How I Keep Up With Health Policy Happenings

I may have hit snooze a few times this morning, but eventually I rolled out of bed, made some coffee, and started my morning routine of skimming the news and some journals for about 30 minutes before diving into my study tasks for the day.

I planned to post a short recap of this mornings offerings on Instagram, but there were just too many great reads that I wanted to share. Here is a brief glimpse at what I’m reading this morning [if I told you what was on every open tab, we’d be here until tomorrow morning]:

Scientists are Teaching the Body to Accept New Organs || NY Times Currently, lifetime use of anti-rejection drugs are the only means to prevent a new organ from being rejected, but they come with hazardous risks — increasing risk of infection, cancer, high cholesterol levels, accelerated heart disease, diabetes, and kidney failure. Two trials — one using regulatory T cells and the other looking at regulatory dendritic cells  — are hopping to train the immune system of an organ transplant recipient to distinguish “self” from “non-self” to prevent rejection of the transplanted organ without anti-rejection medications.

Comparison of Wait Times for New Patients Between the Private Sector and United State Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Centers || JAMA  A new study compared wait times for an appointment between private sector hospitals and the VA system in primary care, dermatology, cardiology, and orthopedics. The study concluded that while wait times for outpatient appointments were similar between the private sector and the VA in 2014, wait times in the VA system have since dropped by nearly 5 days while wait times in the private sector have remained static. The study was limited to 15 major metropolitan areas and did not assess access to mental health services or access to care in rural areas.

Effect of a Low Free Sugar Diet vs Usual Diet on Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease in Adolescent Boys || JAMA and NY Times New research suggests that limiting sugary foods and beverages (fruit juice and soft drinks) in overweight children with fatty liver disease sharply reduced the amount of fat and inflammation in their livers. Nearly 7 million teens and adolescents have nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, a condition linked to obesity that raises the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and heart diseases and can progress to nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, which is the leading cause of liver cancer, cirrhosis, and liver transplants. One expert physician not involved in the study reiterated one of the most underrated bits of advice for anyone trying to eat healthier: shop the outside aisles at the supermarket and stay way from the aisles where everything is in a box, can, or package. 

An Anti-Vaccination “Hotspot” Near Portland Declares an Emergency Over Measles Outbreak || Washington Post
A measles outbreak in Portland, Oregon has led to the declaration of a public health emergency. Clark County officials confirmed 23 cases stemming from one infected individual. Eighteen of the confirmed cases are patients between the ages of 1 to 10 and 20 of the infected individuals had not been immunized against measles. In Clark County, 7.9% of children were expect from vaccines required for kindergarten, including the MMR vaccine, which the CDC says is 97% effective. Of the exempt children, nearly 7% were not immunized for personal or religious reasons; nationally, only about 2% of children were not immunized for nonmedical reasons.

Rural Hospitals Retreat from Delivering Babies; Small Towns Pay the Price || MPR News A growing number of rural hospitals no longer deliver babies — this partly stems from the decreasing number of rural babies born each year. This cycle — fewer babies, hospitals stop delivering babies — has creating significant risks for pregnant women living in rural communities; they often have to drive hours to deliver a baby in a hospital. A report from Minnesota verifies this dangerous trend: the number of hospitals offering birth services fell nearly 18% between 2000 and 2015; in that time, 15 rural hospitals stopped delivering babies — a 38% decline in birth services. Nationally, more than half of rural counties lack obstetrics care and many rural hospitals are being forced to close. This problem disproportionally impacts certain communities: rural residents facing these care shortages tend to be poorer, of color, in worse health, and reliant on Medicaid or Medicare. 

Keeping up with the latest news in health policy, medicine, and public health can seem impossible, especially if you’re on Twitter where it seems like some cool new article or awesome conversation is published every second. So I try to limit myself to 30 minutes of reading in the morning based off of a cursory scroll through Twitter, a glance through my daily KHN and Stat emails, and a look at Health Affairs and JAMA. [Of course, that doesn’t mean I don’t hop on Twitter or Instagram throughout the day for more updates!]

What resources do you use to stay up-to-date in your field?

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