Monday, August 31, 2009

Many Poorly Performing Hospitals Near Popular Vacation Spots

"A USA TODAY analysis finds two dozen hospitals near popular travel destinations, as compiled by the National Travel Monitor, have death rates among the worst in the USA. A separate analysis shows that one of every four hospitals with high death rates for heart attack, heart failure or pneumonia — 94 of 402 — are near state parks." Read more.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Doc Accused of Hastening Deaths During Katrina Now an Advocate for Physician Immunity

The New York Times magazine has an article on the controversial case at Memorial Medical Center in Uptown New Orleans in which Dr. Anna Pou was accused of having "hastened the deaths of some patients by injecting them with lethal doses of drugs" during Hurricane Katrina. After a New Orleans grand jury "declined to indict her on second-degree murder charges," she became an advocate, helping to "write and pass three laws in Louisiana that offer immunity to healthcare professionals from most civil lawsuits...for their work in future disasters." She also advises national and state medical organizations "on disaster preparedness and legal reform" and "argues for changing the standards of medical care in emergencies. She has said that informed consent is impossible during disasters."

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Millions of Window Blinds Recalled After Kids' Deaths

The AP reported, "Six companies are recalling millions of window blinds and shades, following the deaths of three children who got caught in cords that help the coverings move up and down. The recalls, announced Wednesday by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, involve some big-name companies, including Pottery Barn Kids and IKEA as well as smaller companies that sold their window covers at retailers such as Target." CPSC "says the three deaths, which date back to 2006, involved blinds or shades made or imported by Vertical Land Inc., of Panama City Beach, Fla., and Lewis Hyman Inc., in Carson., Calif."

CNN reported, "'Any exposed loop in a window covering can become a noose for a child,' said CPSC spokesman Scott Wolfson. 'We're concerned about the inadequacy of current standards for shades and blinds.'"

Study: Medical Imaging Exposes Millions to High Radiation

The New York Times reports, "At least four million Americans under age 65 are exposed to high doses of radiation each year from medical imaging tests," according to a study appearing in the New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers also found that an estimated "400,000 of those patients receive very high doses, more than the maximum annual exposure allowed for nuclear power plant employees or anyone else who works with radioactive material."

The AP reports that "researchers found about 20 percent were exposed to moderate radiation doses and two percent were exposed to high levels." The work "did not directly address whether medical imaging is being overused, but some doctors are concerned that advanced tests like CT scans are being over-prescribed, and that evidence of their value in certain situations is lacking."

Monday, August 24, 2009

Atrazine Weed Killer May be More Dangerous Than Previously Thought

The New York Times reported, "For decades, farmers, lawn care workers, and professional green thumbs have relied on the popular weed killer atrazine to protect their crops, golf courses, and manicured lawns." The chemical often washes into water supplies and has become among the most common contaminants in American reservoirs and other sources of drinking water." However, recently released research indicates that atrazine "may be dangerous at lower concentrations than previously thought," suggesting that the chemical "may be associated with birth defects, low birth weights, and menstrual problems." And while officials at the Environmental Protection Agency say Americans are not exposed to unsafe levels of atrazine," some scientists and health advocates "argue that the recent studies offer enough concerns that the government should begin re-examining its regulations. They also say that local water systems -- which have primary responsibility for the safety of drinking water -- should be forced to monitor atrazine more frequently, in order to detect short-term increases and warn people when they occur."

911 Abuse Wastes Millions

CNN/Money reports that chronic abuse of the 911 system is overwhelming healthcare resources and "wasting what could add up to billions of dollars every year, paid ultimately through higher taxes and medical fees." They found that "People struggling with headaches, toothaches, and even feelings of loneliness are calling 911 -- often several times a day." Read more.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Study: Mercury in Fish, Contamination Widespread

A new federal study released Wednesday found evidence of mercury contamination in every fish tested at nearly 300 streams across the country, "a finding that underscores how widespread mercury pollution has become. . . .Mercury can damage the nervous system and cause learning disabilities in developing fetuses and young children. " Read more.

Vegas Lawyers, Doctors, Accused of Massive Fraud

This story will make you sick. Fortune reported, "Prosecutors charge that a group of top Las Vegas plaintiffs lawyers and doctors, with the 64-year-old [Howard] Awand at its center, conspired in an audacious fraud. ... Unwitting accident victims were recruited as plaintiffs and then persuaded to undergo serious, sometimes needless, surgeries. The procedures, in turn, helped inflate the size of personal-injury claims. The result was multimillion-dollar insurance settlements, even for dubious cases, and lucrative fees for the doctors, the lawyers, and, of course, Howard Awand." According to government evidence, "the group coordinated their testimony as expert witnesses, lied under oath, protected one another from malpractice lawsuits -- even after the surgeries left a few patients paralyzed -- and ate away at the plaintiffs' settlement money with kickbacks disguised as contingency fees."

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Cellular Calls Cause 911 Havoc

USA Today reports that "For the millions of Americans giving up their land lines in favor of cellphones, dialing 911 may no longer mean a quick response. It can lead to misrouted calls, delayed information about the location of the caller and, most important, a slower emergency response." Read more.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Consumers Should Demand Accounting of Medical Errors

The Houston Chronicle editorialized that a recent "Hearst special investigative series" indicates that "preventable medical injuries kill an estimated 200,000 Americans" annually. The Chronicle suggests that in order to prevent these deaths "on a national level, we need to know exactly what they are and where they occur. Death certificates often fail to mention medical error as a contributing cause of a patient's death." The Chronicle urged consumers to "demand that the $19 billion earmarked for electronic medical records buy us better public accounting of accidents." At the same time, it suggests consumers who have a choice among hospitals for their next surgical procedure should ask: "What's the hospital's rate of errors and infections?" The Chronicle suggests that consumers "report medical errors that affect your family to the state health department and to the Joint Commission, the national accreditation agency for hospitals."

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Firefox-Only Plug-In Gives Access to PACER Files

A Firefox browser plug-in now gives free access to many PACER court files. Also, if you try to access a PACER document the program first sees if the document is already in its free database. If so, you get the free version; if not, you can buy the document from PACER (8 cents a page), and it gets added to the free database. Brilliant.
Read more.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Contractor Appeals OSHA Fine in Mohegan Sun Fatality

The Day reports that contractor T. Keefe & Sons, who employed two ironworkers injured in separate accidents at the construction site for the Mohegan Tribe's government administration building, "is contesting a $1,250 fine assessed in connection with the first incident, a fatality." The company has filed a “notice of contest” with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), "which first inspected the site May 20, the day after Richard “Dicky” Blake, 59, of Niantic, died after falling several stories." Read more.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

LIRR Engineer Allowed Passenger to Operate Train

The New York Times reports: "A Long Island Rail Road engineer allowed a passenger to operate a train carrying nearly 400 riders to New York during the morning rush on July 2, and both men now face criminal charges of reckless endangerment, the authorities announced on Wednesday. The engineer, Ronald Cabrera, 40, of Centereach, N.Y., and the passenger, William L. Kutsch, 47, of East Setauket, N.Y., surrendered to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Police Department on Wednesday and have been charged with reckless endangerment in the second degree, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail." The two men "created 'a substantial risk of serious physical injury' to those on the train and in the communities around the tracks, said Kathleen Rice, the Nassau County district attorney, in announcing the charges."

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Hartford Juror's Research on Internet Leads to Mistrial

The AP reports that a juror's use of the internet has led a Hartford judge to declare a mistrial in the case of a former school bus driver being sued for an accident that killed a pedestrian in 2006. Apparently the juror found evidence on the Web against defendant Robert Fountain that had been excluded from last month's wrongful death civil trial (evidence relating to a previous felony conviction and that cocaine was found in his system around the time of the accident). A new trial has been ordered, with jury selection beginning Dec. 1. He was convicted of negligent homicide and served five days in jail.

Study: Anti-Depressant Use Doubled in America

USA Today reported that, according to a study "of nearly 50,000 children and adults," published in the August issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry, "about 10 percent of Americans -- or 27 million people -- were taking antidepressants in 2005, the last year for which data were available at the time the study was written. That's about twice the number in 1996." Notably, "the majority weren't being treated for depression. Half of those taking antidepressants used them for back pain, nerve pain, fatigue, sleep difficulties, or other problems," the study found.

Bloomberg News reported that researchers from Columbia University said that the "surge in antidepressant use propelled that class of treatments to become the top-selling US medicines in 2005, surpassing blood-pressure prescriptions," findings which "highlight the need for doctors who aren't psychiatrists and who prescribe these medicines to be trained to diagnose and manage depression so patients get the most effective treatment."

Sebelius on Health Insurance Reform

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, in an op-ed for the Washington Post wrote: "Health insurance is fundamentally about peace of mind. ... Through health reform, we can give every American access to quality, affordable health insurance so that if they do get sick, they have the best chance possible of getting better without bankrupting their families." Sebelius argues that the current system "gives insurance companies all the power." According to Sebelius, "They get to pick and choose who gets a policy" and "can deny coverage because of a preexisting condition. They can offer coverage only at exorbitant rates -- or offer coverage so thin that it's no coverage at all." Sebelius says that President Obama's healthcare reform "will switch the roles. Americans will get peace of mind and insurance companies will start getting nervous. They will know that if they don't deliver a great value, their customers will flee."

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Be Careful on Newport, RI's Cliff Walk

A suit now before the RI Supreme Court alleges the City of Newport, the State of Rhode Island and the Preservation Society of Newport County all "failed to keep the Cliff Walk safe, in spite of prior serious injuries and even deaths." Read more.