Surgeons are no longer removing most of the lymph nodes in the underarm area when a biopsy near the area shows cancer, a major change in breast cancer management, according to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons.
Researchers evaluated data from 2.7 million patients with breast cancer in the U.S. and learned to what extent surgeons were following recommendations from the American College of Surgeons Oncology Group Z0011, or ACOSOG Z-11 trial, published four years ago.
They reported that most early-stage breast cancer patients with tumors in their sentinel lymph node who undergo lumpectomy do not benefit from surgical removal of the remaining lymph nodes in the underarm area, called completion axillary lymph node dissection or ALND, according to a news release. They found no difference in cancer recurrence and five-year survival between patients who underwent ALND and those who did not.
Researchers found a dramatic increase in the proportion of lumpectomy patients who underwent only a sentinel lymph node biopsy — SNB — without an ALND. The SNB-alone rate more than doubled — from 23% in 2009 to 56% in 2011, according to the study.
“As far as I know, our study is the first to show that the findings from the ACOSOG Z-11 trial have changed clinical practice for breast cancer patients nationwide,” lead author Katharine Yao, MD, FACS, director of the Breast Surgical Program at NorthShore University HealthSystem in Evanston, Ill., and clinical associate professor of surgery at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, said in the release. “The Z-11 trial has had a huge impact because of the lower risks for patients who undergo SNB alone.”
Investigators found that 74,309 patients (of the 2.72 million cases diagnosed between 1998 and 2011) met criteria for having SNB alone but underwent lumpectomy and radiation therapy to the whole breast, according to the press release.
The rate of SNB alone cases reportedly increased from 6.1% in 1998 to 56% in 2011.
Yao said findings suggest that some practitioners may feel uncomfortable not performing ALND in high-risk patients, and called for more education for surgeons.
By Elizabeth Cohen and John Bonifield
Today, because of a CNN story and the generosity of donors from around the world, Kekula wears scrubs bearing the emblem of the Emory University Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing in Atlanta, where she's learning skills she can take back home to care for her fellow Liberians.
"It's a surprise -- a young child like me who came from a very poor background coming to the U.S.," she said. "I'm thankful to CNN and I appreciate the people who made donations, and I'm thankful to Emory for accepting me to study."
At Emory, Kekula has asked for special training on certain skills, such as caring for burns, a common type of injury because children in Liberia sometimes fall into the open fires used for cooking.
One of her instructors, Kelly Fullwood, said Kekula's an excellent student who has taught her teachers a thing or two about how to do procedures without costly equipment, as she's been forced to do in Liberia.
"She fascinates me every day," Fullwood said. "She gets nursing. She gets what it's about."
Kekula, 23, was just a year away from finishing up her nursing degree in Liberia when Ebola struck and her mother, father, sister and cousin came down with the disease. Hospitals were full and no doctors would visit her home, so with just advice from a physician on the phone, Kekula took care of all four of her relatives at the same time.
All but her cousin survived -- a high success rate considering that at the time, about 70% of Ebola patients were dying in Liberia.
Kekula couldn't continue her nursing education in Liberia, because the schools had closed.
A CNN story about Kekula in September prompted donations from around the world to IAM, an organization that raises money to help African natives pay for education.
David Smith, an associate dean at Emory's nursing school, said they accepted Kekula because they were struck by how both she and Emory each treated four Ebola patients at around the same time last year -- and Emory had dozens of doctors and nurses and millions of dollars in technology while Kekula had nobody and nearly no supplies.
"It was obvious to us that this woman was intelligent and strong and fearless," he said.
Kekula is scheduled to return to Liberia in August.
"These things that I have learned here I am going to take back to my fellow nurses," she said. "I love to care for people. I love to save lives."
By SYDNEY LUPKIN
The Easter Bunny has some sweet competition in the form of two therapy rabbits at NYU Langone Medical Center in Manhattan.
Nutmeg and Clovis, both 5 years old, live on the 13th floor of the hospital, and this week, they visited patients for Bunny Day, the hospital's nondenominational springtime celebration. They wore rabbit ears (yes, really), a bonnet, and sat on a basket of eggs.
"The bunny cart is decorated to the hilt, and then we'll go and see patients and work with patients," said Gwenn Fried, manager of horticultural therapy services at NYU Langone. "The patients adore it."
As she travels the hospital with one rabbit at a time (Rabbits need breaks, too!), she said she hands patients a plastic Easter egg, and it contains either a sticker or a bunny treat.
"The bunny is very excited about the bunny treat," she laughed.
The bunnies visited 15 patients on Thursday and will visit more today and tomorrow, Fried said.
The rabbits are part of a therapy program that's been at the hospital for about 13 years. Sometimes, doctors recommend the bunny therapy, and sometimes patients request it, but Fried said she's seen them work magic on children and adults alike.
"One dad just said, 'I really think Clovis changed our lives,'" Fried told ABC News last year. "He's the most patient animal I've ever seen in my life."
Shortly before their baby, Eli, was born, Brandi McGlathery and Troy Thompson talked about the physical qualities they hoped he would possess.
"I said I wanted him to have blond hair," Brandi said. "And Troy said, 'I hope he doesn't get my nose.'"
At the time, it was just a joke between two parents anxiously awaiting their baby's arrival. After Eli was born, though, it became the kind of memory that now makes them wince at its irony.
When Eli was born at South Baldwin Hospital on March 4, weighing 6 pounds, 8 ounces, Dr. Craig Brown immediately placed him on Brandi's chest. As the doctor helped Troy cut the cord, Brandi looked at Eli for the first time.
"I pulled back and said, 'Something's wrong!' And the doctor said, 'No, he's perfectly fine.' Then I shouted, 'He doesn't have a nose!'"
The doctor whisked Eli away, and for about 10 minutes Brandi was left alone in the delivery room thinking surely she hadn't seen what she thought she saw - or didn't see.
When Dr. Brown returned, he put his arm on her bed and took a deep breath. "He had the most apologetic look," she said. She knew something was wrong with her baby. She started to cry before he said a word.
She looked to Troy, who, she said, never cries. He had tears in his eyes.
She'd been right. Eli didn't have a nose.
Meanwhile, he had started breathing through his mouth right away. She remembers that he was wearing a tiny oxygen mask. Not having a nose "didn't faze him at all," she said.
"I was the first person to see it," she said. "Even when they took him away, my family still didn't know something was wrong, due to being caught up in the excitement of his arrival. It wasn't until they opened the blinds of the nursery that everyone else saw."
Before she knew it, Eli was taken to USA Children's and Women's Hospital in Mobile. Throughout the night, Brandi called the number they'd given her every 45 minutes or so to check on her baby. She wasn't sure he would make it through the night -- but he did.
And her "sweet pea," her "miracle baby," has been surprising his parents and others who love him, as well as the medical staff who have cared for him, ever since.
The next day, her doctor checked her out of the hospital in Foley so she could be with her baby in Mobile. The doctor had also had a sleepless night, she said. "He said he'd gone back over every test and every ultrasound," but he couldn't find anything unusual in her records.
There were a few aspects of her pregnancy that were different from her first pregnancy with her 4-year-old son, Brysen.
Right after she found out he was a boy, at around 17 weeks, she said, she lost 10 pounds in eight days because she was so severely nauseated. Her doctor prescribed a medication that helped her gain the weight back and keep her food down. She continued to take the medication throughout her pregnancy, she said.
On a 3D ultrasound, she and Troy even commented on Eli's cute nose. The imaging shows bone, not tissue, she said - and he has a raised bit of bone beneath the skin where his nose should be.
After going into early labor three times, Brandi delivered Eli at 37 weeks. At 35 weeks, her doctor told her that the next two weeks would be critical to the development of the baby's lungs and respiratory system. "He said, 'Let's try to keep him in as long as we can,'" she remembered.
Happy, healthy baby
For the first few days of his life, Eli was in one of the "pods" in USA Children's and Women's Hospital's neonatal intensive care unit. At five days old, he had a tracheotomy. "He has done wonderfully since then," Brandi said. "He's been a much happier baby."
Because of the trach, he doesn't make noise when he cries anymore, so Brandi has to watch him all the time. She has been going back and forth between the Ronald McDonald House and Eli's room during his stay.
"Between the nurses here and Ronald McDonald House, everyone has gone above and beyond," she said. "The nurse from the pod comes to check on her 'boyfriend.' She got attached to him."
Besides not having an external nose, he doesn't have a nasal cavity or olfactory system. (Despite that fact, she said, he sneezes. "The first time he did it, we looked at each other and said, 'You heard that, right?'")
Eli Thompson has an extremely rare condition known as complete congenital arhinia, said Brandi, adding that there are only about 37 cases worldwide like his. The chance of being born with congenital arhinia is one in 197 million, she said.
Even at USA Children's and Women's Hospital, Eli's case has baffled the NICU. "Everyone has used the same words," Brandi said. As soon as they found out he was on his way, she said, the staff started doing research. They only found three very brief articles on the condition. Now, his doctors are writing a case study on him in case they ever encounter another baby like Eli.
After he got the trach, Brandi wanted to start breastfeeding. The lactation consultant encouraged her, and together they searched the Internet for more information. Brandi became the first mother ever to breastfeed a baby with a trach at the hospital, she said - and now the lactation consultant "is actually using him to put an article together about breastfeeding with a trach to encourage mothers of other trach babies to attempt it."
Thanks to her Internet research, Brandi found a mother in Ireland, Gráinne Evans, who writes a blog about her daughter, Tessa, who has the same condition as Eli. She also found a 23-year-old Louisiana native who lives in Auburn, Ala., and a 16-year-old in North Carolina, she said. With every case she found, Brandi started to feel better and more convinced that Eli could not only survive his babyhood, but that he'll grow to adulthood.
Communicating with Tessa's mother in Ireland has been especially gratifying for Brandi. She knows she and Eli are not in this alone.
While it would seem easy enough for a plastic surgeon to build a nose for Eli, it's not that simple, Brandi said. "His palate didn't form all the way, so his brain is lower," she said. "It's a wait-and-see game."
His condition affects his pituitary gland, she said. He'll have to be past puberty before his nasal passageways can be built. Until then, she'd like to spare him any unnecessary facial surgeries.
"We think he's perfect the way he is," she says, nodding toward the sweet, sleeping baby in his crib. "Until the day he wants to have a nose, we don't want to touch him. We have to take it day by day."
Within a month after Eli goes back home to Summerdale, he will have to travel to the Shriners Hospital for Children in Houston and Galveston, Texas, to meet with craniofacial specialists. "They will work with him for the rest of his life," she said. "Every three to six months, we'll be going back for scans and checkups for at least the next ten years."
Brandi said that, of the people she's found online, some are opting to have noses and nasal passageways built (including Tessa), while others haven't.
"We're going to do our best to make sure he's happy," she said. "The rest of him is so cute, sometimes you don't realize he doesn't have a nose."
Brandi's older son, Brysen, and Troy's four-year-old daughter, Ava, are too young to interact with Eli in the hospital. Brandi was grateful to one of the nurses who unhooked him and let the kids see him. "Ava asked me, 'When you were little, did you have a nose?'" Brandi said. "She said, 'I think he's cute.'"
Brysen pressed his hands against the window separating him from his baby half-brother and said, "He's perfect!"
Brandi, who got pregnant with Brysen when she was a senior in high school, had planned to start going to school to become an LPN like Troy's sister and his mother. "That's all on the back burner now," she said. Because of her experience at USA Children's and Women's, she said she now wants to be a NICU nurse.
Her best friend, Crystal Weaver, logged onto Brandi's Facebook account and created the Eli's Story page to let friends and family members know what was going on. "It's easier that way to update everyone at once rather than to call everyone individually," Brandi said. "It's overwhelming. It's all on my shoulders." Within a day, she said, Eli's Story had 2,000 likes (it now has around 4,500). "People I didn't know were sending messages," she said.
Crystal also started a Go Fund Me account, which has raised about $4,300. "We've got years and years of surgeries and doctor's appointments nowhere close to us," said Brandi, who returned to her job as a bartender this past weekend. She plans to keep working two nights a week for a while. Being around her work family, she said, helps her maintain a sense of normalcy.
A fish fry is planned as a fundraiser for Eli's medical fund on April 11 at Elberta Park in Elberta, with raffles for prizes including a weekend stay at a condo in Gulf Shores and a charter fishing trip.
"It makes me feel really good that I have a support system," Brandi said. "Everybody's been awesome."
Updating Eli's page, adding photos and reading the positive, encouraging comments from hundreds of people, as well as reaching out to others who have been through what she's going through "keeps me sane," Brandi said.
Recently, Brandi posted a video of Eli waking up from a nap. From Ireland, Gráinne Evans commented: "I've actually watched this more times than I could admit!"
Eli is "100 percent healthy," she said. "He just doesn't have a nose. He has a few hormone deficiencies, but other than that he's healthy."
Brandi seems wise beyond her years. She is already worried about "the day he comes home and someone has made fun of his nose," she said. "We don't want anyone to pity him. We never want anyone to say they feel sorry for him. If other people express that, he'll feel that way about himself."
She jokes that Eli is "Facebook famous" now. "I can't hide him," said Brandi, who is a singer. "Eli's gotten more publicity in the past two weeks than I have in my whole life!"
She's been putting together a "journey book" full of medical records and mementoes to give Eil one day. "I'm excited to show him one day, 'Look, from the moment you were born people were infatuated with you.'"
'I'm doing something right'
In his short time on earth so far, Eli has brought his family together, Brandi said. She and Troy had been engaged, then called off the wedding and were "iffy," and then they broke up. A week later, she found out she was pregnant.
"Eli has made Troy my best friend," she said. "He has brought us closer than when we were engaged. To see Troy with him is really awesome."
Troy has been her rock, reassuring her since Eli was born, she said. "He tells me, 'Brandi, it's OK. It will end up happening the way it's supposed to be."
Last Thursday, Brandi posted on the Eli's Story page that Eli had passed his car seat trial and newborn hearing screening. "He now weighs 7 pounds, and we'll be meeting with home health to learn how to use all of his equipment so we can go home Monday."
Everyone in their family has taken CPR classes, and Brandi and Troy have learned how to care for Eli's trach. The couple has extended family nearby, and Troy's father and stepmother plan to move to Baldwin County from Mobile to be closer to Eli.
As she prepared to take her baby home from the hospital on Monday morning, almost four weeks since he came into the world, Brandi was excited to take care of him for the first time in the comfort of her own home, and to finally introduce him to his big brother and sister.
Though Brandi said her heart melts when Eli's little hand wraps around her finger, he's the one who already has her wrapped completely around his. He recognizes his parents' voices, and seems comforted by them. "As soon as he hears us, he looks around for us, finds us, then stares at us smiling," she said. "It makes me feel like I'm doing something right, that through the ten to twelve other women, the nurses who have been caring for him for the past month, he still knows who Mommy is!"
Dr. Edward Soffen
Dr. Edward Soffen is a board-certified radiation oncologist and medical director of the Radiation Oncology Department at CentraState Medical Center's Statesir Cancer Center in Freehold, New Jersey. He contributed this article to Live Science's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.
As a radiation oncologist, my goal is to use radiation as an extremely powerful and potent tool to eradicate cancer tumors in the body: These techniques save and extend patients' lives every day.
Historically, radiation treatments have been challenged by the damage they cause healthy tissue surrounding a tumor, but new technologies are now slashing those risks.
How radiation therapies work
High-energy radiation kills cancer cells by damaging DNA so severely that the diseased cells die. Radiation treatments may come from a machine (x-ray or proton beam), radioactive material placed in the body near tumor cells, or from a fluid injected into the bloodstream. A patient may receive radiation therapy before or after surgery and/or chemotherapy, depending on the type, location and stage of the cancer.
Today's treatment options target radiation more directly to a tumor — quickly, and less invasively — shortening overall radiation treatment times. And using new Internet-enabled tools, physicians across the country can collaborate by sharing millions of calculations and detailed algorithms for customizing the best treatment protocols for each patient. With just a few computer key strokes, complicated treatment plans can be anonymously shared with other physicians at remote sites who have expertise in a particular oncologic area. Through this collaboration, doctors offer their input and suggestions for optimizing treatment. In turn, the patient benefits from a wide community of physicians who share expertise based upon their research, clinical expertise and first-hand experience.
The result is safer, more effective treatments. Here are five of the most exciting examples:
1. Turning breast cancer upside down
When the breast is treated while the patient is lying face down, with radiation away from the heart and lungs, a recent study found an 86 percent reduction in the amount of lung tissue irradiated in the right breast and a 91 percent reduction in the left breast. Additionally, administering prone-position radiation therapy in this fashion does not inhibit the effectiveness of the treatment in any way.
2. Spacer gel for prostate cancer
Prostate cancer treatment involves delivering a dose of radiation to the prostate that will destroy the tumor cells, but not adversely affect the patient. A new hydrogel, a semi-solid natural substance, will soon be used to decrease toxicity from radiation beams to the nearby rectum. The absorbable gel is injected by a syringe between the prostate and the rectum which pushes the rectum out of the way while treating the prostate. As a result, there is much less radiation inadvertently administered to the rectum through collateral damage. This can significantly improve a patient's daily quality of life — bowel function is much less likely to be affected by scar tissue or ulceration. [Facts About Prostate Cancer (Infographic )]
3. Continual imaging improves precision
Image-Guided Radiation Therapy (IGRT) uses specialized computer software to take continual images of a tumor before and during radiation treatment, which improves the precision and accuracy of the therapy. A tumor can move day by day or shrink during treatment. Tracking a tumor's position in the body each day allows for more accurate targeting and a narrower margin of error when focusing the beam. It is particularly beneficial in the treatment of tumors that are likely to move during treatment, such as those in the lung, and for breast, gastrointestinal, head and neck and prostate cancer.
In fact, the prostate can move a few millimeters each day depending on the amount of fluid in the bladder and stool or gas in the rectum. Head and neck cancers can shrink significantly during treatment, allowing for the possibility of adaptive planning (changing the beams during treatment), again to minimize long term toxicity and side effects.
4. Lung, liver and spine cancers can now require fewer treatments
Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy (SBRT) offers a newer approach to difficult-to-treat cancers located in the lung, liver and spine. It is a concentrated, high-dose form of radiation that can be delivered very quickly with fewer sessions. Conventional treatment requires 30 radiation treatments daily for about six weeks, compared to SBRT which requires about three to five treatments over the course of only one week. The cancer is treated from a 3D perspective in multiple angles and planes, rather than a few points of contact, so the tumor receives a large dose of radiation, but normal tissue receives much less. By attacking the tumor from many different angles, the dose delivered to the normal tissue (in the path of any one beam) is quite minimal, but when added together from a multitude of beams coming from many different planes, all intersecting inside the tumor, the cancer can be annihilated.
5. Better access to hard-to-reach tumors
Proton-beam therapy is a type of radiation treatment that uses protons rather than x-rays to treat cancer. Protons, however, can target the tumor with lower radiation doses to surrounding normal tissues, depending on the location of the tumor. It has been especially effective for replacing surgery in difficult-to-reach areas, treating tumors that don't respond to chemotherapy, or situations where photon-beam therapy will cause too much collateral damage to surrounding tissue. Simply put, the proton (unlike an x-ray) can stop right in the tumor target and give off all its energy without continuing through the rest of the body. One of the more common uses is to treat prostate cancer. Proton therapy is also a good choice for small tumors in areas which are difficult to pinpoint — like the base of the brain — without affecting critical nerves like those for vision or hearing. Perhaps the most exciting application for this treatment approach is with children. Since children are growing and their tissues are rapidly dividing, proton beam radiation has great potential to limit toxicity for those patients. Children who receive protons will be able to maintain more normal neurocognitive function, preserve lung function, cardiac function and fertility.
While cancer will strike more than 1.6 million Americans in 2015, treatments like these are boosting survival rates. In January 2014, there were nearly 14.5 million American cancer survivors. By January 2024, that number is expected to increase to nearly 19 million.
But make no mistake — radiation therapy, one of the most powerful resources used to defeat cancer, is not done yet. As we speak, treatment developments in molecular biology, imaging technology and newer delivery techniques are in the works, and will continue to provide cancer patients with even less invasive treatment down the road.
Written by David McNamee
Male registered nurses are earning more than female registered nurses across settings, specialties and positions, and this pay gap has not narrowed over time, says a new analysis of salary trends published in JAMA.
Although the salary gap between men and women has narrowed in many occupations since the introduction of the Equal Pay Act 50 years ago, say the study authors, pay inequality persists in medicine and nursing.
Previous studies have found that male registered nurses (RNs) have higher salaries than female registered RNs. In their new study, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, sought to investigate what employment factors could explain these salary differences using recent data.
The researchers analyzed nationally representative data from the last six quadrennial National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses studies (1988-2008; including 87,903 RNs) and data from the American Community Survey (2001-13; including 205,825 RNs). In both studies, the proportion of men in the sample was 7%.
During every year, both of the studies demonstrated that salaries for male RNs were higher than the salaries of female RNs. What is more, the researchers found no significant changes in this pay gap - which averaged as an overall adjusted earnings difference of $5,148 - over the study period.
In ambulatory care the salary gap was $7,678 and in hospital settings it was $3,873. The smallest pay gap was found in chronic care ($3,792) and the largest was in cardiology ($6,034). The only specialty in which no significant pay gap between men and women RNs was detected was orthopedics. The salary difference was also found to extend across the range of positions, including roles such as middle management and nurse anesthetists.
Employers and physicians 'need to examine pay structures'
"The roles of RNs are expanding with implementation of the Affordable Care Act and emphasis on team-based care delivery," the authors write.
"A salary gap by gender is especially important in nursing because this profession is the largest in health care and is predominantly female, affecting approximately 2.5 million women. These results may motivate nurse employers, including physicians, to examine their pay structures and act to eliminate inequities."
The results of a 2010 survey looking at the impact of the economic crisis on nursing salaries published in Nursing Management found that a nurse leader's average salary fell by $4,000 between 2007 and 2010. In the same survey, almost 60% of nurse leaders felt that they were not receiving appropriate compensation for their level of organizational responsibility.
However, that survey found no evidence that workload for nurse leaders had increased. The respondents reported that they were still working the same number of hours per week as they had traditionally and were not responsible for more staff members than before the economic crisis.
"If you thought nursing was immune to the downturn, think again. The poor economy is keeping us working longer than we'd anticipated," said Nursing Management editor-in-chief Richard Hader, "and in addition to wage cuts, organizations are freezing or eliminating retirement benefits, further negatively impacting employee morale."
In a Johns Hopkins Outpatient Center exam room, medical interpreter Julie Barshinger is working with a Spanish patient, a woman in her early 40s with a stocky build and a dark ponytail, who is concerned about complications related to her recent nose surgery.
But first, the woman must complete a medical history form. “¿Qué significa vertigo?” (“What is vertigo?”) she asks, as Barshinger goes through the list of symptoms on the form, verbally interpreting them from English to Spanish. Then later, “No sé qué es un soplo cardiac … ” Barshinger interprets the question — “I don’t know what a heart murmur is” — for the nurse who is preparing a nasal spray for the patient that will allow the doctor to look inside her nose.
“If it doesn’t apply to her, don’t answer it,” the nurse says kindly.
“I just want you to know that I have to interpret everything she says,” explains Barshinger, who is one of 18 full-time interpreters in Johns Hopkins Medicine International’s Language Access Services office. Part of Barshinger’s job is educating providers about her role.
Later, the nurse starts to leave the room to see another patient before the woman has completed her medical history form. “I can’t continue if you’re not in the room with me,” Barshinger says. The patient is consistently giving additional information about her symptoms: She doesn’t see well since her operation; she has some nasal bleeding; she sees the room spinning when she lies down. It’s crucial for Barshinger to communicate these potentially important details to the nurse, who stays in the room, answering questions when needed, until the form is complete.
Throughout the interaction, Barshinger knows little about the full scope of the patient’s health history. But she doesn’t need to know. “I’m not in charge of her care,” she says. “I’m only her voice. I want to make sure her voice is being heard by the right people. I’m also the voice of the provider, so she can communicate the very necessary and important information that she has to the patient.”
While Johns Hopkins, like other hospitals that receive federal funding, has been providing interpretation services for 50 years — since passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on national origin — requests for interpreters at The Johns Hopkins Hospital have grown dramatically since 2010, jumping from 23,000 to more than 50,000 annually.
This is due in part to the slightly rising limited English proficiency population in Baltimore City, which grew by about 4,000 people between 2000 and 2012, according to the U.S. Census. Today, the hospital also serves more refugees, about 2,500 of whom settled in Baltimore City between 2008 and 2012.
But Susana Velarde, administrator for Language Access Services at Johns Hopkins Medicine International, says the increase in requests is also due to the growing understanding among health care providers that they can do a better job treating their patients with limited English proficiency with the help of interpreters.
Because they prevent communication errors, certified interpreters improve patient safety. A 2012 study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found that patients with limited English proficiency who did not have access to interpreters during admission and discharge had to stay in the hospital between 0.75 and 1.47 days longer than patients who had an interpreter on both days. Moreover, when the interpreter has 100 hours of medical interpretation training — a qualification that researchers have found is more important than years of experience — they made two-thirds fewer errors than their counterparts with less training, according to a 2012 Annals of Emergency Medicine study.
The Language Access Services office’s full-time interpreters—who speak Spanish, Chinese-Mandarin, Korean, Russian, Arabic and Nepali — participate in an extensive two-year training program, which includes classes, tests and shadowing. Fifty percent of the team is certified; the rest are working toward certification, if available in their language. The office also has 45 medical interpreter floaters, and interpretation services are available 24/7 in person, over the phone or through a video monitor for patients with limited English proficiency who live in the Baltimore area and international residents who come to Johns Hopkins for treatment.
“We are the conduit, but also the clarifier,” says Spanish interpreter Rosa Ryan. “We are not simply repeating words but making sure the message is understood.”
For example, at the end of her visit on the otolaryngology floor, Barshinger walks to the front desk with the ponytailed Spanish woman to help her make a follow-up appointment. With Barshinger interpreting, the woman learns that she must get a Letter of Medical Necessity from her current insurer or change insurance companies before coming back to Johns Hopkins. When the administrator walks away, Barshinger checks in with the woman to make sure she understands the instructions.
“The patient might nod, but the information might not be registering,’” she says. “I try to check for clarification if I sense there is a disconnect.”
Interpreters are also cultural brokers. Yinghong Huang, a Chinese-Mandarin interpreter, remembers when a nurse in labor and delivery tried to give a Chinese patient a cup of ice water. “In China, for a woman who has just delivered a baby, we don’t want her to touch anything cold, let alone ice,” Huang explains. This is one of the many rules that Chinese women abide by for a month to help the body recover from childbirth. With Huang present, providers knew to give the patient hot water with her medicine instead.
Despite the increasing demand for interpreters, their expertise too often goes untapped, says Lisa DeCamp, assistant professor of pediatrics at the school of medicine. She is the lead author of a 2013 Pediatrics study that found that 57 percent of pediatricians who completed national surveys in 2010 still reported using family members as interpreters.
This is a bad practice for many reasons, she says. For one thing, family members often don’t have specialized knowledge of medical terminology. Moreover, both patients and family members may censor information. “If you’re talking about something that is intimate or personal and your son is translating for you, you might not want to disclose something about your sexual activity, your drug use or anything else sensitive that could be contributing to your problem,” says DeCamp, who is also a pediatrician at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.
Even physicians with basic skills in a particular language should use an interpreter to prevent misunderstandings. “I [know] some high school Spanish, but I’m nowhere near fluent, so I need an interpreter,” says Cynthia Argani, director of labor and delivery at Hopkins Bayview, where about 70 percent of her department’s patient population speaks Spanish. “It’s not fair to the patient not to use one. The message can get skewed.”
DeCamp, who has passed a test certifying her as a bilingual physician, offers a real-life example from the literature that shows how this can happen. A pediatrician with limited Spanish language skills instructed parents to use an antibiotic to treat their child’s ear infection. In Spanish, “if you use the preposition, it really means, ‘put in the ear,’” she says. “So the family was putting the specified amount of amoxicillin that should be taken by mouth in the ear. That child is not going to die from an ear infection, but he’s having pain and a fever, and the family doesn’t have clear instructions on how to provide medication.”
On Barshinger’s rounds, after her otolaryngology visit, she walks at an impressively fast pace to The Charlotte R. Bloomberg Children’s Center, where a mother recognizes her and asks her to be her interpreter. The provider who requested Barshinger’s services is not ready yet, so she has time to help.
A doctor carrying a sheaf of papers joins them in a busy hallway. She points to a long list of care instructions translated into Spanish, then begins to explain them to the mother. Because the doctor is verbally giving the instructions, Barshinger interprets. The mother needs to buy an extra-strength, over-the-counter medication and give her daughter a second medication three times a day, which she will need to “swish and spit,” the doctor says. A third medication will be applied to the daughter’s face two times a day, and a special shampoo is needed to wash her hair. Before an upcoming dentist appointment, she’ll also need to give her daughter three amoxicillin. When the doctor steps away, the mother asks Barshinger a question about her daughter’s dental visit, which Barshinger interprets when the doctor returns.
While interpreting, Barshinger stands to the side of the patient’s mother, allowing the doctor and the mother to face each other and communicate directly with one another. This simple tactic encourages providers to develop a rapport with their patients with limited English proficiency.
The goal? “To make the patient feel like the appointment is with him and not with the interpreter,” says Velarde. “The interpreter is just the voice. We want providers to have a bond with their patients, like they do when everyone is speaking English.”
Tapping the expertise of interpreters doesn’t have to complicate things for physicians, says Lisa DeCamp, a bilingual physician at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. Her advice for colleagues:
Educate the interpreter about what you’re doing so they’re not going in blind. Say a patient has severe abdominal pain. Providers can quickly explain to the interpreter that the first job is to rule out appendicitis.
Sit across from the patient, with the interpreter standing at the patient’s side, and talk directly to the patient. The goal is for the provider and the patient to feel like they have a relationship with each other despite language barriers. When possible, use short phrases to help the interpreter keep up with the conversation.
Found In Translation
Arabic translator Lina Zibdeh remembers the first time she saw the recommendation in a patient education document that leftover medications should be discarded in used cat litter or coffee grounds.
There isn’t a direct translation for this concept in Arabic, a language that is spoken in different dialects by 22 countries but written in one common form. “It can take hours and extensive research to make sure a concept like this is translated correctly,” says Zibdeh, who translates written materials, such as informed consent forms, welcome packets, care instructions, brochures, video scripts and more. In this case, Zibdeh had to add an additional sentence to explain that medications should be disposed of in this way so they are not enticing to children and pets.
While translation programs like Google Translate are readily available and easy to use, they often produce inaccurate translations, which can confuse patients and lead to poor health outcomes. This is because words in sentences can be organized in different ways from one language to another. Thus, when online programs translate those sentences from, say, English to Chinese, they can change the meaning, says Chinese-Mandarin interpreter and translator Yinghong Huang. Some English words, such as discharge, also have multiple meanings. “It’s very rare for a program to get the right meaning,” Huang says. Even Huang has to use tools, such as her cellphone and an online dictionary, to produce accurate translations.
Along with improving health outcomes, documents that are available in a patient’s own language can make him or her feel more comfortable and secure, says Zibdeh, who organized the American Translators Association’s first webinar for the Arabic Division on Arabic Medical Translation in early 2014. “It helps that patient feel closer to home,” she adds.
By Heather Stringer for Nurse.com
In 2010, the Institute of Medicine issued eight recommendations that dared to transform the nursing profession by 2020. This year marks the midway point for reaching the goals outlined in the report “The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health,” and statistics at halftime offer a glimpse into nursing’s progress so far.
Although the numbers in some areas have altered little in the first few years, infrastructure changes have been set in motion that will lead to more noticeable improvements in the data in the next several years, said Susan Hassmiller, PhD, RN, FAAN, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation senior adviser for nursing. The RWJF partnered with the IOM to produce the report.
“I am a very impatient person and would like things to move faster, but we have to remember that we are changing social norms with these goals,” Hassmiller said. “We are trying, for example, to convince hospital leaders, nursing students and educational institutions that it is important for nurses to have a baccalaureate degree, and that takes time.”
Hassmiller is referring to Recommendation 4 of the report, which calls academic nurse leaders across all schools of nursing to work together to increase the proportion of nurses with a baccalaureate degree from 50% to 80% by 2020. The most recent data collected from the American Community Survey by the Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action found that the percentage of employed nurses with a bachelor’s degree or higher only climbed 2% between 2010 and 2013. However, Hassmiller suggested the percentage is likely to increase rapidly in coming years because nursing schools have increased capacity to accommodate more students. As a result, the number of nurses enrolled in RN-to-BSN programs skyrocketed between 2010 and 2014, from about 77,000 nurses in 2010 to 130,300 students in 2014, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing — a 69% increase.
Campaign for Action leaders also are optimistic about the profession’s ability to approach the 80% goal because nursing schools are beginning to experiment with new models of education, such as bringing BSN programs to community colleges.
Traditionally, students spend at least three years in a community college earning an associate’s degree to become an RN — at least a year for prerequisites and another two to complete the nursing program, Hassmiller said. These RNs may work for a few years before returning to school to earn a BSN — and some may not return at all, said Jenny Landen, MSN, RN, FNP-BC, dean of the School of Health, Math and Sciences at Santa Fe Community College in New Mexico. To avoid losing potential BSN students, leaders from New Mexico’s university and community colleges began meeting to discuss a new paradigm: students who were dually enrolled in a community college and a university BSN program.
The educators started by forming a common statewide baccalaureate curriculum that would be used by all community colleges and universities, Landen said. The educators also discussed how to pool resources, such as offering university courses online at local community colleges. “This opens the opportunity of earning a BSN to people who need to stay in their communities during school,” she said. “They may have family commitments locally, and they can take the baccalaureate degree courses at the community college tuition fee, which is much less expensive.”
Four community colleges in New Mexico have launched dual enrollment programs within the last year. At Santa Fe Community College, there are far more applicants than the program can hold, Landen said. Community colleges and universities in other parts of the country also are working together to create programs in which nursing students can be dually enrolled. In addition to nursing schools buying into the need for more BSN-prepared nurses, there also is evidence that employers are moving toward this new standard as well. According to a study released in February in the Journal of Nursing Administration, the percentage of institutions requiring a BSN when hiring new RNs jumped from 9% to 19% between 2011 and 2013.
So far, the national data related to Recommendation 5 — double the number of nurses with a doctorate by 2020 — suggests there have been minimal changes in the number of employed nurses with a doctorate, yet there has been a significant increase in the number of students pursuing this level of education. According to the JONA article, on average about 3.1% of employed nurses in all institutions had a doctorate in 2011. This rose to 3.6% in 2013. This percentage likely will increase in the coming years because of the proliferation of doctor of nursing practice programs since 2010. These programs are geared for advanced practice RNs who are interested in returning to the clinical setting after earning a doctoral degree. Between 2010 and 2013, the number of students enrolled in DNP programs doubled from just over 7,000 students to more than 14,600. There was a lesser increase in the number of students enrolled in PhD programs, up 12% from 4,600 to 5,100, according to the AACN.
“When the DNP degree became an option, it opened the opportunity of a higher level of education to the working nurse, not the researcher, and that was attractive to many nurses,” said Pat Polansky, MS, RN, director of program development and implementation at the Center to Champion Nursing in America. “Getting a research-based PhD takes longer and not every nurse can do that, so the DNP has become a wonderful option.”
Leaders at the Campaign for Action, however, acknowledge that it is important to find strategies to boost the number of PhD-prepared nurses because the profession needs those nurses in academia and other administrative, research or entrepreneurial roles where they are contributing to the solutions of a transformed healthcare system, Hassmiller said. To encourage more nurses to pursue the path of a PhD, in 2014 the RWJF launched the Future of Nursing Scholars Program, which awards $75,000 per scholar pursuing a PhD. This is matched with $50,000 by the student’s school, and the funds can be used over the course of three years.
In December, the nursing profession will have another opportunity to assess progress on the recommendations when the IOM releases findings from a study that is under way to assess the national impact of the Future of Nursing report. The changes happening in areas such as education are remarkable, Hassmiller said, and she is eagerly anticipating the results from the current IOM study.
“I would never modify the goals because you need something to strive for in order to affect change,” Hassmiller said. “I am extremely encouraged because we have never seen anything like this. For the first time in history, more than half of nurses have a bachelor’s degree, and it is going to keep climbing. The most challenging part has been the number of people that need to be influenced to make the business case as to why it is important, and it is finally happening.”
1) Remove scope-of-practice barriers.
2) Expand opportunities for nurses to lead and diffuse collaborative improvement efforts.
3) Implement nurse residency programs.
4) Increase the proportion of nurses with a baccalaureate degree to 80% by 2020.
5) Double the number of nurses with a doctorate by 2020.
6) Ensure that nurses engage in lifelong learning.
7) Prepare and enable nurses to lead change to advance health.
8) Build an infrastructure for the collection and analysis of interprofessional healthcare workforce data.
© 2015 OnCourse Learning Corporation. All rights reserved.
Melissa and her husband started trying to have a baby right after they got married. But nothing was happening. So they went to a fertility clinic and tried round after round of everything the doctors had to offer. Nothing worked.
"They basically told me, 'You know, you have no chance of getting pregnant,' " says Melissa, who asked to be identified only by her first name to protect her privacy.
But Melissa, 30, who lives in Ontario, Canada, didn't give up. She switched clinics and kept trying. She got pregnant once, but that ended in a miscarriage.
"You just feel like your body's letting you down. And you don't know why and you don't know what you can do to fix that," she says. "It's just devastating."
Melissa thought it was hopeless. Then her doctor called again. This time he asked if she'd be interested in trying something new. She and her husband hesitated at first.
"We eventually decided that we should give it one last shot," she says.
Her doctor is Dr. Robert Casper, the reproductive endocrinologist who runs the Toronto Center for Advanced Reproductive Technology. He has started to offer women a fertility treatment that's not available in the United States, at least not yet. The technique was named Augment by the company that developed it, and its aim is to help women who have been unable to get pregnant because their eggs aren't as fresh as they once were.
Casper likens these eggs to a flashlight that just needs new batteries.
"Like a flashlight sitting on a shelf in a closet for 38 years, there really isn't anything wrong with the flashlight," he says. "But it doesn't work when you try to turn it on because the batteries have run down. And we think that's very similar to what's happening physiologically in women as they get into their 30s."
In human eggs, as in all cells, the tiny structures that work like batteries are called mitochondria. Augment is designed to replace that lost energy, using fresh mitochondria from immature egg cells that have been extracted from the same woman's ovaries.
"The idea was to get mitochondria from these cells to try to, sort of, replace the batteries in these eggs," Casper says.
Here's how it works. A woman trying to get pregnant goes through a surgical procedure to remove a small piece of her ovary, so that doctors can extract mitochondria from the immature egg cells. In a separate procedure, doctors remove some of the woman's mature eggs from her ovaries. They then inject the young mitochondria into the eggs in the lab, along with sperm from the woman's partner; except for adding mitochondria to the mix, the process is the same one that's followed with standard in vitro fertilization. The resulting embryo can then be transferred into her womb.
The extracted mitochondria "look exactly like egg mitochondria," Casper says. "And they're young. They haven't been subjected to mutations and other problems."
So they should have enough power to create a healthy embryo, he says — at least in theory. The company that developed the procedure, OvaScience Inc. of Cambridge, Mass., has reported no births from the procedure so far. The technique adds about $25,000 to the cost of a typical IVF cycle.
OvaScience hopes to eventually bring the technique to infertile couples in the United States. But the Food and Drug Administration has blocked that effort — pending proof that the technique works and is safe. Meanwhile, the firm is already offering the technology in other countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Turkey — and in Canada, at Casper's Toronto clinic.
"We're pretty excited about it," Casper says.
Not everyone in Canada is excited about it. Endocrinologist Neal Mahutte, who heads the Canadian Fertility and Andrology Society, notes that no one knows whether the technique works. And he has many other questions.
"It's a very promising, very novel technique," he says. "It may one day be shown to be of tremendous benefit. But when you amp up the energy in the egg, how much do we really know about the safety of what will follow?"
"Is there a chance that the increased energy source could contribute later to birth defects?" Mahutte wonders. "Or to disorders such as diabetes? Or to problems like cancer? We certainly hope that it would not. But nobody knows at this point."
He and some other experts say it's unethical to offer the procedure to women before those questions have been answered.
"There are processes that are set up to ensure that products which are offered for clinical use in humans have undergone rigorous testing for safety and efficacy, based on well-established scientific and ethical testing criteria," says Ubaka Ogbogu, a bioethicist and health law expert at the University of Alberta. "To circumvent this process is to use humans as guinea pigs for a product that may have serious safety concerns or problems."
Casper defends his decision to offer his patients the treatment, saying a New Jersey fertility clinic briefly tried something similar more than 15 years ago; in that case, he says, the resulting babies seemed fine, and there have been no reports of problems since. In addition, Casper says he has done a fair amount of research on mitochondria.
"I think there's very little chance that there would be any pathological or abnormal results," he says. "So I feel pretty confident this is not going to do any harm."
Casper's first patient to try the technique — Melissa — says she's comfortable relying on the doctor's judgment.
"I think there's always risk with doing any sort of procedure," Melissa says. "IVF — I mean, there was lots of controversy and risk when that first came out. For me, and from what I've discussed with my doctor, I don't see it being a big risk to us."
And she's thrilled by the outcome so far: She's pregnant with twins.
"You know, I couldn't believe it," she says. "I still don't believe it a lot of the time. There are no words for it — it's incredible. We're very excited."
Casper says 60 women have signed up for Augment at his clinic. He has treated 20 of the women, producing eight pregnancies, he says. The first births — Melissa's twins — are due in August.