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.

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.)

On this solemn anniversary, an update on the terrible costs of war, including the toll on veterans’ and their families’ lives, from the Brown University-based “Costs of War” project. The ongoing project taps academics of all stripes to tally up the myriad costs of post-9/11 wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other locations, from the invisible and previously unaccounted for costs to taxpayers to the vastly under-reported costs in civilian lives, economies, and environments.

A new study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine finds that nearly a quarter of Medicare recipients spend more than their total household assets on out-of-pocket health care costs in the last five years of their lives. That’s in co-payments, home health care, things Medicare doesn’t cover.

Addiction is a debilitating disease. It’s progressive, chronic, and can kill you.

But it’s also treatable. And there’s been increasingly good news on that front. So, I thought it might be a good time to share a handful of recent stories I’ve come across. Plus, September is Recovery Month, sponsored by the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Tomorrow morning (Thurs., Sept. 6) I’ll be joining our Morning Edition host Chuck Hinman to talk about the rising number of transfusion-acquired babesiosis infections.


Testing blood serum samples at Yale’s School of Public Health

This week, we’re all about Block Island here on RIPR. It’s the focus of our annual “One Square Mile” series, where we bring you stories on a variety of angles about one particular part of Rhode Island. As we started exploring this beautiful island, it became clear to me that one of the biggest health stories is how ticks have come to be such a menace. So, I invite you to listen to the three stories I’ve reported about the problem:

One of my first feature stories for Rhode Island Public Radio ran this morning during Morning Edition.(Listen here.) It’s about how a hospital realized its staff were dealing with more and more morbidly obese patients but still training on “standard issue” mannequins. So they asked a local puppet and mask maker, Big Nazo, to design something for them.

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