Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Health Headlines - March 25

Insurers Say They May Drop Higher Premiums for Sick Patients

America's health insurers are offering to drop their controversial practice of charging higher premiums to sick people, the Associated Press reported.

In a letter to key senators charged with reforming the U.S. health care system, America's Health Insurance Plans and the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association said they are willing to "phase out the practice of varying premiums based on health status in the individual market" if all Americans are required to get coverage.

There are an estimated 48 million uninsured people in the United States, according to the AP. The insurance industry is trying to head off creation of a government insurance plan that could compete with them to provide those people services, the wire service reported.

HIV Contributes to a Quarter of TB Deaths: WHO

One in four tuberculosis deaths worldwide is HIV-related, a rate twice as high as previously believed, says the World Health Organization.

There were an estimated 1.37 million new cases of TB among HIV-infected people and 456,000 deaths worldwide in 2007. Despite the fact that TB kills more people with HIV than any other disease, only 1 percent of people with HIV had a TB screen in 2008, BBC News reported.

HIV has caused a tripling of TB incidence in Sub-Saharan Africa since the 1990s. In some countries, 80 percent of TB patients are also infected with HIV, the WHO said.

"These findings point to an urgent need to find, prevent and treat TB in people living with HIV and to test for HIV in all patients with TB. Countries can only do that through stronger collaborative programs and stronger health systems that address both diseases," said Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO director-general, BBC News reported.

VA Hospital Warns Colonoscopy Patients About Unclean Equipment

Improperly sterilized colonoscopy equipment was used on more than 3,000 patients at a Veterans Affairs hospital in Miami. The patients have been told they should be tested for HIV and other diseases.

The incident involved tubing on equipment, not any device that touched a patient, and the risk of infection is minimal, according to the VA, the Associated Press reported.

This have been similar problems recently. In February, more than 6,000 colonoscopy patients at a VA clinic in Tennessee were told they may have been exposed to infectious body fluids.

And 1,800 veterans treated at an ear, nose and throat clinic in Augusta, Ga., were warned they may have been exposed to an infection due to improper disinfection of an instrument, the AP reported.

Real Doctors Learn Poor Technique From TV Doctors: Study

Television doctors can have a bad influence on how real doctors perform some medical procedures, according to a Canadian study of 80 medical students and residents.

The University of Alberta Hospital researchers conducted the study to find out why so many medical students and residents were using an improper technique to insert breathing tubes in patients, United Press International reported.

Many of the participants said they learned through trial and error, but a large number admitted they learned their technique from watching doctors and nurses on television shows, with "ER" cited as the most popular show.

When the researchers analyzed a full season of "ER," they found that some feature of the head positioning for inserting a breathing tube was incorrect in all 22 intubations they were able to fully view on screen, UPI reported.

The study was published in the journal Resuscitation.

Robin Williams Recovering After Heart Surgery

Actor Robin Williams, 57, was recovering after he had heart surgery to replace an aortic valve on March 13, his publicists said Monday. He's expected to make a complete recovery in the next eight weeks.

Earlier this month, Williams was in Florida when he suffered shortness of breath and had to cancel the remainder of his one-man comedy show, "Weapons of Self-Destruction," the Associated Press reported. He was initially treated at the University of Miami Hospital before being transferred to the Cleveland Clinic, where he had the heart surgery.

"His heart is strong, and he will have normal heart function in the coming weeks with no limitations on what he'll be able to do. A couple of hours after surgery, he was entertaining the medical team and making us all laugh," said Dr. A. Marc Gillinov, a cardiothoracic surgeon, the AP reported.

In a prepared statement, Williams thanked staff at both hospitals and said the experience gave him fresh fodder for his act.

"I got some great new material for the tour and can't wait to get back on the road. I'm thinking the next leg of the tour will be "Weapons of Self-Destruction and Reconstruction!"

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