Bang Head Here!

So here I sit on New Year’s Eve contemplating this year of 2014.  I will not be sad to leave it behind and as the eternal optimist I look forward to a better year in 2015.  It’s a surprise that we can get up every morning if we listen to the media. So much hate, so much violence, so much war, so much obesity, so much politics, so much sadness, so much disaster, so much of everything. How do we survive it all?bang head here

I have never been one to make many New Year’s resolutions. I don’t think waiting until New Year’s to decide to be a better person or any other infamous decisions is the right thing to do. If you are giving up your addictions, why wait? My addictions just continue anyway. That is why they are addictions, I have trouble giving them up and I don’t think you can use the word “addiction” and “healthy” in the same sentence.

I read and I hear that the country has turned the corner and that unemployment is decreasing. I also read and hear that inflation is under control? Has anyone bought bread and milk lately? Everything is going up and now gasoline is hitting the bottom.  I don’t think we have to worry about the major oil companies being “too big to go broke” like the banks were in 2008. They should have plenty of financial cushions from the prices we have been paying at the pump for the last few years. But, it the pundits are correct and our friends in the Middle East are doing this to lower the competition, something will surely “pop”.

I am surrounded by news that is not very comforting. I ignore it some days, and other days it affects my life as it does yours.  Tomorrow, I will choose to ignore it and enjoy my New Year’s parade and some football.  And maybe make a New Year’s resolution.

Broken Trail of Promises at the VA Hospitals

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It was reported last week by CNN that at least 40 veterans have died waiting for treatment at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care System. They revealed the secret list that patients were shuttled to when they didn’t have time nor room to serve them They did this to hide the fact that thousands of veterans were waiting months to get an appointment. The whistleblower was a previous VA physician, now retired.  I have seen multiple reporting’s of botched treatments, long waits, dirty conditions, and overcrowding, but this is the most disturbing and striking so far.

Two years ago the information about misapplied radiation treatments in the VA in Pennsylvania began to surface. But, it was not reported in the news media for several months. Then  another story of a radiologist in Jackson, MS accused of not reading X-ray’s and CT images or reading them too fast in order to improve his productivity.  He was being paid by the number of procedures he interpreted. Following soon after came the report of overcrowding and unclean conditions at the VA facility in Washington, DC. In Pittsburgh, six patients died and 20 more became ill after an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease due to contaminated water.  The hospital and staff knew about it, but the veterans and families were never told.

Now we are hearing about Phoenix and that the officials at the hospital not only tolerated this scheme, but openly defended it. The case of the Navy veteran, Thomas Breen, brings it all home as the VA hospital in Phoenix called one week after he died with his appointment time. The VA requires its hospitals to provide care to patients in a timely manner, typically within 14 – 30 days. But the system is overwhelmed with the numbers requiring treatment and in order to meet the regulatory demands, elaborate schemes were used for reporting to Washington.

The Phoenix VA’s “off the books” waiting list has captured the attention of the U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee in Washington. The chairman is investigating delays in care that are reported across the country. At this time when veteran’s suicides are at an all time high, it is unthinkable that real human medical professionals could exhibit this behavior. The system is broken. The number of claims pending for disability compensation from the VA is also at astronomical heights. The normal processing time is more than 125 days. We owe these men and women our freedom!  We should be holding up our end of the bargain, both the legal one we promised, but also the moral promise that we would be there for them.

The Medical Marijuana Debate or Do You Need a Reefer?

The debate rages on in the media about the benefits and complications of legalizing medical marijuana. We have seen the long lines in Colorado already for those buying for recreational use. I have never used medically or recreationally but many of my friends and acquaintances have done so. I recently lost my sister-in-law to stage IV breast cancer and I tried to convince her to use it to increase her appetite and promote a feeling of well being. She refused as she could not change her attitudes either toward it’s use as amarijuana leaf and gavel medicinal herb. When you are dying, no one has the right to tell you what you should do or what you should use to medicate against the end result. One of my BFF’s from high school is now using it during her chemotherapy for bladder cancer. It is illegal in our state and she has a friend that sends it to her from one of those states where it is legal. How could I deprive her of that as she says it is what keeps her going with the nausea. I never asked her if she has a continual craving for Twinkies.

However, it was not ok for my children to self medicate for feelings they could not handle or other excuses they had. My opinion is vested in the 60’s and all that Cheech and Chong imprinted in all of us. Drugs, sex, and rock and roll was not my cup of tea. There is legislation pending in 15 states for 2014 concerning the utilization of medical marijuana. Will we or won’t we be facing this conundrum? If it were a cure or help for Alzheimer’s would we give to our parents who need it? My problem is the past…literally the past. I need to stop the 1960’s tape from playing in my head and move ahead. So, all I can do at this point is sit back and see what happens. But I have my Twinkies ready.

HealthGrades Report to the Nation for 2014

ImageI received my notice that the HealthGrades Report on hospital quality outcomes for 2014 was online.  If you are not well versed in the HealthGrades ratings, it may come as a shock that your hospital is not as good as you think it is.  Their hospital rating reports for specific procedures and diagnoses are compiled primarily from Medicare claim data, and it includes all hospitals that are Medicare participants.

Our nation generally agrees (97%) that having the correct information about our healthcare is paramount in making good healthcare decisions. According to a recent Harris Interactive Research survey, we are more likely to choose our hospital based on convenience/location (58%) and amount of co-pay (45%) than on quality outcome information (10%).

This year the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) reported that expenditures for healthcare in the U.S. were $2.6 trillion and 17.9% of the gross domestic product. Of that expenditure, $814 billion went to hospitals and $515.5 billion went to physicians and clinical services.  We have been told that health reform will reduce healthcare spending over the next 10 years and lower our premiums.  If healthcare costs continue to rise why doesn’t the consumer shop for better, more affordable care?

HealthGrades was founded in 1998 and ever since they have been reporting on the quality and safety of our nation’s hospitals. The most recent survey just posted online at their website claims that in the time period 2010-2012 , an additional 234,252 lives could have been saved if all hospitals had operated at their highest rating level of 5 stars. HealthGrades rates the performance of hospitals on multiple procedures and diseases within the same institution.

The first thing I did was to go to their website and look up the hospital in my home town. What I found was frightening. My chances of survival in my hometown hospital with a heart attack were only a 2.  However, if I were a patient in the same hospital with pneumonia, my chances of a good outcome were a 4.  My hometown hospital only rated a 3 on the overall scale.  Not a very comforting thought. HealthGrades states that patients treated at a hospital receiving 5-stars in a particular procedure or condition have a lower risk of experiencing complications during a hospital stay than if they were treated at a hospital receiving a 1-star in that procedure or condition.  There also is a lower risk of dying during a hospital stay in a 5-star hospital than in a 1-star hospital. They also cite the national ratings average for procedures and conditions for comparison.

You should visit the website and find your healthcare facility. It is imperative that we, as consumers, must take charge of our own health,  and make informed choices on where and from whom we purchase our care.

Walking Beneficial in Cancer Prevention and Risk Reduction

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Diagnosis: Breast cancer, Colorectal cancer, Endometrial cancer

RX: Physical Exercise: Get yourself a dog

    Many of the latest studies show a direct relationship between physical exercise and the prevention or reduction of risk with breast cancer, colorectal cancer, endometrial cancer and other cancers. One study in 2011 showed that 3-4% of all bowel, breast and uterine cancers are linked to physical inactivity.

The correlation of body mass index and inactivity with the type of cancer you get suggests the possibility of a metabolic reason or gene pathway linking being overweight and inactivity.  The Harvard’s Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study included about 150,000 people.  In this study we can assume that the subjects reporting did a pretty good job of it since they were health professionals. The study asked the participants to record their diet, exercise, weight and other responses for a year. In the participant population, 861 (0.574%) developed colon cancer. This group has been studied several times. In this group, the study identified that the body mass index (BMI) and physical activity correlated with the kind of cancer you got.

In a second study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, January 2013, investigators identified 2300 individuals with invasive, nonmetastatic colorectal cancer and measured how much exercise they got before and after their diagnosis. The study showed those participants who were more physically active, both before and after diagnosis, had much better outcomes.

How much exercise was or is necessary to get these better outcomes?  Moderate physical activity of 30 minutes, five times a week, can reduce your cancer risk. If you can get more than 30 minutes, you can get more reduction in risk.  Therefore, a good prescription for both treatment and prevention: Get Yourself a Dog and Walk the Dog, twice a day for 30 minutes. But don’t expect your insurance to cover it.