Author Archives: Linda Barlow

Are You Ready to Help Stop Cervical Cancer?

National patient advocacy organizations and allies are urging American women to start the year off right by learning more about cervical cancer and prevention during Cervical Health Awareness Month this January.  Here’s what you need to know.

Paul DeMiglio

Paul DeMiglio

Although enormous strides have been made in the prevention of cervical cancer – which has gone from being the number-one cause of cancer death among American women in the 1950s to now ranking 14th for all cancers impacting U.S. women – much work remains in the fight to end this disease. Cervical cancer is still a major health concern, with approximately 12,000 women diagnosed each year in the United States and more than 4,000 women who die from the disease annually.

Cervical cancer is primarily caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), the most common sexually transmitted virus in the U.S. impacting 79 million Americans. While HPV is most often the cause, other identified risk factors can include:

  • Smoking;
  • Having HIV or other conditions that weaken the immune system;
  • Prolonged (five or more years) use of birth control;
  • Three or more full-term pregnancies; and
  • Having several or more sexual partners.

While many of these factors don’t always lead to cervical cancer, it’s been shown that the risk of acquiring the disease can be decreased through frequent screening. Once women began regularly getting Pap tests and HPV vaccinations, for example, deaths resulting from cervical cancer decreased by nearly 70 percent in the United States from 1955-1992.

Cervical cancer is preventable because of the availability of a vaccine for HPV and effective screening tests, according to an announcement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of Cervical Cancer Awareness Month last year. Although highly treatable, the CDC shows that half of all cervical cancer cases occur in women who rarely or never were screened for cancer. In another 10-20 percent of cases, patients were screened but did not receive adequate follow-up care. The CDC has also issued information regarding the availability and importance of preventative HPV vaccines.

The National Cervical Cancer Coalition (NCCC) and the American Sexual Health Association (ASHA) also advocate for increased awareness of the disease. In its promotion of the event the NCCC provides numerous suggestions on how to spread the word, including:

  • Enlist radio stations to issue PSAs;
  • Share tweets and Facebook posts to educate their networks;
  • Distribute ASHA/NCCC’s news release to local media, with a guide on how to reach out to media networks; and
  • Write to their mayors or local legislative offices to recognize Cervical Health Awareness Month.

It’s also important for providers to know how to most effectively engage families with girls, according to ASHA/NCCC President and CEO Lynn B. Barclay.

“Only about 35 percent of girls and young women who are eligible for these vaccines have completed the three-dose series,” Barclay says. “Parents are strongly influenced by the recommendations of the family doctor or nurse, so we’ll continue developing cervical cancer information and counseling tools designed specifically for health professionals.“

Now we want to hear from you. How can you increase awareness about cervical cancer in your communities? What can organizations, places of employment and other stakeholders do to help heighten visibility around cervical cancer prevention strategies?

Editorial Note: At press time, information regarding expected estimates of cervical cancer rates in the U.S. for 2014 had not been released. Please note that we will include the latest statistics as soon as data becomes available.

Why Revenue Matters to Patient Care

What approaches can pharmacists embrace to more effectively adapt to the rapidly changing landscape of U.S. health care? It’s exactly this question that Philip E. Johnson, RPh, FASHP, the oncology director for Premier, Inc, a health care improvement company, explores in the December edition of Pharmacy Practice News:

Paul DeMiglio

Paul DeMiglio

“Protecting oncology drug–related revenue is a good place to start, given the huge dollar figures involved and the ease with which that revenue can slip from an institution’s grasp, said Mr. Johnson, who was previously the director of pharmacy at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Fla. ‘Revenue is not a four-letter word. It’s important. If the doors close, we’re not providing care to anybody.'”

Click here to read the full article (“Reimbursement and Revenue Integrity”) by Susan Birk and see what tips Mr. Johnson offers to help pharmacists improve efficiencies and communicate their message to leaders, stakeholders and payers alike.

President Obama Urges “Millenials” to Sign up for Coverage under Affordable Care Act

In recent days the Obama Administration has been intensifying outreach efforts to increase the number of young people who enroll for insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) before the March 31, 2014 deadline.

Paul DeMiglio

Paul DeMiglio

During a speech in Boston on Oct. 30, President Obama pushed back against criticism of ACA – which he signed into law in March 2010 – by seeking to draw parallels to the Massachusetts’ health care insurance law (“Romneycare”) that then-Governor Mitt Romney signed into law four years earlier.

“And if it was hard doing it just in one state, it’s harder to do it in all 50 states, especially when the governors of a bunch of states and half of the Congress aren’t trying to help. Yes, it’s hard, but it’s worth it. It is the right thing to do, and we are going to keep moving forward. We are going to keep working to improve the law, just like you did here in Massachusetts.”

Governor Romney, on the other hand, rejected the comparison, describing the “Obamacare” rollout as a “frustrating embarrassment” that has failed to learn “the lessons of Massachusetts’ health care.”

However, the two laws did face similar challenges at the start of their implementation, especially among young people. Romneycare saw an extremely low registration rate among younger demographics until the deadline. Likewise – although the White House set a goal of getting 2.7 million 18-34 year olds signed up through HealthCare.gov by the end of March – a recent study by the Commonwealth Fund revealed that only one in five people who visited the federal or state enrollment sites were 18-29.

A Dec. 4 article in The New York Times makes the case that many young people are likely to follow enrollment patterns that were similar to those in Massachusetts in 2006 – by pushing it off until the deadline hits.

“The experience of Massachusetts under Gov. Mitt Romney showed that most people, especially young people, acted only when they approached a deadline,” write Jonathan Weisman and Michael Shear, “and with the federal law, the deadline to have insurance or pay a penalty is months away.”

According to an Oct. 30 article in Business Insider, two former Massachusetts officials who played major roles in creating and rolling out the Massachusetts health law — Jonathan Gruber and Jon Kingsdale – say successful implementation of massive health care changes can come slowly at first:

“In Massachusetts, the officials said, only .03% of the share of Massachusetts residents who eventually enrolled for health insurance signed up in the first month the law went into effect. In the final month of enrollment, before the mandate to purchase insurance kicked in, more than 20% of the final tally signed up.”

Last week President Obama renewed strategies to increase enrollment rates by actively engaging young people, who are widely seen as critical to the financial stability of Obamacare. Addressing 160 participants from across the country at the Dec. 4 Youth Summit, the President urged “Millenials” – including DJs, entrepreneurs and organizational heads – to talk up Obamacare and get their peers to sign up on HealthCare.gov.

The Washington Post is reporting signs that enrollment among younger Americans is beginning to pick up, with a three-day total of about 56,000 from Dec. 1-3 – more than twice the number of online signups on HealthCare.gov during the entire month of October.

Now tell us what you think. Can Romneycare serve as an effective model for implementation of Obamacare, especially with respect to generating more signups among younger population demographics? What, if any, provisions from that law are applicable to rolling out the ACA? Have you tried to enroll on HealthCare.gov and were you successful?

Categories: Access to Care

Get Your Flu Shot Now to Stay Healthier Later

So you think you’re too busy to get your flu shot? It’s easy to put off, but taking the time to do it sooner rather than later could prevent you from getting sick while helping to protect those you care about – during the holidays and beyond. That’s why the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), state and local health departments as well as other health agencies are raising visibility around National Influenza Vaccination Week (NIVW), from Dec. 8-14.

Paul DeMiglio

Paul DeMiglio

With the flu season beginning in the fall and not peaking until January-February, it’s certainly not too late to get your influenza shot. In fact, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends that everyone 6 months of age or older receive it, including:

  • Children
  • Seniors 65 and older
  • Pregnant women
  • American Indians and Alaska Natives
  • Those with underlying health conditions like asthma
  • Those living with conditions including chronic lung disease, heart disease, HIV/AIDS, cancer and diabetes

Although the effectiveness of flu vaccination varies each year, the CDC reports that recent studies demonstrate the evidence-based public health benefits. The Mayo Clinic agrees, calling flu shots your best defense against the flu, enabling “your body to develop the antibodies necessary to ward off influenza viruses.”

“The single best way to protect against the flu is to get vaccinated each year,” said CDC’s Anne Schuchat, M.D., Director, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “Today, flu vaccines are available in more convenient locations than ever. The few minutes it takes to get a flu vaccine can save you from experiencing several unproductive days due to influenza. The most common side effects are mild and short-lasting, especially when compared to symptoms of influenza infection.  Flu vaccine cannot cause flu illness.”

Despite evidence that the influenza vaccine is an effective tool, some still fear that getting their shot might put them at risk for experiencing severe side effects. No more than one or two cases per million people vaccinated acquire Guillain-Barré syndrome, an outcome much lower than the risk of developing severe complications from influenza. From 1976-2006, in fact, estimates show that far more people died from flu-associated deaths in the U.S. (3,000-49,000) than from negative reactions to the vaccines that protect against influenza.

To build awareness and support of NIVW and encourage people to get their shots, the CDC is making a rich variety of online tools and resources available to a wide spectrum of patients, educators and providers, such as:

Partnering with Reckitt Benckiser, Inc., the makers of LYSOL® Brand Products, the CDC is also spotlighting the Ounce of Prevention Campaign, which seeks to empower consumers and professionals with practical tips and information around effective hand hygiene and cleaning habits to prevent infectious diseases like the flu.

Click here to see if the vaccine is available in your area. To find a nearby location to get the vaccine, check out HHS’s “Flu Vaccine Finder” on Flu.gov, enter your ZIP code and share the widget to let your family members, colleagues and friends know where they can go too. HHS also provides a series of informative YouTube videos that cover prevention strategies, share tips for identifying symptoms and provide recommended treatment practices.

You can also make a powerful statement by taking the pledge to get vaccinated for the 2013-14 season, commit to taking a friend with you and in the process spread the word by clicking here. To get the latest updates on flu vaccination efforts, follow the CDC on Twitter (@CDCFlu and @CDCgov) and “like” them on Facebook.

Now tell us if you’ve gotten your flu shot. Where did you go? How long did it take? What ways could providers and health care stakeholders more effectively remind patients to get vaccinated?

Advocates Unite to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes During National Diabetes Awareness Month

One in three. That’s the number of people in the United States who will have diabetes by 2050 if current trends continue. Twenty-six million Americans – seven million of which are undiagnosed – now live with diabetes and another 79 million have pre-diabetes. To raise awareness and spotlight effective prevention strategies, patient advocates are mobilizing to promote National Diabetes Awareness Month and American Diabetes Month® this November.

Paul DeMiglio

Paul DeMiglio

As a disease that constitutes one of the leading causes of death and disability in the United States, diabetes is a disease in which glucose blood levels are elevated above their normal range. Those living with diabetes are also at higher risk of heart disease and stroke. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the risk factors for type 2 diabetes include:

  • Being 45 years of age or older
  • Being overweight
  • Having a family history of Type 2 Diabetes
  • Engaging in physical activity fewer than three times per week
  • Giving birth to a baby that weighed more than 9 pounds
  • Having gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy)

Although type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented because people are born with it, individuals can lower their risk of developing type 2 diabetes through a variety of practical strategies. The CDC’s National Diabetes Prevention Program is an evidence-based program for preventing type 2 diabetes. A public-private partnership of community organizations, private insurers, employers, health care organizations and government agencies, it teaches participants how they can incorporate physical activity into daily life and eat more healthfully, helping them to:

  • Cut their risk of developing type 2 diabetes in half
  • Lose 5-7 percent of body weight through modest changes in behavior
  • Reduce the risk of diabetes in people with pre-diabetes by 5 percent

The program pairs people with a lifestyle coach, in a group setting, to receive 16 core sessions and six post-core sessions over the course of a year. These lifestyle coaches work with the participants to identify emotions and situations that can sabotage their success. The group process encourages participants to share approaches for dealing with challenging situations.

Along with their National Diabetes Prevention program, the CDC also provides a Registry of Recognized Programs that lists contact information for community resources offering type 2 diabetes prevention programs. The registry was created to help health care providers more effectively refer their patients to the services they need, while also empowering patients to find and choose the programs that are right for them. For more information about diabetes and other diseases from CDC, you can sign up for e-mail updates here.

The National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP) is also committed to raising awareness and providing resources around issues such as diabetes risk, family support, and community support. The goal of their campaign – Control Your Diabetes. For Life is to increase awareness about the benefits of diabetes control through education materials, fact sheets, sample articles and PSAs for radio, print and television. A major part of their focus is also placed upon bringing diabetes information to community settings such as schools, worksites, senior centers and places of worship.

“Although the prevalence of diabetes has continued to rise due to the obesity epidemic, the aging of the U.S. population, and increasing numbers of people at high risk for diabetes, there are strong, encouraging indicators of progress in preventing and treating diabetes,” said Joanne Gallivan, M.S., R.D., Director of NDEP. “Today, there is much greater awareness that diabetes is a serious disease, a critical first step in changing outcomes. In 1997, only 8 percent of Americans believed diabetes was serious. In 2011, 84 percent of Americans understood that it is a serious disease.”

The American Diabetes Association (ADA), which works to “raise awareness of this ever growing disease,” leverages American Diabetes Month® to illustrate how diabetes impacts Americans. By asking people to submit photos that show “A Day in the Life of Diabetes,” the ADA plans to create a large mosaic that demonstrates how diabetes affects patients, families and communities nationwide from personal perspectives.

“Participating in ‘A Day in the Life of Diabetes’ for individuals living with diabetes lets them know that the American Diabetes Association is the one leading organization that continues to do research to ‘STOP Diabetes,’ advocate and promote ‘Healthy Lifestyle Management’ to avoid many of the health issues that people with diabetes die from, such as heart disease or stroke, kidney failure, blindness, and amputations,” said Lurelean B. Gaines, RN, MSN, President of Health Care and Education of the Association. “The campaign has grown this year and will continue to grow because every 17 seconds someone is diagnosed with diabetes.”

To learn more visit ADA’s website at www.diabetes.org and click on Diabetes Basics, Living With Diabetes, Food Fitness, Advocate, In My Community, or News & Research.  Information is available in English and Spanish. You can also “like” ADA on Facebook, follow them on Twitter (@AMDiabetesAssn) or call them at 1-800-Diabetes.

How can your community more effectively collaborate with stakeholders like ADA, CDC and NDEP to prevent diabetes and help those living with the disease?

Toys “R” Us Guide Makes the Season Brighter for Children with Special Needs

As we enter the holiday season, shoppers have the opportunity to turn to the Toy Guide for Differently-Abled Kids – an annual publication put out by Toys “R” Us. This valuable resource is designed to give parents, relatives, friends and professionals the information they need to make more educated choices about purchasing gifts for children with unique talents and abilities.

Paul DeMiglio

Paul DeMiglio

Gabby Douglas, a gold-medalist gymnast in the 2012 Olympics, is featured on this year’s edition and says the guide is “filled with everyday playthings, specially chosen to help kids build key skills, like creativity, language and critical thinking, reach new milestones and have fun at the same time.” Douglas is the most recent in a long line of celebrities and philanthropists who have appeared on the guide’s front cover, including Whoopi Goldberg, Eva Longoria and Maria Shriver.

“We understand the joy of watching a child experience victories through the magic of play, whether they’re learning to catch and throw a ball, role-playing through dress-up or learning to count using an app on their very first tablet,” said Kerry Smith, Toys “R” Us spokesperson. “For nearly two decades, we have been providing parents and caregivers with product recommendations for children with special needs through the trusted Toys“R”Us Toy Guide for Differently-Abled Kids. This annual resource is filled with everyday playthings selected as appropriate in helping kids build critical skills and reach new milestones – all while having fun at the same time.”

The guide provides shoppers with specific questions to help ensure that their selections match the developmental needs of the children for whom they’re shopping. Customers are encouraged to consider whether the toy fosters creativity and self-expression, if it provides a challenge without being frustrating, if it allows for adaptability to the child’s needs, whether the toy reflects the child’s interests and age, and much more.

The guide also shares numerous safety suggestions for parents and guardians so they can more effectively prevent accidental injuries and help children understand how to keep out of harm’s way during playtime:

  • Never leave a child unsupervised
  • Read labels for ability
  • Survey the play area
  • Establish concrete rules
  • Use visual warnings
  • Review and repeat
  • Prepare for off-site play dates
  • Click here for the full list

The toys were evaluated and tested by the National Lekotek Center, a non-profit that examines toys’ therapeutic qualities in aiding the development of children with physical, cognitive or developmental disabilities. A leader in the field with almost 30 years’ experience, Lekotek studies and reviews hundreds of toys, selecting those that benefit children. This information is then sent to Toys “R” Us for placement in the guide. Toys are categorized according to various child development needs such as visual, auditory, social skills and motor skills, among others.

If you would like to know more about the guide and the company’s philanthropic events, visit the new Toy Channel on YouTube, which includes an “‘R’ News” section that features information about charitable contributions. The guide can be found in any Toys “R” Us store or can be viewed online here.

Have you or someone you know ever used the Toy Guide for Differently-Abled Kids? Did it address your questions and make toy shopping for children with special needs easier? What challenges have you faced when purchasing toys for children with special needs, and what resources have you found helpful when making decisions?

Categories: Access to Care

Thanks Project Underscores Why Caregivers Matter to Patient Care

Although many people don’t see themselves as caregivers, more than 65 million Americans provide care on a daily basis for their vulnerable loved ones. This statistic, highlighted by Jeff Foxworthy along with Peter Rosenberger in a video created by AARP, demonstrates the importance of caregivers as advocates work to raise awareness around National Family Caregivers Month.

To say “thanks to as many caregivers as [they] can,” AARP and the Advertising Council are partnering to empower patients and their families to show their appreciation for those who care for them by sharing a personal message, photo or video of gratitude through the Thanks Project. This online tool recognizes family members and friends who are dedicated to taking care of loved ones and makes caregiving resources more accessible so that individuals know they’re not alone and that help is available.

According to a Nov. 5 New York Times story, most people who are caregivers do not identify as such, often feeling overwhelmed by responsibilities that can range from managing bills to providing transportation and preparing meals. To offer emotional support, AARP created a Caregiving site that provides everything from Planning and Resources to information addressing End of Life Care, as well as Grief and Loss. This web portal also enables visitors to chat with experts and ask questions, in addition to learning more about the experiences of those who care for loved ones.

“Since launching the Caregiver Assistance campaign with the Ad Council in August 2012, we have seen more than 10 million visits to AARP’s Caregiving Resource Center,” said Elizabeth Bradley, Strategic Communications Director of the Caregiver campaign. “Through the site, users are connected to valuable local resources and practical information, can find support to handle family dynamics and life-balancing issues, and engage and connect with experts and other caregivers. We hope caregivers feel more appreciated for their hard work and inspired to do the best they can.”

The Caregiver Action Network (CAN), which sponsors National Family Caregivers Month, is also highlighting the difference caregivers make in the lives of those they serve every day. As the leading family caregiver organization working to improve the quality of life for the 65 million+ Americans who care for loves ones, CAN provides online tools to help caregivers handle the responsibilities that come with buying groceries, organizing mail, cleaning homes and so much more.

In a recent Presidential Proclamation spotlighting National Family Caregivers Month, the Obama Administration helped draw national attention to the value of caregivers, who “take up the selfless and unheralded work of delivering care to seniors or people with disabilities or illnesses…With caregivers already balancing their own needs with those of their loved ones, and in many cases caring for both young children and aging parents, our Nation’s caregivers need and deserve our support.”

Paul DeMiglio

Paul DeMiglio

Do you know a caregiver or provide care for a loved one? How do you think individuals, communities and industry stakeholders can collectively mobilize to demonstrate appreciation for caregivers and more effectively strengthen support networks? Share your story and let us know what resources and strategies you think would be most useful.

MD and DO Medical Schools Consider Major Changes to Education Model

Experts from allopathic medical colleges (those that graduate MDs) and from osteopathic medical colleges (those that graduate DOs) have been actively exploring ways to lower the cost of medical and graduate school without sacrificing the quality of the education.

Paul DeMiglio

Paul DeMiglio

Groundbreaking recommendations were issued Monday that seek to improve osteopathic medical education in the U.S. and help fuel a new generation of primary care physicians who will be equipped to meet the demands of today’s changing health care landscape. One out of four students headed to medical school this fall are attending osteopathic medical school.

Released by the Blue Ribbon Commission (BRC) – a medical panel comprised of some of the nation’s leading experts in osteopathic medical education – the report (“A New Pathway in Medical Education”) coincides with publication of a related story in Health AffairsBRC aims to find a solution to the primary care physician shortage by transforming the osteopathic medical education model, reducing inefficiencies and addressing high costs as well as rising student debt.

Osteopathic physicians, or DOs, emphasize “helping each person achieve a high level of wellness by focusing on health promotion and disease prevention” through hands-on diagnosis and treatment, according to the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM). Licensed to practice in all 50 states, DOs work in various environments across specialties.

MD education experts also recognize an urgency for changing medical education. Transforming the way students are trained to practice medicine is key to improving access to quality care for patients, according to an October 30th Perspective article (“Are We in a Medical Education Bubble Market?”) that appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). The article underscores why lowering the cost of health care and reducing the cost of medical education go hand in hand.

“If we want to keep health care costs down and still have access to well-qualified physicians, we need to keep the cost of creating those physicians down by changing the way that physicians are trained,” the authors are quoted as saying in a news release from Penn Medicine. “From college through licensure and credentialing, our annual physician-production costs are high, and they are made higher by the long time we devote to training.” 

Cleveland Clinic, Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine Lead by Example
The Cleveland Clinic’s South Pointe Hospital is partnering with the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine (OUHCOM) to implement the BRC findings through a new pathway that has five components:

  • Focus on community needs served by primary care physicians.
    Emphasize primary prevention and improvement of public health to raise the quality and efficiency of care.
  • Advance based on knowledge, not years of study.
    Build a curriculum that centers on biomedical, behavioral and clinical science foundations so that the graduates’ readiness for practice can be better assessed through outcomes specific to medical education.
  • Boost clinical experience.
    Offer clinical experience from the first year instead of doing so later on. Increase responsibility throughout the training, and streamline training between undergraduate and graduate school to avoid redundancies and inefficiencies.
  • Require a range of experiences.
    These should include hospital, ambulance, and community health systems to provide the best learning experience.
  • Require modern health system literacy.
    Focus on health care delivery science including principles of high quality, high value, and outcomes-based health care environments.

Dr. Robert S. Juhasz, DO, president of South Pointe Hospital, says that Cleveland Clinic and OUHCOM will work to develop a curriculum that emphasizes early clinical contact to ensure “we are providing the right care, in the right setting for the right person at the right time.”

The partnership, Dr. Juhasz says, “will transform primary care education,” and go far to help shift the focus of medical education “toward competency-based rather than time-based education. We want learners to be engaged, practice-ready primary care physicians and be equipped to care for the communities they serve.”

South Pointe, which has trained DOs for 40 years, is renovating its facilities to now accommodate OUHCOM. Starting in July, 2015 it will train 32 osteopathic medical student residents per class.

The implications of BRC’s recommended changes, according to Dr. Juhasz, “will enhance our primary care base for delivery of care in a patient-centered model, increasing access and quality and reducing costs,” while also cultivating a learning environment that will “encourage more students to enter DO and find hope and joy in serving patients so that they will want to work in the area they train.”

Lead author of the NEJM article — David A. Asch, MD, MBA, Professor of Medicine and Director of the Center for Health Care Innovation at Penn Medicine — says that medical colleges can play a critical role in helping to avoid a burst in the “medical education bubble.” One solution is for schools to lower the cost of tuition and reduce high debt-to-income ratios that could discourage medical students from pursuing careers in fields where more physicians are needed, including primary care.

“Doctors do well financially,” he says, “but the cost of becoming a doctor is rising faster than the benefits of being a doctor, and that is catching up to primary care more quickly than orthopedics, and that ratio is close to overtaking the veterinarians.”

Now tell us what you think. What ways do you think medical school could be overhauled? What incentives can be provided to attract more students to study medicine and become doctors, particularly in primary care, to help reduce the rising provider shortage?

Experts Say More Med Students Good News for U.S. Health Care

Fresh data released just last week demonstrates that new student enrollment at medical schools is on the rise nationwide.

Paul DeMiglio

Paul DeMiglio

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) announced Thursday that the total number of those who applied to and were accepted into medical school grew by 6.1 percent this year to a record 48,014. This figure beats out
— by 1,049 students — the previous all-time high set in 1996. The AAMC, which represents U.S. hospitals, health systems, Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers, academic societies and 141 accredited U.S. and 17 accredited Canadian medical schools, also found that:

  • The number of first-time applicants climbed to 35,727 (5.5 percent increase).
  • The number of students enrolled in their first year of medical school went past 20,000 for the first time. 

“At a time when the nation faces a shortage of more than 90,000 doctors by the end of the decade and millions are gaining access to health insurance, we are very glad that more students than ever want to become physicians. However, unless Congress lifts the 16-year-old cap on federal support for residency training, we will still face a shortfall of physicians across dozens of specialties,” AAMC President and CEO Darrell G. Kirch, M.D. said in a statement. “Students are doing their part by applying to medical school in record numbers. Medical schools are doing their part by expanding enrollment. Now Congress needs to do its part and act without delay to expand residency training to ensure that everyone who needs a doctor has access to one.”

Record-breaking enrollment is also being seen at colleges of osteopathic medicine, where 20% of medical students are enrolled. Although they make up a smaller number of students, their growth rates increased even faster. In an announcement released Wednesday by the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM), experts say this trend will help offset the looming primary care crisis that will result from a growing shortfall in the number of doctors.

Enrollment at colleges of osteopathic medicine has almost doubled over the past decade, with the number of students who applied this year hitting 16,454. Other key findings, according to AACOM, show that:

  • Osteopathic medical colleges saw an 11.1 percent increase in first-year student enrollment for 2013, bringing total enrollment to 22,054.
  • 4,726 new osteopathic physicians graduated this past spring, representing an increase of more than 50% over the number of such graduates 10 years ago.

“Because large numbers of new osteopathic physicians become primary care physicians, often in rural and underserved areas, I’m hopeful that the osteopathic medical profession can help the nation avoid a primary care crisis and help alleviate growing physician shortages,” Stephen C. Shannon, DO, MPH, President and CEO of AACOM, said in a statement. “Interest in osteopathic medical education is at an all-time high.”

Primary care physicians are expected to be hit harder than any other specialty, with a projected shortage of about 50,000 by 2025. 

So what exactly is osteopathic medicine and osteopathic physicians (DOs)? According to AACOM, which represents the nation’s 30 colleges of osteopathic medicine at 40 locations in 28 states, DOs offer a comprehensive, holistic approach to medical care.

One in five medical students are now enrolled in osteopathic medical schools, and this percentage will grow even more as new campuses open and colleges continue to expand to keep pace with more students.

Now it’s your turn. What are potential advantages and disadvantages of more medical school graduates – to cost, care and access? Will the rise in new enrollment be enough to offset expected physician shortages? Tell us what you think.

Not Your Mother’s Big Pharma

In a September 29 article in Adweek, Joan Voight demonstrates how the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is expected to create new opportunities for pharmaceutical stakeholders to play a more active, personalized role in managing patient care through interactive web-based tools. Three aspects of the ACA will change the way treatment decisions are made and reinvent how patients and Big Pharma interact.

Paul DeMiglio

Paul DeMiglio

Fill the Primary Care Gap
Although providers will be overwhelmed by an expected uptick in newly insured patients, pharmaceutical companies can help reduce the strain while strengthening relationships with consumers in the process. MerckEngage — an online educational and marketing program that has attracted 8.2 million visits since its launch in 2010 — is one example of just how this can play out. Among some of the resources the website gives members access to include:

  • Free personal health tracking
  • Daily planners
  • Food and exercise tips
  • E-mail messages
  • Content updates

Doctors who sign up will receive alerts to track their patients’ activity, and starting this year the program also features mobile versions for patients and providers alike.

Provide Solutions to Adherence Challenges
A key goal of the ACA — to prevent sick patients from developing more serious conditions and needing more care — emphasizes the importance of increasing medication adherence. This need presents a valuable opportunity for pharma to personalize treatment and communicate in ways that resonate effectively with target audiences.

AstraZeneca is collaborating with Exco InTouch to help patients and doctors track and manage chronic conditions through mobile and web-based tools:

“The first app addresses chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Patients enrolled in the program collect, transmit and review their own clinical data, while their doctors use real-time information to personalize each patient’s care, adjust meds and possibly prevent hospitalization. The patients’ identifiable data is only seen by patients themselves and their healthcare providers, says AstraZeneca,” the report notes.

Develop Innovative Bundles
Implementation of ACA will also change the way prescriptions are made, with insurance companies and accountable care organizations (ACOs) choosing what to prescribe instead of individual doctors. This can serve as an opportunity for pharma to build support among ACOs by creating and branding a package of services for patients and providers that spans behavior modification, education, tracking and dispensing of drugs.

Eli Lilly’s online diabetes program that helps patients and families manage the disease, Lilly Diabetes, was critical to paving the way for this marketing approach, according to the article:

“In Lilly’s case the tools include a meal planner, a self-care diary, a carbohydrate tabulator and even an emergency guide in case of hurricanes or earthquakes.”

Now we want to hear from you. Do you agree with the article? What are the long-term implications of pharmaceutical companies having access to more data about consumers in this new era of digital outreach? What might be the potential advantages and disadvantages?