The Pulse

The Pulse is written by Kristin Gourlay, an award winning health care reporter for Rhode Island Public Radio.

Full archive of The Pulse can be found here.

Superstorm Sandy took out power, down trees, canceled classes and meetings and flights galore. But she also sent some unexpected disruptions. The Red Cross says the storm forced it to cancel about 300 blood drives. And it’s not sure yet what might be the long term impacts of those lost donations and power outages. Here’s what Red Cross chief medical officer Dr. Richard Benjamin said on their web site about what is known:

My friend Sacha Pfeiffer at WBUR filed this story for NPR about a ballot question Massachusetts voters will be asked to answer this November.  If voters approve the measure, that would make it the third state to legalize a lethal prescription for terminally ill patients who wish to end their lives.

UPDATE:The first lecture in this series has been rescheduled for Thursday, Nov. 1 at 5 pm.

The Rhode Island Medical Society is marking its 200th anniversary with a series of neuroscience-related lectures, all free and open to the public. The lectures are co-sponsored by Brown’s Institute for Brain Science and the Norman Prince Neurosciences Institute.

For Rhode Islanders who are still a bit fuzzy on that or undecided about how to cast their vote, here are a couple of great resources.

Prime Healthcare Services, the latest suitor to try to buy Woonsocket’s struggling Landmark Medical Center, is “on a buying spree,” says Modern Healthcare magazine. Prime has closed deals on six financially troubled hospitals and announced its intent to buy Landmark in the past year. The story mention’s Prime’s public relations problems, including a tussle with the Service Employees International Union and an investigation over its billing practices in California, where the firm is based.

News from the RI Dept. of Health from spokeswoman Dara Chadwick about medical marijuana. They’re close to finalizing the regulations for compassion centers. She writes that “…one more review meeting will be held to finalize. After that, the regulations will be filed with the Secretary of State’s office.”

The three approved applicants must then submit their “Registration to Operate a Medical Marijuana Compassion Center.”

Meanwhile, a lawsuit has just been filed accusing the Dept. of reversing course, without warning, on who can prescribe medical marijuana.

Sometimes it’s a new way of thinking, a new model, an idea out of left field, or, as I like to think of it, using the map of one universe to navigate another – that helps solve some of our most intractable problems. I like to highlight that kind of new thinking from time to time, so here’s a recent example.

Science Friday is airing right now (the 2 o’clock hour on Friday) on Rhode Island Public Radio. (Listen now.) The topic is the medical value of marijuana; a federal appeals court is set to hear arguments about its value next week. Host Ira Flatow is talking to an oncologist and a microbiologist about it. Fascinating.

A new poll from Gallup Healthways came out today showing physicians are generally healthier, or at least engage in healthier behaviors, than nurses and other health care workers. To wit: 15% of nurses smoke, whereas only 4% of physicians do. (The Rhode Island College of Nursing has just banned smoking on campus AND by any of its students in uniform, while “representing” the school, the dean told me the other day. It’s a good start.)

One of the facilities in Rhode Island that received shipments of steroids used in spinal injections happens to be a pain management clinic. The other is an anesthesiology clinic. There were no hospitals or other regulated facilities on the list of places in RI to have dispensed the contaminated steroid. (And if you were one of those patients, the clinic has already notified you or is still trying to, according to the RI Dept. of Health.)

The University of Rhode Island’s nursing school announced today that it has won $3.8M in federal grants – a huge number for a small school, and for nursing, at that. You can read more about those grants in our news coverage here and see URI’s press release here.

UPDATE: As of today, October 5, 2012, the Rhode Island Department of Health has issued a ruling that it will mandate flu vaccines for all health care workers and volunteers. You can get a medical exemption with a note from your doctor, or fill out a form saying you refuse to get the shot but understand you’ll have to wear a surgical mask when interacting with patients during flu season. Link to the state regulation (it’s a .pdf).

A troubling finding out this week in the American Journal of Public Health.The article, “Leading Causes of Unintentional and Intentional Injury Mortality: United States, 2000-2009,” by Ian R. H. Rockett, et al., looked at data from the National Center for Health Statistics on all kinds of intentional and accidental  injury-related deaths, and in particular at five causes: suicide, car accidents, homicide, poisoning, and falls. Here’s what they found:

I just spoke with RI health insurance commissioner Christopher Koller, who shared a repeat-worthy fact, and I quote:

Primary care is the only part of our delivery system where the more we have, the lower our overall costs are. We can’t say that about anything else. And yet, historically, we’ve only spent six percent of our dollars on primary care.

States that have chosen to make their own online marketplaces for health insurance are moving ahead, some more quickly than others. And there’s no time to lose: these exchanges have to come online in 2014, under the Affordable Care Act timeline. (Here’s an update on where states are with their exchanges.)