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.

If you've got the flu, it's bad. Awfully bad. But is this season any worse than unusual? Are hospitals really being overwhelmed by "skyrocketing" cases in an unprecedented outbreak?

85 years ago, Alexander Fleming discovered some mold growing in one of his petri dishes. In his lab at Oxford, Fleming noticed a substance the mold produced inhibited the growth of some species of bacteria. But the substance was difficult to work with, and the discovery lingered untapped for many years.

Buying a gun from a dealer – say, a sporting goods store – triggers a federal background check. If you’re a convicted felon, you would fail the background check. So, too, if you’ve been involuntarily committed to an institution or otherwise ruled mentally ill. But the federal database against which background checks are run is only as good as the data. And Rhode Island is one of only four states that haven’t submitted any mental health records at all, according to a recent report out from a group called Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

We’re all still reeling from the Newtown, CT tragedy. Reeling…and trying to make sense of what happened and why. And that’s where health care professionals and scientists are often able to help. We’ve got some of the best right here in Rhode Island, who would probably love to be able to answer questions like: Could we get better at predicting who is likely to commit a crime with a gun? Does having access to a gun in the house make you more likely to commit a crime with a gun?

But here’s the thing. We don’t really know. And it’s not exactly their fault.

This week, I’ve been covering Rhode Island’s efforts to change the way we deal with substance abusers who frequent the emergency room (part 1, part 2). I talked to emergency dispatchers, firefighters, addiction treatment specialists, public officials, and more.

The Ocean State has sent the federal government – ahead of schedule – what it’s calling a “blueprint” for the state’s health benefits exchange. The blueprint is a collection of draft documents, the exchange’s creators say, that reflect the state’s best thinking to-date on how the exchange should work. Its submission is a key milestone for states developing their own exchanges.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse
RIPR File

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) published an op-ed on Politico Tuesday urging President Obama not to agree to any Medicare cuts in the fiscal cliff negotiations. The reason: reforming the health care system, including the way we deliver and pay for health care, will add up to all the savings we need.

Whitehouse writes:

Perhaps you’ve been wondering where things stand with Rhode Island’s efforts to build its own online health insurance marketplace?

Wonder no more! I joined our All Things Considered host Dave Fallon in the studio yesterday to give an update on the exchange. That’s because I got the chance to catch up with Christy Ferguson, who heads the group that’s planning and developing the exchange, and wanted to share what I learned.

A new study in the Annals of Family Medicine projects the country will need about 52,000 more primary care doctors by 2025. The study’s authors calculated that we currently have about 206,000.They based their projections on the number of patients primary care docs currently see in office visits per year, and how many might be expected based on how much our population is set to grow, how much more an aging population will need primary care, and how many people will have access to a primary care doctor for the first time as a result of the Affordable Care Act.

And that matters to you because….?  Well, because if the bacterial infection you’re suffering from has evolved a resistance to available antibiotics, it will be harder to treat. There’s some new data about the spread of resistance, and new attention on it today.

There have been lots of great stories in the last day or so about what President Obama’s reelection means for health care reform under the Affordable Care Act – otherwise known as Obamacare. A few of my favorites are linked below.

Sure, it’s been a stressful few weeks – months, even. Debates, political ads, campaigning, flyers, you name it, we’re all tired of it, right? It might even be taking a toll on our mental health. And according to one study by some Israeli researchers, there’s a bit more stress in store just before you cast your vote:

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.

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