Real World Health Care Blog

Tag Archives: Americans

Tough Choices Await ACA Exchange Applicants

Linda Barlow

Linda Barlow

After more than two decades of being covered under employer-sponsored medical plans, my consultant husband and I (a freelance writer) are now in the position of having to purchase our own health coverage.

We both have found the online Health Insurance Marketplace fairly easy to navigate. After entering our zip code and ages, a list of available plans pops up. This list can be sorted either by monthly premium or by deductible, making it easy to see estimated costs at a glance. This is where the tough choices start.

HMO, PPO or POS? A higher monthly premium and lower deductible, or a lower monthly premium with a higher deductible? Choose a plan that our current health care providers accept or try a new plan and find new providers? What about drug coverage and doctor visit co-pays?

For millions of previously uninsured Americans who will enter the Marketplace for the first time and will subsequently find themselves underinsured, these choices can represent possible unseen financial hurdles. That’s because, while the ACA does a great job of providing health care for people who previously had been uninsured, it does not address the continued financial pressure on the underinsured.

As Aaron E. Carroll, professor of Pediatrics, Indiana University School of Medicine, points out in a recent New York Times column, the ACA may actually be helping to spread the problem of underinsurance. The point of having insurance, he says, is to be able to get care when you need it, without too large a financial burden. Underinsured Americans – while in a better position than the uninsured – are not receiving this benefit though and can’t get the care they need, according to Carroll.

One is considered underinsured if his or her out-of-pocket health care costs exceed 10 percent of income (5 percent when income is less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level), or when one’s insurance deductible is more than 5 percent of income. According to a 2014 survey conducted by the Commonwealth Fund, 13 percent of insured Americans fall into this category.

What happens when the newly insured become the newly underinsured? Although they now have access to preventive care and other services, many – two out of five according to the Commonwealth Fund survey – delayed needed care because of unaffordable deductibles. They did not go to the doctor when sick, did not get a preventive care test, skipped a recommended follow-up test or did not get needed specialty care. Unfortunately, these cost pressures hit hardest among those who need care the most, as people with chronic health problems are more likely to spend large shares of their income on medical costs not covered by their insurance than insured adults in better health.

Choosing a health plan can be complicated, no matter what your income level or health situation. Fortunately, the Health Insurance Marketplace offers tips on how to choose a plan, taking into account plan category, monthly premiums, out-of-pocket costs, type of insurance plan and provider network and benefits. This may be a good place to start. Other tips are available from Consumer Reports.

“The Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum categories within the ACA provide some clarity in the purchasing process,” says Bryan E. Neely, President, HR Ally. “Individuals should purchase insurance first by cost/affordability, then by benefits including copays and deductibles. Many Americans are finding that they actually qualify for Medicaid, especially in those states where Medicaid has been expanded per the ACA.”

In addition to cost pressures, the newly insured/underinsured may find it difficult to receive care as some providers place caps on the number of new patients they will take on in order to manage their workload – a problem that will become more acute in the face of a looming shortage of primary doctors.

Nobody yet knows what the full impact will be of the ACA on the ability of health care providers to improve health outcomes among underinsured Americans. But it is an issue that bears watching. Let us know what you think in the comments section.

Five Ways to Manage the Costs of Your Medicine

While a main precept of the Affordable Care Act is to expand access to health care, in some cases that improved access means more patients are being treated with medications that come with a cost. As a pharmacist, I have to be an insurance sleuth, use common sense, and teach my patients the old-fashioned methods of negotiation.

Joel Zive

Joel Zive

I work in solid organ transplant, HIV, and Hepatitis C medicine. I have patients on regimes ranging from 4 to over 20 medications. For my patients, obtaining consistent, reasonably-priced medications – both over-the-counter and prescription – is vital.

1. Make sure all the medications are at one pharmacy.  It’s important to keep a clinical eye on things for drug interactions. As a bonus, the pharmacist and the patient know what costs need to be examined.

2. Seek out insurance prior authorization.  Some insurance companies require prior authorization to cover certain drugs. Your pharmacist can help you seek prior authorization for medications that require it using software that creates forms specific to each insurance company. Ask if your pharmacist can fill out the form as much as possible before sending it to your doctor.

3. Contact the drug company.  Many pharmaceutical companies offer patient assistance programs or co-pay assistance cards to help eligible patients obtain free medicines, particularly for biologics and expensive drugs. These programs are especially helpful for patients who have insurance gaps and need the medications quickly. Depending on the assistance from a case manager or care coordinator, I have received authorization for medications right away or within 72 hours.

4. Search for a co-pay assistance program that covers your condition.  If your drug company does not offer a patient assistance program or you are not eligible based on your income and insurance coverage, it is possible that a charitable patient assistance program through a non-profit organization such as the HealthWell Foundation may be able to help you.

5. Seek discounts for over-the-counter medications.  Over-the-counter medications can put a strain on the wallet. In many cases, purchasing over-the-counter medications is more expensive than prescription medications covered by insurance. Other items like vitamins, natural supplements, and enteral formulas (also known as ‘milks’) require the patient to do a little negotiating. If you tell the pharmacy or vitamin store you will be taking these items indefinitely, they may be inclined to discount. Also, be on the lookout for buy one get one deals (BOGOs). Finally, enteral formulas can be quite expensive, so if you get prescribed a specially formulated one, ask if you can take a more basic formulation instead. Remember to let your prescriber and pharmacist know which over-the-counter medications and supplements you are using.

In conclusion, while the path to affordable medications is not always easy, there are individuals, programs, and strategies that can help you meet your health care goals.

How do you manage your medications? Share your tips in the comments section.

Categories: General

Our Top 4 Most ‘Liked’ Health Care Stories

This week is Real World Health Care’s one-year anniversary. Over the past year, we showcased solutions that are proven to lower costs, increase access, and provide more patient-centered care. In celebration of this milestone, we are sharing the favorite posts as measured by Facebook ‘likes’ from our readers, who have visited the blog over 10,000 times.

 

#4 – Keeping Boston Strong: How Disaster Training at Osteopathic Medical School Helped Save Lives

In May, former RWHC editor Paul DeMiglio told the story of Dr. Danielle Deines’ emergency response to the Boston Marathon bombing. Dr. Deines’ education at the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine – Virginia Campus (VCOM) required her to participate in a two-day, mandatory training curriculum on Bioterrorism and Disaster Response Program, which immersed her in real-life disaster training, field exercises and specialized courses.

(Photo courtesy of VCOM)

(Photo courtesy of VCOM)

The day of the bombing, after crossing the finish line, Dr. Deines found herself triaging runners in medical tents to make room for the victims. “The back corner became the most severe triage area, nearest the entrance where the ambulances were arriving,” she said. “I saw victims with traumatic amputations of the lower extremities, legs that had partially severed or had shrapnel embedded, and clothing and shoes literally blown off of victims’ bodies.”

Read the post: http://www.realworldhealthcare.org/2013/05/keeping-boston-strong-how-disaster-training-at-osteopathic-medical-school-helped-save-lives/

 

#3 – Making Life Easier for Patients and Loved Ones: Meet MyHealthTeams

In April, Eric Peacock, Co-founder and CEO of MyHealthTeams, contributed a guest blog about the need for social networks for communities of people living with chronic conditions. These networks allow patients to “share recommendations of local providers, openly discuss daily triumphs and issues, share tips and advice, and gain access to local services,” he wrote.

“Sharing with people who are in your shoes offers a sense of community that can’t be found elsewhere – these are people who know the language of your condition; they understand the daily frustrations and the small triumphs that can mean so much,” he added.

Read the post: http://www.realworldhealthcare.org/2013/04/making-life-easier-for-patients-and-loved-ones-meet-myhealthteams/

 

#2 – When the Health Care Blogger Becomes the Cancer Patient

In August, even as she was still undergoing daily radiation treatments, contributor Linda Barlow shared her personal story of being diagnosed with cancer and the slew of medical bills she faced even though she had insurance.

Linda Barlow

Linda Barlow

“While these out of pocket costs are certainly hard to swallow – I can think of a hundred other things I’d rather spend my money on – for my family, they are doable,” she wrote. “We won’t have to skip a mortgage payment or a utility bill. We won’t have to dip into a child’s college tuition fund. We certainly won’t have to worry about having enough money for food. But I know – from my work on this blog and with its main sponsor, the HealthWell Foundation – that many families living with cancer aren’t so lucky.”

Read the post: http://www.realworldhealthcare.org/2013/08/when-the-health-care-blogger-becomes-the-cancer-patient/

 

#1 – What If You Want Politicians to Get Moving But You Can’t Move?

Neil Cavuto

Neil Cavuto

Last week, Neil Cavuto, Senior Vice President and Anchor, Fox News and Fox Business, contributed a moving guest post about his triumphs over multiple sclerosis (MS) for MS Awareness Week. His deeply personal blog inspired resounding praise in the comments section and 1,300 Facebook ‘likes’.

“If I can pass along any advice at all, it is…to simply never accept a prognosis as is,” he wrote. “Fight it. Challenge it. ‘Will’ yourself over it. Many doctors say it’s a naïve approach to the disease, but attitude counts a lot for me with MS, as it did for me two decades ago when I was battling advanced Hodgkin’s Disease. Then, as now, it was about one day at a time, and staying optimistic and positive all the time.”

Read the post: http://www.realworldhealthcare.org/2014/03/ms-awareness-week/

 

If you would like to suggest a topic, contribute a guest post, or learn more about short-term co-sponsorship opportunities, please contact us at dsheon@WHITECOATstrategies.com. As a blog currently sponsored solely by the HealthWell Foundation, an independent non-profit providing nationwide financial assistance to insured Americans with high out-of-pocket medication expenses, co-sponsorship helps us keep Real World Health Care alive and well as a resource for journalists, health care professionals, policymakers, and patients. Plus, co-sponsorship will increase your organization’s visibility among thought leaders in the health care sphere.

Do you have a favorite Real World Health Care post? Is there something you’d like to see more of? Post to the comments section or tweet at us at @RWHCblog.

Live Updates from 15th Annual Patient Assistance & Access Programs

Because this blog is all about increasing access, lowering costs, and improving patient outcomes, we think there’s no better place for us to share ideas that work than to report live from the 15th Annual Patient Assistance & Access Program, in Baltimore, March 5-7.  Check back often as we publish updates from sessions, and follow all of the developments by following #PAP2014.

UPDATE 9:45  Resources for navigators: www.nationaldisabilitynavigator.org; patient advocacy groups such as AIDS Institute are publishing helpful sites.  Also marketplace.comment@cms.hhs.gov is a place you can send questions. This is monitored 24/7 with staff – not interns – but people who really know how to help.  These are triaged and go up to leadership when there are problems or trends.

UPDATE 9:40 Lessons learned:

  1. Partner’s are critical to success of ACA implementation; reach out early, often because plan selection often isn’t a one step process.  Patients need to come back many times before ready to sign up.  Very real “huge” health literacy gaps.
  2. Things to come: we are in closing days of enrollment.  March Madness may be a great opportunity for outreach; then we’ll reach out to those most in need; final week will be “here we are.”  So theme weeks continue.   After window closes Mar 31, you’ll soon start seeing promotion of the new window.

UPDATE 9:25 25 states and DC have indicated they will expand Medicaid.  About 85% of Americans already have minimum essential coverage.

UPDATE: 9:15 Health care law saved $8.9 M in drug costs for Medicare, said Janet Miller, Division of Strategic Partners, Office of Communications, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.  2014 changes: no discrimination due to pre-existing conditions, annual limits on insurance coverage eliminated, small business tax credit increased; more people are eligible for Medicaid in some states.

Essential benefits include at least 10 general categories such as emergency services, hospitalization, maternity and newborn care, prescription drugs, mental health and substance abuse, lab services, preventive and wellness  services and chronic disease management.

Categories: Access to Care

Three Ways You Can Reduce the Impact of Cardiovascular Disease this American Heart Month

Most of the readers of this blog know that cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the number one killer of men and women in this country. According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, CVD is a leading cause of disability, preventing Americans from working and enjoying family activities. Out-of-hospital cardiac arrests cause the deaths of an estimated 250,000 Americans each year. CVD costs the United States over $300 billion each year.

Joel Zive

Joel Zive

There are many small but significant actions we can take. Here is what you can do to make a difference: empower or continue to empower patients to take care of themselves.

1. Address the cost of heart medication

If the cost of your medicine is an issue, talk to your doctor or contact a patient assistance program that may be able to help with prescription co-pays.

2. Encourage healthy behaviors

Want people to eat better? Give them coupons for healthy food. Exercise? Give them coupons for short-term memberships to health clubs.

The stakes are higher in our country’s current health care landscape. With more people on health insurance than ever before, we need to do everything we can to empower people to seek help before an emergency and talk to their doctor about what they can do to take better care of themselves. This will have a direct effect on deaths from heart disease.

3. Ask your employer about Automatic External Defibrillators

There are instances in which individuals are dealt devastating genetic hands of cards. Recently, the Philadelphia Inquirer highlighted the plight of a Philadelphia family that had a genetic link to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle.

For those who do experience heart issues, or even have a major event such as cardiac arrest, Automatic External Defibrillator (AED) devices can significantly increase the likelihood of survival. AEDs have been available for over 20 years, but in recent years, device makers have reduced the size and cost and increased usability of defibrillators, making public access defibrillation viable. “We believe ease of use is one of the most important qualities in an AED because the potential user may not be well-trained in resuscitating a victim of sudden cardiac arrest,” said Bob Peterhans, General Manager for Emergency Care and Resuscitation at Philips Healthcare. “This is consistent with the American Heart Association’s criteria for choosing an AED.”

While risk factors for CVD are often genetic, the majority of CVD is triggered by factors that are controllable: smoking, diet, and exercise. And this is where individual efforts need to be focused.

For more information on preventing CVD, check out the American Heart Association’s guidelines for taking care of your heart, which are broken down by age. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also offer an American Heart Month guide to controlling risk factors for cardiovascular disease. You may also want to check out The Heart Truth, a campaign from the National Institutes of Health to make women more aware of the danger of heart disease.

Read more Real World Health Care heart health-related posts:

Are you taking steps to prevent cardiovascular disease? If you, a family member, or a friend has CVD, what is working for treatment? Share your experiences and insights in the comments section.

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.

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.

Are You Ready to Show Your Purple to Stop Alzheimer’s?

Advocates nationwide are gearing up to participate in activities around Alzheimer’s Action Day on September 21, a pre-event to World Alzheimer’s Awareness Month in November. As the facts demonstrate, the need for education and action around this disease is great. A form of progressive dementia that adversely impacts memory, thinking and behavior, Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and there is no cure.

Paul DeMiglio

Paul DeMiglio

To build support and increase visibility, the Alzheimer’s Association leverages Alzheimer’s Action Day to educate the public and fund research for Alzheimer’s, urging individuals to “Go Purple to End Alzheimer’s.” The association empowers supporters to raise money for Alzheimer’s research with the following creative ideas that can be used in the workplace, at school or at home:

  • Go purple at your office or campus by encouraging your co-workers or your peers to wear purple.
  • Decorate common areas at your workplace or school with purple. Share the latest stats and trends about the disease, like the 10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s. Call (800) 272-3900 to request fact sheets.
  • Go “Casual for the Cause” at work. Order $5 stickers from the association that you can then sell in your office to raise funds. Download a flier here and e-mail Kaarmin Ford at kaarmin.ford@alz.org for stickers.
  • Host a dinner party at your home and ask each attendee to donate what they would have spent going out. Click here to download meal ideas that can be used at home or in the cafeteria.
  • Invite your friends to Tailgate to Tackle Alzheimer’s starting this month. Supporters who host these purple-themed tailgates can ask participants to donate $5 to help the 5 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s.

Over the past decade, Alzheimer’s has become an even more urgent public health crisis, demanding greater attention from both a patient care and cost-savings standpoint:

  • Five million Americans and one in three seniors live with Alzheimer’s.
  • Since 2000, the number of deaths attributed to Alzheimer’s has increased by 68 percent.
  • The disease accounts for 50-80 percent of all dementia cases.
  • Alzheimer’s will cost the nation an estimated $203 billion this year.
  • Costs are expected to increase by 500 percent by the year 2050, meaning that the annual cost will swell to $1.2 trillion.

The Alzheimer’s Association is collaborating with partners from around the country to help communities “Go Purple.” These include the Las Vegas CME – Medical and Health Education for All, the California Association of School Health Educators (CASHE) and Cox 11, a community station in Hampton Roads, VA, which are all spreading the word about ways to get involved at the local level. Ruby Tuesday will also raise awareness for Alzheimer’s Action Day at select locations, giving 20 percent of purchases to the Walk to End Alzheimer’s when customers present a flyer to their server on September 21.

“Supporting Alzheimer’s Association specifically on Alzheimer’s Action Day will help generate much needed awareness about this disease and what we can do as a community to support families with this disease on a daily basis,” a Ruby Tuesday spokeswoman said. “With the GiveBack Program specifically, we hope to raise funds within the communities of our restaurant that will directly contribute to research and ultimately find a cure for Alzheimer’s.”

What are you doing in your community to educate colleagues, peers, family and others about this disease? How can other stakeholders – including health systems and government – get more involved and join in efforts to raise awareness around the impact of Alzheimer’s year-round?

Categories: Access to Care

August Health Awareness Days Provide Opportunities to Take Action

As young people across the country go back to school, patient advocates and government stakeholders are leveraging awareness days to help communities learn about health issues impacting children, prevention strategies and efforts to improve care. Here are some examples:

Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month
Each August organizations including the Envision Foundation underscore the need for screenings and examinations to promote early detection, intervention and prevention of vision problems in children.

Paul DeMiglio

Paul DeMiglio

Vision disorders in children cost Americans more than $5.7 billion in direct and indirect expenses each year, while the overall cost of vision problems nationwide soars to an estimated $139 billion (includes long-term care, productivity loss and medical bills), according to Prevent Blindness America. Treating eye disorders and vision loss early in life helps protect children from developing chronic, lifelong conditions that become more expensive to treat because of long-term, indirect costs that increase as populations age.

“The beginning of a new school year is an exciting time in a child’s life,” Hugh R. Parry, President and CEO of Prevent Blindness America, said in a statement.  “By working together with parents and educators, we hope to give all our kids a bright and healthy start!”

National Immunization Awareness Month
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Public Health Information Coalition (NPHIC) highlights the need to improve national immunization coverage levels throughout August. To communicate the importance of immunizations now and throughout the year, NPHIC also developed a toolkit tailored to various populations including babies and pregnant women, pre-teens and teens, young adults, and adults. The toolkit seeks to:

  • Encourage parents of young children to get recommended immunizations by age 2.
  • Help parents ensure older children, preteens and teens have received all recommended vaccines by the time they return to school.
  • Remind college students to catch up on immunizations before they move into dormitories.
  • Educate adults, including health care workers, about vaccines and boosters they may need.
  • Urge pregnant women to get vaccinated to protect newborns from diseases like whooping cough.
  • Raise awareness that the next flu season is only a few months away.

The CDC also makes a wide array of resources available for those who want to learn more about the importance of immunizations or spread the word.

Neurosurgery Outreach Awareness Month
The American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS) is among the organizations that underscores why the beginning of the school year is a great time to educate communities about strategies to prevent sports-related head and neck injuries like concussions. AANS provides tools to help others more effectively identify symptoms of potentially serious head/neck injuries and take preventive steps to ensure safety, also offering the following tips:

  • Buy and use helmets or protective headgear approved by the American Society for Testing Materials for sports 100 percent of the time.
  • Remain abreast of the latest guidelines and rules governing sports with a high prevalence of head injuries including cheerleading, volleyball, and soccer.

“Concussion awareness, understanding the symptoms of a potential concussion or other traumatic brain injury, is critically important in all sports,” AANS Public Relations Committee chair Kevin Lillehei, MD, FAANS, said in a statement. “Educating the public is one of the best weapons we have when it comes to combating these types of injuries. That is why it’s so important to raise awareness in the community and explain just what some of the effects are that these injuries have.”

Psoriasis Awareness Month
Sponsored by The National Psoriasis Foundation each year, Psoriasis Awareness Month is dedicated to “raise awareness, encourage research and advocate for better care for people with psoriasis.”

The most common autoimmune disease in the US affecting 7.5 million Americans, Psoriasis occurs when the immune system sends out faulty signals that speed up the growth of skin cells and produce red, scaly patches that itch and bleed. About 20,000 children under 10 are also diagnosed, often experiencing symptoms that include pitting and discoloration of the nails, severe scalp scaling, diaper dermatitis or plaques.

As part of Psoriasis Awareness Month, NPF is creating a community of “Pscientists” to “answer real‑world questions about psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.”

Spinal Muscular Atrophy Awareness Month
Although it’s considered a “rare disorder” with approximately 1 in 6000 babies born affected by it, Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) is a motor neuron disease that causes voluntary muscles to weaken and in some cases can lead to death, according to the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). Types I, II and III belong to a group of hereditary diseases that weaken the voluntary muscles in the arms and legs of infants and children, contributing to breathing issues, difficulty eating and drinking, impaired mobility and orthopedic complications.

Families of SMA, which has coordinated activities around SMA Awareness Month since 1996, and the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA), are two national organizations that support those living with SMA. Click here to learn about events this month, community networks and research projects for treatment and therapies.

What activities are taking place in your community to support one or more of these awareness days? What could the institutions in your neighborhood, workplace or at your school be doing year-round to more effectively engage populations about critical health issues?

Categories: Access to Care

World Hepatitis Day Spotlights Importance of Early Detection to Improve Prevention and Treatment Strategies

This Sunday, July 28, is World Hepatitis Day, an observance that reminds us that hepatitis (inflammation of the liver) remains largely unknown as a major health threat. Approximately half a billion people worldwide and 4.4 million people in the U.S. live with chronic viral hepatitis, with one million deaths resulting from the disease each year.

Linda Barlow

Linda Barlow

The goal of World Hepatitis Day is to move from awareness to action to address the “silent epidemic” of viral hepatitis – so named because most people don’t experience symptoms when they first become infected, often not until they develop chronic liver disease many years later.

Stakeholders in government and private industry are stepping up to answer the call, supporting early detection and medical intervention as key starting points to effectively address the epidemic.

Earlier this month, Quest Diagnostics announced a partnership with the CDC to improve public health analysis of hepatitis C screening, diagnosis and treatment for the 3.2 million Americans living with it. Under the collaboration, anonymous patient data will be evaluated to identify and track epidemiological trends in hepatitis C virus infection, testing and treatment and determine how those trends differ based on gender, age, geography and clinical management.

“Our collaboration with the CDC underscores the importance of using diagnostic information to derive useful insights enabling effective prevention, detection and management programs for diseases with significant impact on public health,” Jay Wohlgemuth, M.D., senior vice president, science and innovation, Quest Diagnostics, said in a statement.

Early detection was also the focus of a 2012 National Institutes of Health (NIH) study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In the study, researchers concluded that elevated blood levels of a specific enzyme and a specific protein early on in the course of hepatitis C infection were much more likely to develop into advanced fibrosis or cirrhosis. The study found:

  • The long-term course of chronic hepatitis C is determined early in infection.
  • Rapidly progressive disease correlated with persistent and significant elevations of alanine aminotransferase (ALT), an enzyme released when the liver is damaged or diseased.
  • Rapidly progressive disease correlated with persistent and significant elevations of the protein MCP-1 (CCL-2), a chemokine that is critical to the induction of progressive fibrogenesis and ultimately cirrhosis.

Armed with this information, clinicians are expected to make a fairly accurate assessment of which patients are likely to develop advanced disease rapidly. Instead of waiting for a new class of drugs to be approved, these patients are likely to be pressed to start treatment right away – with the goal of treating the virus before it causes cirrhosis of the liver.

Because hepatitis does not result in symptoms until serious liver damage occurs, getting tested is also crucial. In fact, the CDC recommends that everyone born from 1945-65 get a one-time test for hepatitis C because they are five times more likely than American adults in other age categories to be infected and face an increased risk of dying from hepatitis C-related illnesses.

The first FDA-approved hepatitis C genotype test is now available in the U.S. From Abbott, the fully automated Realtime HCV Genotype II test determines the specific type or strain of the HVC virus present in the blood of an HCV-infected individual.

To locate organizations where you can access services including Hepatitis testing, vaccines and treatment, click here. You can also take this 5-minute Hepatitis Risk Assessment to obtain a personalized report from the CDC.

Early awareness and prevention-based practices are crucial to avoiding hepatitis. But what else can be done to ensure access to and availability of reliable and cost-effective screening and diagnostics, in addition to safe and simple treatment regimens for people with the disease?

We hope this post serves as a resource for journalists covering or interested in writing stories about World Hepatitis Day and related issues. Also stay tuned for our follow-up post next week that will address the cost-savings implications of vaccination and early treatment of hepatitis.