Health Updates 8 May 2012

  • Psychiatric patients often wait nearly 12 hours in ER: “Patients with mental health emergencies wait an average of 11.5 hours — nearly half a day — in hospital emergency departments, and those who are older, uninsured or intoxicated wait even longer, a new study says.  Overall, patients with psychiatric emergencies wait about 42 percent longer in the emergency department than other patients, according to the findings published online May 1 in the Annals of Emergency Medicine.  ‘These patients are waiting the longest for care, and shrinking resources are having a disproportionate effect on these very vulnerable people,’ lead study author Dr. Anthony Weiss, of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, said in a journal news release….Weiss and colleagues analyzed the records of nearly 1,100 adult patients with psychiatric emergencies to determine how long it took patients to see a doctor and get a psychiatric evaluation.  Patients who were sent home after being seen by medical staff spent an average of 8.6 hours in an emergency department, while patients who were eventually admitted to a psychiatric unit within the hospital had an average emergency department stay of 11 hours.  The average length of emergency department stay was 10.7 hours for patients aged 18 to 39 and 12.6 hours for patients older than 60….’Between 2000 and 2007, psychiatric visits to ERs grew by 231 percent,’ Weiss said.  ‘This increase in volume, when combined with fewer resources outside the ER, has led to a real crisis for this population.  Long waits for care aren’t good for anyone but they are especially harmful to patients in psychiatric distress’.” (MedlinePlus)
  • Dengue fever a major cost burden in Puerto RicoThe costs of treating and coping with dengue fever in Puerto Rico total nearly $38 million a year, a new study finds.  It also said that every $1 spent on surveillance and prevention of the mosquito-borne disease could save $5 in illness-related costs.  Households pay nearly half the costs of the disease, followed by government (24 percent), insurance companies (22 percent) and employers (7 percent), according to researchers from Brandeis University’s Schneider Institutes for Health Policy in Waltham, Mass.  Given that the US government covers 62 percent of Puerto Rico’s public health expenses, ‘sound investments related to dengue would benefit not only residents of Puerto Rico but all taxpayers throughout the United States’, the researchers said in a journal news release.  They focused on Puerto Rico because it’s an area within the United States with substantial numbers of dengue fever….’People generally think of dengue as a disease of poor countries; the fact that we found it to be a major burden in the US territory — and because it recently has cropped up on the US mainland — is a reminder that mosquito-borne illnesses can present an equal opportunity threat,’ study co-author Donald Shepard said in a news release.  Dengue fever, which broke out in the Florida Keys in 2010, currently threatens nearly 3 billion people worldwide….Symptoms in dengue include high fever plus at least two of the following: severe headache, eye pain, joint pain, muscle or bone pain, mild bleeding and low white blood cell count…”. (NIH/MedlinePlus)
  • 42% of Americans could be obese by 2030: CDC  “If no action is taken to halt the rising obesity rate in the United States, 42 percent of the US population could be obese by 2030, a new study warns.  Preventing the current rate from rising by 32 million more people could save nearly $550 billion in medical costs over the next two decades, noted study author Eric Finkelstein, an associate research professor in Duke University’s Global Health Institute, and colleagues.  If the current trend continues, the number of severely obese people could increase to 11 percent of the US population by 2030…People who are severely obese — defined as having a body-mass index over 40, or being about 100 pounds overweight — have the highest risk for health problems caused by excess weight and have much higher medical costs and rates of job absenteeism than other people….’Should these forecasts prove accurate, the adverse health and cost consequences of obesity are likely to continue to escalate without a significant intervention,’ senior author Justin Trogdon, of RTI International, said in a Duke Medicine news release.” (HealthDay)
  • High school kids report early pain pill abuse: Most US kids start misusing prescription painkillers before they reach their senior year of high school, researchers found.  As estimated 3% of kids in a national survey were classified as newly incident users and said they started using these drugs at age 16, the highest proportion among all age groups in the study, James Anthony, PhD, of Michigan State University in East Lansing, and colleagues reported….’We suspect that many physicians…will share our surprise that for youth in the United States, the peak risk of starting extramedical use of prescription pain relievers generally occurs before the final year of high school, not during the [college] years,’ they wrote….They found that the greatest risk for starting to misuse these drugs occurred at age 16…Even though an estimated 1 in 60 kids starts misusing prescription painkillers between ages 12 and 21, the estimate rises to 1 in 30 to 40 at age 16….They said the findings imply that initiatives to prevent youth from misusing prescription painkillers that start around senior year of high school may be insufficient.” (Kristina Fiore, MedPage Today)

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