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Health Headlines - September 29

Posted Sep 28 2009 10:13pm

Hundreds More Nursing Homes Candidates for Inspection: Report

Hundreds of potentially sub-par nursing homes aren't included in a U.S. government program that pays special attention to poorly performing nursing homes, says a Government Accountability Office report.

The report looked at a Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services program that identifies as many as 136 nursing homes as "special focus facilities" that warranted more frequent inspections, the Associated Press reported.

But GAO investigators said as many as 580 nursing homes could be considered candidates for the program. The GAO report didn't identify the nursing homes.

The findings suggest that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services program has too narrow a focus, said Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wisc., chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, the AP reported.

"If far more than 136 nursing homes boast the bleakest conditions, then perhaps we should consider expanding" the program, Kohl said. At the least, he said he wants stronger warnings used on Medicare's Nursing Home Compare Web site.

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Switch to Digital Patient Records Driven by Big Hospitals

Large hospitals seeking to improve patient care and gain a competitive edge are driving the United States' move toward computerized medical records, The New York Times reported.

One example is North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System. On Monday, the regional hospital group was scheduled to announce plans to offer its 7,000 affiliated doctors subsidies of up to $40,000 each over five years to adopt digital patient records, the newspaper said.

That amount would be in addition to a federal program that offers up to $44,000 over five years for doctors who switch to computerized medical records.

Around the nation, similar incentive programs to assist affiliated doctors are in place at Memorial Hermann Healthcare System in Houston and Tufts Medical Center in Boston, the Times reported.

Electronic health records can be shared by hospitals, doctors' offices, and labs to coordinate patient care, prevent unnecessary tests, and reduce medical mistakes. In addition, doctors may form a stronger association with hospitals that subsidize the switch to computerized records. Those doctors may be more likely to admit their patients to those hospitals, the Times said.

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Possible Link Between Diabetes Treatment Januvia and Pancreatitis

There may be a link between the diabetes treatment Januvia and cases of acute pancreatitis, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Friday.

The agency said that between October 2006 and February 2009, there were 88 cases of acute pancreatitis reported in patients taking Januvia, the Associated Press reported.

"It is recommended that health care professionals monitor patients carefully for the development of pancreatitis after initiation or dose increases," the FDA said in a news release. Januvia should be used with caution and with appropriate monitoring in patients with a history of pancreatitis.

The FDA is working with drug maker Merck & Co. to include new warning information on the drug's label, the AP reported.

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Whooping Cough Vaccination Recommended for Adults and Teens

Most adults and teens should be vaccinated against whooping cough (pertussis), says the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Many people believe that whooping cough is no longer a major public health concern in the United States, but health experts estimate there are up to 600,000 cases each year in adults alone, according to the AAFP.

The organization this week launched a public health initiative to promote awareness about the importance of whooping cough vaccination to protect adolescents and adults from this highly contagious respiratory disease.

"For protection against whooping cough, health experts ... recommend that most adolescents and adults get a single dose of the Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, acellular pertussis) vaccine to replace Td (tetanus and diphtheria toxoids)," Dr. Ted Epperly, president of the AAFP, said in a news release.

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