear here, as part of White Coat Notes. E-mail Ishani at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We finished neuro (-science, -biology, -anatomy) on Friday, and though completing a three-hour, hand-numbing final exam is always cause for celebration, I'm a bit sad to see this course go. Perhaps from their intimate understanding of the human brain, or else from pure chance, our neurology professors were particularly adept at tailoring material to fit into our brains.
There was something for every learning style -- hands-on brain dissections, neatly structured case-based tutorial sessions designed to track with our increasing skill sets, and as professor David Cardozo would proudly remind us on a regular basis, numbered slides to minimize frantic shuffling through lecture notes and put our minds at ease. Cardozo -- a veteran of this course who will soon be named associate dean for graduate education, would also bring his dog Chase to lecture on occasion to keep us on our toes. Above all, there was the frequent reality check about the amount of information from this course that we'd actually retain in our careers.
One review lecture by our other course director, Bernard Chang, even went through each subsection of the nervous system with the neuroanatomist's view we had learned but would soon lose, the more simplistic but informative neurologist's view, and the general clinician's depth of neural knowledge. I watched as the slides featured successively fewer lines and silently appreciated the practical approach so often missing in our courses.
On Thursday, we finished off the class with a slideshow featuring the interesting places we'd taken our summer neuro-anatomy reading (my photo was in the White House press room). It had been a much-needed incentive to cart this reading around in the first place.
And once it was all over -- on Friday night -- we killed some brain cells to celebrate.
Posted by Gideon Gil at 04:18 PM
October 24, 2007
A Boston group is sharing genetic information from families affected by autism with other researchers to promote understanding of the developmental disorder.
The Autism Consortium, whose members include hospitals, medical schools and universities in the Boston area, will transfer profiles of 500,000 genetic variations found across the genomes of 700 families with two or more children who have autism. The data will be held by the Autism Genetic Resource Exchange, a program of the advocacy organization Autism Speaks. Scientists can apply to the exchange, which gathered DNA from the families. The samples have been scanned for sequences where there are deletions or extra copies of DNA segments. The consortium is sharing the genetic variations it found.
"We returned all of the raw data to AGRE so they can distribute it to any other investigtors who want to begin exploring what may be the genetic underpinnings of autism," Mark Daly, a consortium member from Massachusetts General Hospital and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, said in an interview. "Understanding the genetics underlying a complex disease is not an easy problem to solve. So there's no excuse for hoarding your data when much more can be learned by sharing."
Only a small percentage of autism arises from a recognizable genetic cause, such as Fragile X syndrome, Daly said. Recent research suggests that some families with autism might have higher rates of genomic abnormalities, but very few of these abnormalities have been conclusively identified.
"There's very strong heritability to autism but very little of the heritability has been explained by specific mutations of specific genes," he said. "What we hope is that this data is a starting point. We need to perform collaborative research in the spirit of the Human Genome Project to deliver on the trust the public has placed in us."
Members of the Autism Consortium are Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston Medical Center, Boston University, Boston University School of Medicine, the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Cambridge Health Alliance, Children’s Hospital Boston, Harvard University, Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, McLean Hospital and Tufts-New England Medical Center.
Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 11:37 AM
October 24, 2007
Two compounds in fish oil will be tested as treatments for depression by researchers in Boston and Los Angeles.
Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles are recruiting volunteers for a randomized clinical trial that will compare two omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA, against each other and against inactive pills in 300 adults who have major depression, the hospitals said. To be eligible, participants must not be taking anti-depressant medications, principal investigator Dr. David Mischoulon of Mass. General said in an e-mail interview.
Previous studies have suggested that the fatty acids, which are found in salmon, mackerel and tuna, might help reverse depression by affecting brain processes involved in regulating mood. The compounds have not been systematically tested before.
In this five-year trial, participants and researchers will not know who is taking an omega-3 supplement and who is not. People will be enrolled in the trial for eight weeks, after which they will be eligible for three months of free follow-up care from a physician in the study.
To learn more about the study, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health, call Mass. General’s Depression Clinical and Research Program at (877) 552-5837 or Cedars-Sinai at (888) 233-2773.
Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 11:28 AM
October 24, 2007
Caritas Christi Health System Inc., the troubled hospital chain owned by the Archdiocese of Boston, is considering closing or selling 144-year-old Caritas Carney Hospital in Dorchester because its performance is predicted to fall about $7 million short of expectations this year, according to an internal document obtained by the Globe.
They sing their ABCs and play with an energy that is almost exhausting to watch. It's hard to believe that 6-year-olds Ahmed and Mohamed Ibrahim (left, with Ray Tye) were once conjoined twins, confined to a bed and condemned to die. A 34-hour surgery saved their lives four years ago. Yesterday, the boys got to meet Eileen and Ray Tye, the couple who run the Braintree-based foundation that gave them another chance.
Massachusetts health insurers are promoting a new type of Medicare coverage for seniors in 2008 that potentially offers better coverage than traditional government-sponsored Medicare. The new plans, called private fee-for-service, also raise questions about the long-term direction of Medicare because they cost more than traditional coverage but are not held to higher quality and efficiency standards.
Teenagers who smoke are five times more likely to drink and 13 times more likely to use marijuana, according to a report issued yesterday.
The White House significantly edited congressional testimony given yesterday by the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the impact of climate change on health, removing specific scientific references to potential risks, according to two sources familiar with the documents.
Thirty years ago, Spencer N. Frankl (left) became the second dean of Boston University's School of Dental Medicine and set about making a good thing better. Dr. Frankl, a pediatric dentist who helped generations of children learn that a visit to the dentist was nothing to fear, died Saturday at his Brookline home. He was 73 and had been diagnosed with a brain tumor about a year ago.
Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 07:02 AM
October 23, 2007
Just as weary but exhilarated Red Sox fans head into the World Series on two days' rest, the New York Times devotes its Science section to the subject of sleep.
“To do science you have to have an idea, and for years no one had one; they saw sleep as nothing but an annihilation of consciousness,” Dr. J. Allan Hobson, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard, told the Times. “Now we know different, and we’ve got some very good ideas about what’s going on."
Boston researchers are prominent in the story, beginning with cognitive neuroscientist Robert Stickgold of Harvard and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. He and postdoctoral student Matthew Tucker are studying the effect of naps on memorized words. Matthew Wilson of MIT is investigating what happens to mice cells when they record memories. Subimal Datta of Boston University School of Medicine is looking at the chemicals that bathe the brain while we sleep.
“During waking we have a thousand things happening at once, the library is filling up, and we can’t possibly process it all,” Datta says in the Times story. “It’s during sleep that we have this special condition to clear away this overload."
Something to sleep on before tomorrow night's Game 1.
Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 10:34 AM
October 23, 2007
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is inspecting a nuclear reactor facility at Massachusetts Institute of Technology after the facility reported a high radiation reading for a worker, officials said yesterday.
Drunks swimming in gin, smokers in body bags, and dopers living with their parents deep into adulthood. Those are among the public service ads shown in the past. But the government's new batch of obesity spots declines even to show a fat person, let alone wag a finger for gluttony or sloth.
Genzyme Corp. won clearance from US regulators to market Renvela, a medicine for patients on kidney dialysis. The drug was approved by the Food and Drug Administration to reduce excess buildup of phosphorus in the body, Genzyme said yesterday
Dr. G. Tom Shires (left), a leading surgeon and expert on trauma who carried out path-breaking research, helped create the largest burn center in New York City, and trained two generations of surgical leaders, died Thursday in Henderson, Nev. He was 81. He was chief of surgery at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, when President John F. Kennedy was taken there after being shot by Lee Harvey Oswald on Nov. 22, 1963. Although efforts to save Kennedy were futile, Dr. Shires successfully operated on Governor John B. Connally Jr. of Texas, who was wounded in the shooting.
Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:56 AM
October 22, 2007
David H. Koch, an MIT alum and prostate cancer survivor who earlier this month pledged $100 million to build a new cancer research center at MIT, will donate $5 million to the Prostate Cancer Foundation for an initiative using nanotechnology. Four research institutions will collaborate on ways to use the technique, in which tiny particles are designed to attack tumors but spare normal cells, according to the foundation. Dr. Omid Farokhzad of Brigham and Women's Hospital is the principal investigator, Robert Langer of MIT will lead engineering and manufacturing for the project, Dr. Philip Kantoff of the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center Prostate Cancer Program will head clinical research, and Dr. Neil Bander, an antibody expert, will direct a group from the Weill Cornell Medical College.
Dr. Jonathan Winickoff of the MassGeneral Hospital for Children has won a $4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to conduct a trial to help protect children from second-hand smoke by encouraging their parents to quit smoking. The study is based on a pilot program that targeted parents in their children's pediatrician's office. Fifty pediatric practices are being recruited through the American Academy of Pediatrics' Pediatric Research in Office Settings network.
Dr. Jeffrey Flier, dean of Harvard Medical School, and Lita Nelsen, director of MIT's Technology Licensing Office, have been named 2007 Biomedical Research Leaders by the Massachusetts Society for Medical Research. Flier was honored for his commitment to diabetes and obesity research and medical education, according to the nonprofit society, whose members include universities, hospitals, research institutes, and biotech and pharmaceutical companies. Nelsen was recognized for managing 500 new inventions per year from MIT, the Whitehead Institute and Lincoln Laboratory.
Dr. Joseph Vacanti, chief of surgery at the MassGeneral Hospital for Children, has won the 2007 John Scott Award for his work in tissue engineering. Since 1834, the awards, administered by a board acting for the city of Philadelphia, have recognized inventions that contribute to mankind's "comfort, welfare and happiness," according to the board. Vacanti's work combines engineering and biology to develop substitutes to help tissue or organs function. He shares this year's prize with Dr. Albert J. Stunkard of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, who is being honored for his work to understand and treat eating disorders.
Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 05:50 PM
October 22, 2007
State and town officials plan to roll up their sleeves tomorrow to get a flu shot, part of a campaign to promote prevention in a year when more flu vaccine is available than ever before.
Massachusetts Department of Public Health Commissioner John Auerbach, Secretary of Elder Affairs Michael Festa, and Brookline Health Director Alan Balsam will receive their flu shots at 10 a.m. tomorrow at the Brookline Senior Center.
According to the state health department, there are 132 million doses of flu vaccine available in the United States for this winter's flu season, more than in past years. Massachusetts has bought 700,000 doses.
Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 02:20 PM
October 22, 2007
For decades, the yearly physical for adults has stood as an iconic fixture on the healthcare landscape, right next to tongue depressors and stethoscopes. But researchers and some health plans increasingly voice deep skepticism about the value of scheduling a separate annual exam for a healthy person.
MIT's McGovern Institute for Brain Research will announce today that it has received $20 million to help crack the biological basis of serious mental illness.
Teruo Fujii and his colleagues believe their "womb-on-a-chip" is superior to growing embryos in the static environment of a Petri dish, the way in-vitro fertilization clinics now prepare embryos for implantation into a mother's womb. Eventually, they hope it will lead to better outcomes for infertile women.
Deirdre Leigh Barrett (left) has one piece of advice for people struggling with their weight: Don't listen to your instincts. Humans are hard-wired to prefer the kinds of foods that were scarce on the savannas where we evolved, says Barrett, 53, a psychologist with Cambridge Health Alliance. But now that those foods are readily available, if we listen to our instincts, we'll all be obese.
Also in Health|Science, do emotions affect cancer patients' rate of survival and how can clear liquid products make your hair color darker?
Dr. W. Jack Mitus (left) survived the Nazi invasion of Poland, jumped out of airplanes to fight the Axis powers, and taught generations of Tufts University medical students how to be good doctors. His family liked to call him "Super Jack." Dr. Mitus died at his home in Brookline on Sept. 20 after a brief illness. It was his 55th wedding anniversary, and he died with his wife, Anna, by his side. He was 87.
Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:53 AM
October 22, 2007
For several days, Mass. General allowed a reporter and photographer access to the hospital's triage operations, an attempt to shed light on one of the vexing problems of US healthcare - why so many patients are trapped in the emergency room for hours, so close to a hospital bed, yet unable to get one - and how the hospital, with some success, is tackling the problem. Liz Kowalczyk reports in Sunday's Globe.
The 85 members of the Winchester High School football team endured a different kind of exercise this week: A trainer checked them for the pimples, bumps, and boils that can be the harbinger of methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, a dangerous bacterial infection, Stephen Smith writes in Saturday's Globe.
Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:49 AM