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Health Headlines - August 22

Posted Aug 21 2009 10:20pm

Most U.S. Doctors Have Racial Bias: Study

Like most Americans, doctors have a subconscious preference for whites over blacks, a bias that may affect the health care given to minority patients, suggests a new study.

Researchers analyzed data collected from 2,535 medical doctors of both sexes and diverse racial groups who took a test that measured race attitudes. Overall, doctors showed an implicit preference for whites over blacks, with the exception of black doctors, who tended not to favor either racial group.

The doctors were among 404,277 people who took the test. The majority of them displayed the same sort of preference for whites over blacks. The study appears in the August issue of the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved.

While bias is common in the general population, people aren't "racist" if they "hold an implicit bias," according to lead author Janice Sabin, an acting assistant professor in the Department of Medical Education and Biomedical Informatics at the University of Washington.

"The implicit bias effect among all the test-takers is very strong," Sabin said in a news release. "People who report they have a medical education are not different from other people, and this kind of unconscious bias is a common phenomenon."

"The biggest take home is that medical doctors are similar to others, that unconscious attitudes and stereotypes may affect quality of care, and that increased self-awareness may be one way to address any effects unconscious attitudes may have on behaviors that lead to health care disparities," she said.

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Workplace Suicides Increase in U.S.: Report

Tough economic conditions may have contributed to a 28 percent rise in workplace suicides in the United States last year as employees struggled with layoffs and survivor's guilt, a new federal report says.

A Labor Department preliminary report released Thursday said there were 251 workplace suicides in 2008, the highest number ever recorded.

"Those who are at places where there have been substantial layoffs are trying to cope with survivor's guilt," Gary Chaison, a professor of industrial relations at Clark University, told the Associated Press. "I also think there's tremendous anxiety in the American workplace. It's not just being anxious, it's being depressed."

The total number of people who died on the job decreased 12 percent from 2007 to 2008. The 5,071 workplace deaths last year was the lowest number since the federal government started tracking the data in 1992. The overall decline in workplace deaths could be due to the poor economy, which led to fewer hours for workers, according to the Labor Department.

Among the other findings:

  • Workplace homicides decreased 18 percent.
  • There was a 20 percent drop in construction job deaths.
  • There were 20 percent fewer fatal workplace falls in 2008, following a record high number in 2007.

The final report will be released next year, the AP reported.

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First U.S. Rehab Center for Internet Addicts Opens

Lessons in social skills such as conversation and reading body language are among the programs offered at the first U.S. rehab center for Internet addicts, which recently opened in the state of Washington.

"We are a cold turkey place; no technology," reStart psychotherapist Hilarie Cash told Agence France Presse. "A gamer is not going to be allowed to game any time they are here because it is the gaming that is their drug of choice."

Along with learning social skills, participants at the five-acre rural facility do hands-on activities such as feeding baby goats or building a chicken coop.

"We are not anti-technology," Cash told AFP. "It is about helping people addicted to technology to get through the withdrawal and help their brains get wired back to normal and connected to the world in a positive way."

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U.S. Officials Back Cervical Cancer Vaccine

In a joint statement issued Thursday, officials from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the benefits of the cervical-cancer vaccine Gardasil continue to outweigh its risks, according to published reports.

The statement followed by two days the publication of a study by both agencies in the Journal of the American Medical Association that found the vaccine to be safe, despite side effects that include fainting and blood clots. For every 100,000 doses of Gardasil distributed, the study found 8.2 episodes of fainting and 0.2 episodes involving blood clotting.

"Based on the review of available information by FDA and CDC, Gardasil continues to be safe and effective, and its benefits continue to outweigh its risks," the agencies said in the statement posted on the FDA Web site.

In June 2006, Gardasil was licensed for use in girls older than 9 years to prevent infection from four types of a virus called HPV. HPV is a virus known to cause genital warts and cervical cancer. Two types of HPV covered by the vaccine, HPV-16 and HPV-18, cause about 70 percent of cervical cancers. The vaccine is given in three doses.

In clinical trials conducted before licensing, researchers found that the rates of adverse events were similar in girls and young women who received the vaccine compared with those who received a placebo injection.

Merck & Co., the maker of Gardasil, has insisted the vaccine is safe and effective.

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