By Maureen Salamon
Pediatricians prescribe antibiotics about twice as often as they're actually needed for children with ear and throat infections, a new study indicates.
More than 11 million antibiotic prescriptions written each year for children and teens may be unnecessary, according to researchers from University of Washington and Seattle Children's Hospital. This excess antibiotic use not only fails to eradicate children's viral illnesses, researchers said, but supports the dangerous evolution of bacteria toward antibiotic resistance.
"I think it's well-known that we prescribers overprescribe antibiotics, and our intent was to put a number on how often we're doing that," said study author Dr. Matthew Kronman, an assistant professor of infectious diseases at Seattle Children's Hospital.
"But as we found out, there's really been no change in this [situation] over the last decade," added Kronman. "And we don't have easily available tools in the real-world setting to discriminate between infections caused by bacteria or viruses."
The study was published online on Sept. 15 in the journal Pediatrics.
Antibiotics, drugs that kill bacteria or stop them from reproducing, are effective only for bacterial infections, not viruses. But because doctors have few ways of distinguishing between viral or bacterial infections, antibiotics are often a default treatment.
To determine antibiotic prescribing rates, Kronman and his colleagues analyzed a group of English-language studies published between 2000 and 2011 and data on children 18 and younger who were examined in outpatient clinics.
Based on the prevalence of bacteria in ear and throat infections and the introduction of a pneumococcal vaccine that prevents many bacterial infections, the researchers estimated that about 27 percent of U.S. children with infections of the ear, sinus area, throat or upper respiratory tract had illnesses caused by bacteria.
But antibiotics were prescribed for nearly 57 percent of doctors' visits for these infections, the study found.
"I thought it was really a clever study, actually, to get a sense of the burden of bacterial disease and what the antibiotic usage is," said Dr. Jason Newland, medical director of patient safety and system reliability, and associate professor of pediatrics at University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine.
Newland, former director of the Antimicrobial Stewardship Program at Children's Mercy Hospital and Clinics in Kansas City, cited the 2013 "threat report" by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that indicated 23,000 Americans die each year due to antibiotic-resistant infections.
"We all know when we use antibiotics that we increase the chance of resistance because bacteria evolve," he said. "We need to use them well and not in such excess doses. We have to do way better."
A rapid strep test is currently available to distinguish between bacterial or viral throat infections. But other than that test, physicians have no other clinical tools to tell the cause of most upper respiratory infections, according to background information in the study. Kronman said he hopes the new research will not only help encourage the development of more such tools, but also spur clinicians to think more critically about prescribing antibiotics unless clearly needed.
Kronman added that prior research indicates that parents -- who often pressure pediatricians into prescribing antibiotics -- respond to alternate suggestions to alleviate their children's upper respiratory symptoms, such as using acetaminophen and humidifiers, instead of doctors simply saying they won't prescribe antibiotics.
"We have to take this [problem] on as a society," Newland said. "The reality is that the excess, unnecessary use of antibiotics is really putting us at great risk of not having these antibiotics [work] in the future."
By Debra Wood
Modern Healthcare readers selected four nurses in leadership roles to be ranked on this year’s 100 Most Influential People in Healthcare list, based on their effect on the industry.
“It’s great for nursing, because we do this together,” said Marla J. Weston, PhD, RN, FAAN, chief executive officer of the American Nurses Association, who made the magazine’s annual list for the first time, ranking 45th.
“I’m honored to be recognized,” she continued, “but I realize this is not about me. It’s about the hundreds and thousands of nurses working together to make the American Nurses Association a powerful force, to make nursing a powerful force, and to help our colleagues in health care and the general public understand the impact of nursing practice. I am the lucky person to be in the CEO role, but there are a lot of people making this happen.”
Other nurses in leadership who made the list included Marilyn Tavenner, agency administrator with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), listed fifth; Sister Carol Keehan, DC, MS, RN, president and CEO of Catholic Health Association in Washington, D.C., 34th; and Maureen Bisognano, president and CEO of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) in Cambridge, Mass., 50th.
“The four nurses on Modern Healthcare’s 100 Most Influential People list this year are transformative and visionary leaders, and some of the brightest lights in the nursing world,” said Susan B. Hassmiller, PhD, RN, FAAN, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation senior adviser for nursing. “They are role models.”
Weston was one of 19 new people to join the list, which is dominated by elected and appointed government officials, top executives of health care industry corporations and physicians. Anyone can nominate a candidate. The magazine received 15,000 submissions for 2014. The top 300 nominees, including 10 nurses, were presented to Modern Healthcare readers for voting. Half of the candidates are selected through the reader votes and the other half by the magazine’s editors.
While not a nurse, RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of National Nurses United (NNU), with 185,000 members, made the list again, at 41st.
“With the disproportionate economic influence of the hospital and insurance giants in particular, it is especially gratifying to see the name of RoseAnn and NNU on this list,” said NNU Co-president Deborah Burger, RN.
With the relatively small showing for nursing on this year’s list, opportunity exists for more nurses to move up to positions of leadership and influence.
“Nurses spend the most direct time with patients and, therefore, offer a vitally important perspective,” Keehan said. “As a nurse myself who moved into leadership, I encourage nurses to lend their voice to management decisions and consider leadership roles in their units or hospitals. It may not feel natural for some nurses to assert themselves, but the future of health care requires that we listen to their ideas and concerns. I hope to see many more nurses bring their passion for patient care and support of staff to the work of making health care better for everyone.”
Weston pointed out that nurses practice throughout the health care system, not only in hospitals but in home health, public health, primary care and long-term care. They observe when the system works and when it doesn’t for patients.
“That gives nurses the capacity to help make the system work for patents and communities and to redesign the system to transform and improve care,” Weston said. “Nurses are stepping forward to be leaders, and people are understanding nurses are not just functional doers of things, but thoughtful strategists.”
Weston expects more nurses will make the list in the years ahead. She encourages nurses to talk more about the work they do and the effect it has on people.
“The more we highlight the impact we are making, the more people will understand the great strategists and decision makers that nurses are,” Weston said. “There are a lots of pockets of innovation being led by nurses that are improving the quality of care, reducing the cost of health care and improving the access. We need to support each other in taking those pockets of innovation and spreading them.”
Weston has forged partnerships with other disciplines when delivering clinical care and when transforming the health care system.
“Health care is a team sport,” Weston said. “The degree we can work together catalyzes the work getting done.”
Increasing the number of nurses in leadership positions is one of the key recommendations of the Institute of Medicine’s groundbreaking Future of Nursing report and a central goal of the Campaign for Action.
“As the largest group of health professionals, and as those who spend the most time with patients, nurses have unique insight into health care,” Hassmiller said. “We need that insight at the highest levels of our health care system--on the boards of health care systems and hospitals; leading federal, state and local agencies; and more.”
Two members of the Campaign for Action’s strategic advisory committee made the 2014 Most Influential People in Healthcare list: Leah Binder, president and CEO of The Leapfrog Group, and Alan Morgan, CEO of the National Rural Health Association. Additionally, several members of organizations on the Champion Nursing Council and Champion Nursing Coalition were recognized.
“Health care transformation is underway in our country,” Hassmiller concluded. “Nurses possess the skills to ensure that the perspectives of people, families and communities remain front and center in any health decisions that get made.”
Meet the ‘Most Influential’ Nurses¹
5. Marilyn Tavenner, agency administrator with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, began her career as a nurse at Johnson-Willis Hospital in Richmond, Va., and spent 25 years working in various positions for HCA Inc., culminating as group president for outpatient services. Tavenner was one of several people in government to make Modern Healthcare’s annual list of the 100 Most Influential People in Healthcare.
34. Sister Carol Keehan, DC, MS, RN, president and CEO of Catholic Health Association, started out as a nurse and served in the 1980s as Providence Hospital's vice president for nursing, ambulatory care, and education and training. She joined the Catholic Health Association in 2005. She told NurseZone that she hopes many more nurses will bring their passion for patient care to make health care better for everyone.
45. Marla J. Weston, PhD, RN, FAAN, chief executive officer of the American Nurses Association, has held a variety of nursing roles, including direct patient care in intensive care and medical-surgical units, nurse educator, clinical nurse specialist, director of patient care support and nurse executive. She has served as executive director of the Arizona Nurses Association and deputy chief officer of the Veteran’s Affairs Workforce Management Office. Weston reported that she has had great role models and mentors in her nursing career.
50. Maureen Bisognano, president and CEO of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, began as a staff nurse in 1973 at Quincy City Hospital, moved up and became chief operating officer in 1986, before joining IHI. Bisognano is one of many quality improvement leaders on this year’s Most Influential list.
A study in the current issue of Policy, Politics & Nursing Practice estimates 17.5% of newly licensed RNs leave their first nursing job within the first year and 33.5% leave within two years, according to a news release. The researchers found that turnover for this group is lower at hospitals than at other healthcare settings.
The study, which synthesized existing turnover data and reported turnover data from a nationally representative sample of RNs, was conducted by the RN Work Project, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The RN Work Project is a 10-year study of newly-licensed RNs that began in 2006. The study draws on data from nurses in 34 states, covering 51 metropolitan areas and nine rural areas. The RN Work Project is directed by Christine T. Kovner, PhD, RN, FAAN, professor at the College of Nursing, New York University, and Carol Brewer, PhD, RN, FAAN, professor at the School of Nursing, University at Buffalo.
“One of the biggest problems we face in trying to assess the impact of nurse turnover on our healthcare system as a whole is that there’s not a single, agreed-upon definition of turnover,” Kovner said. “In order to make comparisons across organizations and geographical areas, researchers, policy makers and others need valid and reliable data based on consistent definitions of turnover. It makes sense to look at RNs across multiple organizations, as we did, rather than in a single organization or type of organization to get an accurate picture of RN turnover.”
According to the release, the research team noted that, in some cases, RN turnover can be helpful — as in the case of functional turnover, when a poorly functioning employee leaves, as opposed to dysfunctional turnover, when well-performing employees leave. The team recommends organizations pay attention to the kind of turnover occurring and point out their data indicate that when most RNs leave their jobs, they go to another healthcare job.
“Developing a standard definition of turnover would go a long way in helping identify the reasons for RN turnover and whether managers should be concerned about their institutions’ turnover rates,” Brewer said in the release. “A high rate of turnover at a hospital, if it’s voluntary, could be problematic, but if it’s involuntary or if nurses are moving within the hospital to another unit or position, that tells a very different story.”
The RN Work Project’s data include all organizational turnover (voluntary and involuntary), but do not include position turnover if the RN stayed at the same healthcare organization, according to the release.
McBaine, a bouncy black and white springer spaniel, perks up and begins his hunt at the Penn Vet Working Dog Center. His nose skims 12 tiny arms that protrude from the edges of a table-size wheel, each holding samples of blood plasma, only one of which is spiked with a drop of cancerous tissue.
The dog makes one focused revolution around the wheel before halting, steely-eyed and confident, in front of sample No. 11. A trainer tosses him his reward, a tennis ball, which he giddily chases around the room, sliding across the floor and bumping into walls like a clumsy puppy.
McBaine is one of four highly trained cancer detection dogs at the center, which trains purebreds to put their superior sense of smell to work in search of the early signs of ovarian cancer. Now, Penn Vet, part of the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine, is teaming with chemists and physicists to isolate cancer chemicals that only dogs can smell. They hope this will lead to the manufacture of nanotechnology sensors that are capable of detecting bits of cancerous tissue 1/100,000th the thickness of a sheet of paper.
“We don’t ever anticipate our dogs walking through a clinic,” said the veterinarian Dr. Cindy Otto, the founder and executive director of the Working Dog Center. “But we do hope that they will help refine chemical and nanosensing techniques for cancer detection.”
Since 2004, research has begun to accumulate suggesting that dogs may be able to smell the subtle chemical differences between healthy and cancerous tissue, including bladder cancer, melanomaand cancers of the lung, breast and prostate. But scientists debate whether the research will result in useful medical applications.
Dogs have already been trained to respond to diabetic emergencies, or alert passers-by if an owner is about to have a seizure. And on the cancer front, nonprofit organizations like the In Situ Foundation, based in California, and the Medical Detection Dogs charity in Britain are among a growing number of independent groups sponsoring research into the area.
A study presented at the American Urological Association’s annual meeting in May reported that two German shepherds trained at the Italian Ministry of Defense’s Military Veterinary Center in Grosseto were able to detect prostate cancer in urine with about 98 percent accuracy, far better than the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. But in another recent study of prostate-cancer-sniffing dogs, British researchers reported that promising initial results did not hold up in rigorous double-blind follow-up trials.
Dr. Otto first conceived of a center to train and study working dogs when, as a member of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Urban Search and Rescue Team, she was deployed to ground zero in the hours after the Sept. 11 attacks.
“I remember walking past three firemen sitting on an I-beam, stone-faced, dejected,” she says. “But when a handler walked by with one of the rescue dogs, they lit up. There was hope.”
Today, the Working Dog Center trains dogs for police work, search and rescue and bomb detection. Their newest canine curriculum, started last summer after the center received a grant from the Kaleidoscope of Hope Foundation, focuses on sniffing out a different kind of threat: ovarian cancer.
“Ovarian cancer is a silent killer,” Dr. Otto said. “But if we can help detect it early, that would save lives like nothing else.”
Dr. Otto’s dogs are descended from illustrious lines of hunting hounds and police dogs, with noses and instincts that have been refined by generations of selective breeding. Labradors and German shepherds dominate the center, but the occasional golden retriever or springer spaniel — like McBaine — manages to make the cut.
The dogs, raised in the homes of volunteer foster families, start with basic obedience classes when they are eight weeks old. They then begin their training in earnest, with the goal of teaching them that sniffing everything — from ticking bombs to malignant tumors — is rewarding.
“Everything we do is about positive reinforcement,” Dr. Otto said. “Sniff the right odor, earn a toy or treat. It’s all one big game.”
Trainers from the center typically notice early on that certain dogs have natural talents that make them better suited for specific kinds of work. Search and rescue dogs must be tireless hunters, unperturbed by distracting environments and unwilling to give up on a scent – the equivalent of high-energy athletes. The best cancer-detection dogs, on the other hand, tend to be precise, methodical, quiet and even a bit aloof — more the introverted scientists.
“Some dogs declare early, but our late bloomers frequently switch majors,” Dr. Otto said.
Handlers begin training dogs selected for cancer detection by holding two vials of fluid in front of each dog, one cancerous and one benign. The dogs initially sniff both but are rewarded only when they sniff the one containing cancer tissue. In time, the dogs learn to recognize a unique “cancer smell” before moving on to more complex tests.
What exactly are the dogs sensing? George Preti, a chemist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, has spent much of his career trying to isolate the volatile chemicals behind cancer’s unique odor. “We have known for a long time that dogs are very sensitive detectors,” Dr. Preti says. “When the opportunity arose to collaborate with Dr. Otto at the Working Dog Center, I jumped on it.”
Dr. Preti is working to isolate unique chemical biomarkers responsible for ovarian cancer’s subtle smell using high-tech spectrometers and chromatographs. Once he identifies a promising compound, he tests whether the dogs respond to that chemical in the same way that they respond to actual ovarian cancer tissue.
“I’m not embarrassed to say that a dog is better than my instruments,” Dr. Preti says.
The next step will be to build a mechanical, hand-held sensor that can detect that cancer chemical in the clinic. That’s where Charlie Johnson a professor at Penn who specializes in experimental nanophysics, the study of molecular interactions between microscopic materials, comes in.
He is developing what he calls Cyborg sensors, which include biological and mechanical components – a combination of carbon nanotubes and single-stranded DNA that preferentially bond with one specific chemical compound. These precise sensors, in theory, could be programmed to bind to, and detect, the isolated compounds that Dr. Otto’s dogs are singling out.
“We are effectively building an electronic nose,” said Dr. Johnson, who added that a prototype for his ovarian cancer sensor will probably be ready in the next five years.
Some experts remain skeptical.
“While I applaud any effort to detect ovarian cancer, I’m uncertain that this research will have any value,” said Dr. David Fishman, a gynecologic oncologist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. One challenge, he notes, is that any cancer sensor would need to be able to detect volatile chemicals that are specific to one particular type of cancer.
“Nonspecificity is where a lot of these sort of tests fail,” Dr. Fishman said. “If there is an overlap in volatile chemicals — between colon, breast, pancreatic, ovarian cancer — we’ll have to ask, ‘What does this mean?’ ”
And even if sensors could be developed that detect ovarian cancer in the clinic, Dr. Fishman says, he doubts that they would be able to catch ovarian cancer in its earliest, potentially more treatable, stages.
“The lesions that we are discussing are only millimeters in size, and almost imperceptible on imaging studies,” Dr. Fishman says. “I don’t believe that the resolution of the canine ability will translate into value for these lesions.”
McBaine remains unaware of the debate. After correctly identifying yet another cancerous plasma sample, he pranced around the Working Dog Center with regal flair, showing off his tennis ball to anyone who would pay attention. In an industry saturated with hundreds of corporations and thousands of scientists all hunting for the earliest clues to cancer, working dogs are just another set of (slightly furrier) researchers.
By Jeroen Tas
Imagine a time when a device alerts you to the onset of a disease in your body long before it’s a problem. Or when your disease is diagnosed in Shanghai, based on the medical scan you did in Kenya. This future is far closer that you might think due to rapid advances in connected devices and sensors, big data and the integration of health services. Combined, these innovations are introducing a new era in healthcare and personal well-being.
In only a few years, mobile technologies have spawned tremendous innovation of consumer-level health tools. The emerging solutions are focusing on health conditions over a person’s lifetime and on holistic care. They generate constant insights through analytics and algorithms that identify patterns and behaviours. Social technologies enable better collaboration and interconnected digital propositions that reach out to communities of people with similar conditions, engaging them in ways which were never before possible.
We are starting to get a taste of what the consumerization of healthcare will mean in the future. In two to three years, analysing your personal health data will become commonplace for large parts of the population in many countries. Also, it is very likely that for the first time it will not be the chronically ill but the healthy people who will invest the most in managing their health.
Digitization and consumerization will rattle the healthcare industry. It is already tearing at the very fabric of the traditional healthcare companies and providers. Innovation is not only about just adding a new channel or connecting a product. It is also a complete redesign of business models, adjustment of systems and processes and, most importantly, it calls for changing the culture in companies to reflect the new opportunities – and challenges – presented by the digital world.
To drive true industry transformation, companies need to collaborate and continue to learn from each other. Great strides will be made in alliances, which, for example, will deliver open, cloud-based healthcare platforms that combine customer engagement with leading medical technology, and clinical applications and informatics.
The game will not only be played by the traditional healthcare providers. With consumerization, even companies without healthcare expertise, but with strong consumer engagement and trust, could potentially become healthcare companies. Big multinationals invest incremental budgets in developing new propositions and count on their global user bases or professional networks to gain a foothold in the market.
And in parallel, a raft of start-ups are attempting to transform the worlds of preventive or curative healthcare – in many cases, limited only by their imaginations. For example, we may see virtual reality technology moving from gaming industry to healthcare for improving patients’ rehabilitation after a stroke. Or we may see facial recognition software become common in monitoring and guiding patients’ daily medical routines.
While these new propositions tackle a number of healthcare industry’s core concerns and provide solutions to completely new areas, these propositions still need to mature. They need to become scalable, reliable, open, and the user experience needs to be harmonized.
But perhaps one of the most important challenges is related to people’s behaviour and preferences. Regardless of whether these new and existing companies are analysing health data, using virtual reality or reading people’s vital signs, they all need ample time to become trusted and accepted in the emerging digital health care space. Especially for the new entrants, obtaining the right level of credibility will be one of the key success factors.
Consumers, patients and professionals alike, will need the right motivation, reassurance and mindsets to adopt these new solutions. The companies that know how to offer us tailored, cutting-edge solutions, combined with meaningful advice and trustworthiness, will be the winners and become our trusted advisers in health.
Source: World Economic Forum
Making the transition to working nights may feel a bit intimidating, but many night nurses, myself included, have grown to love the position! It tends to be quieter and less chaotic because the patients are generally asleep, and there's a special camaraderie that develops between a team of night nurses. Put these tips into practice to survive, and even thrive, in your night shifts.
Stack several night shifts in a row: Rather than spacing out your night shifts during the week and having to switch between being up during the day and up during the night, try to put all your night shifts for the week in a row. That way, you can really get yourself onto a schedule of being awake during the nights you work and sleeping during the days in between.
Nap before work: As you transition from being awake during the day to being awake as you work at night, take a nap in the afternoon to help you go into your first night shift as rested as possible. Alternately, if your schedule allows, stay up later than usual the night before your first night shift and sleep in as late as you can the next morning.
Fuel up with healthy foods: While sugars may seem like they provide energy, they also come with a crash. Before heading into work, eat a filling meal with a healthy balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fiber. Then bring healthy snacks for the night that include protein and fiber to keep you going strong. Some options include yogurt, mixed nuts, hard boiled eggs, cheese cubes, or carrots with hummus dip
Plan caffeine carefully: It can be tempting to drink a cup of coffee anytime you feel sleepy, but you may develop an unhealthy dependence or be unable to fall asleep when you get home after your shift. Therefore, try to limit yourself to just one or two cups of coffee per shift, and drink your last one at least six hours before you plan to go to sleep.
Create a restful sleeping environment at home: The key to surviving night shifts in the long term is getting lots of restful sleep after each shift. Set up room darkening curtains and a white noise machine to help you block out signs of the day. When you get home, don't force yourself to go to bed right away. Instead, develop a routine that includes some time to bathe, read, and relax as your body winds down after work. Try to avoid bright screens, which block your body from releasing melatonin, the hormone that makes you feel sleepy.
With some attention to detail, you will probably find yourself really enjoying working at night. Many of the night nurses I know started out stuck on the shifts, but grew to prefer them. Plus, the pay differential doesn't hurt at all!
By GILLIAN MOHNEY
One California teacher is happy to simply be back in the classroom as the new school year kicks off.
After being diagnosed with breast cancer last year, Carol Clark was forced to stay out of the classroom for nearly the entire year due to treatments and complications.
Eventually she was gone for so long, her health insurance and salary were threatened. But Clark's benefits were saved after multiple colleagues donated their sick days to the 6th grade teacher.
Clark, 56, a teacher at Jaime Escalante Elementary School in Cudahy, California, ended up receiving an additional 154 sick days from co-workers or other teachers as part of a program run by the Los Angeles Unified School District to help teachers in Clark’s situation, according to ABC News station KABC-TV in Los Angeles.
Before the donation Clark had been struggling to keep her salary and benefits. For many teachers in the Los Angeles area, once they use up their sick days and their vacation days they can start losing both their salary and health benefits.
Last year Clark missed nearly all of the school year except for just two months. Clark originally thought she would be able to come back for the spring semester, but she ended up needing major surgery after complications arose.
“I finished chemotherapy. Within a week I developed complications,” said Clark. “I couldn’t come back to school at all.”
To cover her time off, Clark used her vacation days and another 120 sick days that she had accrued over 16 years of teaching. But it wasn’t enough.
At the end of last year, she had no more sick days and was still too sick to teach. Clark had one other option. Her husband, also a teacher at Jaime Escalante Elementary School, was able to rally co-workers and other teachers to donate their sick days as part of the “Catastrophic Illness Donation Program.”
"We get paid for 180 days in the school year. So she got 154, so almost a whole year," Dave Clark told KABC-TV.
Gayle Pollard-Terry, deputy director of communications for the Los Angeles Unified School District, told ABC News that the program helps around 20 to 25 teachers every year.
“When you run out of all of your sick paid leave…if you run out, you [can] lose your health benefits and your income,” she said.
Pollard-Terry said the program can help fill the gap for sick teachers or school district employees.
She said although most donations are not as extreme as Clark’s tally, there have been at least two other donation drives where more than 150 days were raised for a teacher.
For Carol Clark the outpouring of donations from co-workers both past and present was surprising and emotional. She now has extra days to help her through new surgeries scheduled for this year.
“Other people ask me ‘What do you say to people who donate?’” said Clark. “I don’t know what to say to them. I say thank you. But that doesn’t’ seem like enough. It was really a tremendous thing that they did.”
Clark said she tried to thank her co-workers in a staff meeting but was too “chocked up” to speak. Instead she ended up writing them an email to thank them.
By ERIC WHITNEY
When a fire department gets a call for medical help, most of them scramble both an ambulance and a fully staffed fire truck. But that's way more than most people need, according to Rick Lewis, chief of emergency medical services at South Metro Fire Rescue Authority in the Denver suburbs.
"It's not the prairie and the Old West anymore, where you have to be missing a limb to go to the hospital," Lewis says, "Now it's a sore throat or one day of cold or flu season sometimes, and that can be frustrating for people, I know it is."
South Metro receives more than 12,000 emergency medical calls a year, and takes about 7,000 patients to area hospitals. Somebody who's been running a fever for a couple of days may need help — just not necessarily a ride to the ER. That disconnect can be frustrating for both ambulance crews and patients.
Crews aren't required to transport everyone who calls, but Lewis says they fear lawsuits if they were to leave and a patient got worse. Also, ambulance companies typically don't get paid unless they take somebody to the hospital. So Lewis teamed up with Mark Prather, an emergency room doctor, to try and come up with a better way.
"We created a mobile care unit that can go to a given patient, if we think they're safe to treat on scene, and provide definitive on-scene treatment," says Prather.
The mobile care unit is, basically, a station wagon. Advance practice paramedic Eric Bleeker shows off some of the gear. "This one is a suture set, so it has everything for wound closure, from staples to regular sutures," he says.
Ambulances don't have that kind of equipment, so even someone who just needs a few stitches gets a ride to the emergency department.
Several cities across the country are using paramedics as physician extenders, sending ambulance crews to do routine things like hospital follow-up visits in places where basic health care is hard to get. South Metro's model focuses on responding to calls. The team always includes at least one nurse practitioner, who can prescribe basic medicines that they stock in the mobile unit.
"A lot of what we do is sort of that mid-level between the acute care you receive in an emergency department and what the paramedics can currently do," says Bleeker.
It's kind of like an urgent care clinic on wheels.
There's also a miniature medical lab. "We can run full blood chemistry, we can do complete blood counts, we can check for strep throat, we can check for influenza," he says. Those are capabilities that even many doctors' offices don't have on site.
South Metro Fire also relies heavily on Colorado's new electronic medical records network. The nurse or EMT can call up patient records on the scene to provide care that's more like an office visit, and dispatchers can check recent medical histories to make sure they send ambulances to people who might really need one.
That person who called 911 because they were running a fever could end up being diagnosed and treated in their living room by South Metro's station wagon for about $500, instead of spending a lot more for similar care at an emergency room.
Insurance companies don't yet pay for this, though, says Prather.
"That's maybe why nobody has done it yet," he says, laughing.
For the last nine months South Metro has been running the service basically for free, to prove that it saves money. But Prather thinks that's about to change because of Obamacare. The law aims to get insurance companies, Medicare and Medicaid to stop paying for too much medical care. And it can penalize health care providers who contribute to overuse of emergency rooms.
"It allowed us to think about payment differently, and basically switch from a volume situation to a quality situation," he says.
But it's not like the law just flips a switch and starts paying for appropriate care instead of rewarding providers who see a high number of patients and do lots of procedures. The change to reward efficient, appropriate health care is just starting to happen. Slowly. But Prather is now in talks with insurers and hopes to be getting paid soon.
By Susan Donaldson James
Raymond and Mazie Huggins, a devoted West Virginia couple with the same failing heart condition, didn’t think they would make it to their upcoming 74th wedding anniversary on Oct. 10.
But in August, Raymond or “Huggie Bear,” 96, and Mazie Leota, 93, received newly FDA-approved heart valves in a life-saving procedure on the same day.
“We went to the supper table one night and Raymond said, ‘If you have it done, then I will have it done and that’s how we will do it — together,'” Mazie said. “We went in together, had it done together and came home together.”
The couple went to the Cleveland Clinic for transcatheter aortic valve replacement or TAVR, a procedure designed for those who typically can’t withstand the risk of open-heart surgery. A catheter is wound through an artery in the groin and into the heart muscle.
This non-invasive surgery has been used on patients for some time, but the smaller valve required for the Huggins’ surgery was just approved in June after successful clinical trials.
“I’m very glad we had it and I am feeling fine,” said Mazie, a great-grandmother and former dental secretary. “I can’t get over there not being any pain afterwards.”
Now, the couple, both “with it” intellectually and otherwise healthy, can celebrate their long marriage at home in Moundsville, where they continue to live independently. They have every reason to expect to live an even longer life: Mazie’s maternal grandmother lived to be 108.
“My father’s goal was to live long enough to get on the Smuckers jar,” said their son, Roger Huggins, 67. “Last year, even with his heart problems, he made apple butter and applesauce out of the tree in the backyard.”
Roger said his father, a former glass factory shipper and retired prison guard, is “very strong and a tremendously hard worker.” He calls his mother an “angelic” woman who worries about others and is beloved by all who know her.
“My mother protects my father to the fullest,” said Roger. “He might make her madder than the dickens, but she protects him to the fullest.”
Two years ago, his parents had stents put in their hearts on the same day.
“I was in pre-op with them,” said Roger, a retired food company sales rep. “Their tables passed in the hallways and they were awake enough to make [the medical staff] stop their beds. They held hands and kissed each other and had the whole hospital crying.”
Roger, who drives three hours each way from his home in Erie, Pennsylvania, to check in on his parents and organize their medications, persuaded them to have the TAVR procedure after doing his own research.
Raymond insisted his wife go first, then his surgery followed.
“They both were prepared to pass away on the table,” said their son. “But it very well could have been much worse if my mother had woken up and my dad had died beside her. Or harder if my father had woken up.”
“The first thing my father said when he came out of the anesthesia was, ‘Am I alive?’” said Roger. “The second thing he said was, ‘Is my wife alive?’ The third thing he said is, ‘I’ve got to go out and fix the yard.’ He’s a workaholic.”
The Hugginses may not be the oldest patients ever to undergo TAVR surgery (some patients have been 98 and 100), but they were the first couple, according to their surgeon, interventional cardiologist Dr. Samir Kapadia.
“The data suggest that 50 to 60 percent would not make it until the end of the year with their condition,” he said. “They were declining fairly fast. … When they came to us they were very short of breath and had medical problems that were unbelievably complex.”
The aortic valve is the “door” to the heart, according to Kapadia. A normal opening is about 2.5 cm. But theirs were closed down to .3 and .4 — “about 10 times less.”
“Five or 10 years ago, nothing could have been done for them,” he said. “We would have had to stop the heart and open up the chest, and at that age the recovery would be up to two months, with significant risk,” he said.
Mazie was prepped for surgery first at 5:30 a.m. and Raymond followed at 9:30 a.m.
“The kissed each other and were in recovery opposite each other and wanted to be together holding hands in the same room,” said Kapadia.
By the evening after surgery, they were out of bed, and the next day, they were walking. Mazie’s release was delayed because of fluid in her lungs, so Raymond insisted on staying at the hospital with her for several more days.
The couple is now back at home with a part-time caregiver, looking forward to their anniversary next month.
Mazie attributes their 74-year happy marriage to good communication.
“There have been a few ups and downs,” she said. “If you don’t agree, get it out and say it and get it over with.”
Kapadia said the family’s closeness was an important factor in the surgery’s success.
“They are wonderful people,” he said. “Their son fought for them to be treated together as the only best option. Who would take care of the other one? It would have been a disaster for their family life.”
“But more than anything else, they wanted to live and celebrate and enjoy the last part of their life together.”
By Michael Martinez
A respiratory virus is sending hundreds of children to hospitals in Missouri and possibly throughout the Midwest and beyond, officials say.
The unusually high number of hospitalizations reported now could be "just the tip of the iceberg in terms of severe cases," said Mark Pallansch, a virologist and director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Division of Viral Diseases.
"We're in the middle of looking into this," he told CNN on Sunday. "We don't have all the answers yet."
Ten states have contacted the CDC for assistance in investigating clusters of enterovirus: Colorado, North Carolina, Georgia, Ohio, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma and Kentucky.
What is Enterovirus EV-D68?
Enteroviruses, which bring on symptoms like a very intense cold, aren't unusual. They're actually common. When you have a bad summer cold, often what you have is an enterovirus, he said. The season often hits its peak in September.
The unusual situation now is that there have been so many hospitalizations.
The virus has sent more than 30 children a day to a Kansas City, Missouri, hospital, where about 15% of the youngsters were placed in intensive care, officials said.
In a sign of a possible regional outbreak, Colorado, Illinois and Ohio are reporting cases with similar symptoms and are awaiting testing results, according to officials and CNN affiliates in those states.
In Kansas City, about 475 children were recently treated at Children's Mercy Hospital, and at least 60 of them received intensive hospitalization, spokesman Jake Jacobson said.
"It's worse in terms of scope of critically ill children who require intensive care. I would call it unprecedented. I've practiced for 30 years in pediatrics, and I've never seen anything quite like this," said Dr. Mary Anne Jackson, the hospital's division director for infectious diseases.
"We've had to mobilize other providers, doctors, nurses. It's big," she said.
The Kansas City hospital treats 90% of that area's ill children. Staff members noticed an initial spike on August 15, Jackson said.
"It could have taken off right after school started. Our students start back around August 17, and I think it blew up at that point," Jackson said. "Our peak appears to be between the 21st and the 30th of August. We've seen some leveling of cases at this point."
What parents should know about EV-D68
No vaccine for virus
This particular type of enterovirus -- EV-D68 -- is uncommon but not new. It was identified in the 1960s, and there have been fewer than 100 reported cases since that time. But it's possible, Pallansch said, that the relatively low number of reports might be because EV-D68 is hard to identify.
EV-D68 was seen last year in the United States and this year in various parts of the world. Over the years, clusters have been reported in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Arizona and various countries including the Philippines, Japan and the Netherlands.
An analysis by the CDC showed at least 30 of the Kansas City children tested positive for EV-D68, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.
Vaccines for EV-D68 aren't currently available, and there is no specific treatment for infections, the Missouri agency said.
"Many infections will be mild and self-limited, requiring only symptomatic treatment," it said. "Some people with several respiratory illness caused by EV-D68 may need to be hospitalized and receive intensive supportive therapy."
Some cases of the virus might contribute to death, but none of the Missouri cases resulted in death, and no data are available for overall morbidity and mortality from the virus in the United States, the agency said.
Symptoms include coughing, difficulty breathing and rash. Sometimes they can be accompanied by fever or wheezing.
Jackson said physicians in other Midwest states reported cases with similar symptoms.
"The full scope is yet to be known, but it would appear it's in the Midwest. In our community, meticulous hand-washing is not happening. It's just the nature of kids," Jackson said.
'Worst I've seen'
Denver also is seeing a spike in respiratory illnesses resembling the virus, and hospitals have sent specimens for testing to confirm whether it's the same virus, CNN affiliate KUSA said.
More than 900 children have gone to Children's Hospital Colorado emergency and urgent care locations since August 18 for treatment of severe respiratory illnesses, including enterovirus and viral infections, hospital spokeswoman Melissa Vizcarra said. Of those, 86 have been sick enough to be admitted to the Aurora facility.
And Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children had five children in intensive care and 20 more in the pediatric unit, KUSA said last week.
"This is the worst I've seen in my time here at Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children," Dr. Raju Meyeppan told the outlet. "We're going to have a pretty busy winter at this institution and throughout the hospitals of Denver."
Will Cornejo, 13, was among the children in intensive care at Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children after he came down with a cold last weekend and then woke up Tuesday night with an asthma attack that couldn't be controlled with his medicine albuterol. His mother, Jennifer, called 911 when her son's breathing became shallow, and her son was airlifted to the Denver hospital, she told KUSA.
Her son was put on a breathing tube for 24 hours.
"It was like nothing we've ever seen," Jennifer Cornejo told KUSA. "He was unresponsive. He was laying on the couch. He couldn't speak to me. He was turning white, and his lips turned blue.
"We're having a hard time believing that it really happened," she added. "We're much better now because he is breathing on his own. We're on the mend."
Restricting kids' visits with patients
In East Columbus, Ohio, Nationwide Children's Hospital saw a 20% increase in patients with respiratory illnesses last weekend, and Dr. Dennis Cunningham said patient samples are being tested to determine whether EV-D68 is behind the spike, CNN affiliate WTTE reported.
Elsewhere, Hannibal Regional Hospital in Hannibal, Missouri, reported "recent outbreaks of enterovirus infections in Missouri and Illinois," the facility said this week on its Facebook page.
Blessing Hospital in Quincy, Illinois, saw more than 70 children with respiratory issues last weekend, and seven of them were admitted, CNN affiliate WGEM reported. The hospital's Dr. Robert Merrick believes that the same virus that hit Kansas City is causing the rash of illnesses seen at the Quincy and Hannibal hospitals, which both imposed restrictions this week on children visiting patients, the affiliate said.
"Mostly we're concerned about them bringing it in to a vulnerable patient. We don't feel that the hospital is more dangerous to any other person at this time," Merrick told WGEM.
Blessing Hospital is working with Illinois health officials to identify the virus, the hospital said in a statement.
While there are more than 100 types of enteroviruses causing up to 15 million U.S. infections annually, EV-D68 infections occur less commonly, the Missouri health agency said. Like other enteroviruses, the respiratory illness appears to spread through close contact with infected people, the agency said.
"Unlike the majority of enteroviruses that cause a clinical disease manifesting as a mild upper respiratory illness, febrile rash illness, or neurologic illness (such as aseptic meningitis and encephalitis), EV-D68 has been associated almost exclusively with respiratory disease," the agency said.
Clusters of the virus have struck Asia, Europe and the United States from 2008 to 2010, and the infection caused relatively mild to severe illness, with some intensive care and mechanical ventilation, the health agency said.
To reduce the risk of infection, individuals should wash hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds, especially after changing diapers; avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands; avoid kissing, hugging and sharing cups or eating utensils with people who are sick; disinfect frequently touched surfaces such as toys and doorknobs; and stay home when feeling sick, the Missouri agency said.