Tag: Sarah Arnquist

The Politics of Pet Food

In a new book "Pet Food Politics," Marion Nestle uses last year’s pet food safety scare to highlight the importance of a sound food safety regulation system. As she puts it, “Advocacy for policies good enough to protect pets also means advocacy for policies that protect people."

The Economist reviewed the book and interviewed Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University. Nestle said the pet food scare can be viewed as the "Chihuahua in the coal mine" in that it serves as a warning of our national and international food safety system.

The pet or animal food systems cannot be separated from the human food system for several reasons, Nestle said. Thus, the lessons from the contaminated pet food is a lesson for us all that:"We have a food safety system in the United States that is not adequate."

Global 2.0: A lesson from Indian pharmacies

MedPlus Pharmacies is arguably one of India’s fastest growing health companies. Since its launch in 2006, the retail pharmacy chain has opened 500 stores in several Indian cities and serves roughly 25,000 customers daily.

MedplusIn a space no larger than a walk-in closet tucked into neighborhoods, local MedPlus pharmacists dispense low-cost but guaranteed high quality medications and track customer orders with a sophisticated electronic record system.

In many respects, the MedPlus business model could not be more different than that of U.S. retail pharmacy chains. I spoke recently with Apu Gupta, MedPlus COO, who explained to me that the business’ success is rooted in its uniquely Indian model developed by founder and CEO Dr. Madhukar Gangadi while he was a student at Penn’s Wharton School of Business.

MedPlus’ business model would likely not work outside India, and the Walgreens or CVS model would likely not work in India, Gupta said. This got me to thinking about a term I first heard last spring: Global 2.0.

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Health care lessons from the Titanic

The U.S. Health Care system is like the Titanic — a big, fancy,
expensive ship that unequally doles out limited resources depending on class
status and is destined to hit an iceberg and sink.Titanic

A professor used this analogy recently to provoke students to look
more deeply into the complex and intractable factors that determine health status. Biology
and genetics surely are important, he said, but one cannot ignore the environmental,
social and economic factors that influence an individual’s
susceptibility to disease.

Comparing the U.S. health care system to the Titanic is an analogy as hackneyed as saying the system is in crisis. Yet, it remains useful.

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Stanford Med School rejects industry funding for continuing education

Stanford University’s medical school announced this week new restrictions on educational contributions by drug and medical device companies, which turn out to be among the strictest in the nation.

The rules are an effort to limit industry influence on physician practice. Currently, the continuing education programs tend to follow the market’s needs and not necessarily the best advancements for optimal patient care.

"The school will no longer accept funds from pharmaceutical or device companies that are targeted to specific programs, as industry-directed
funding may compromise the integrity of these education programs for
practicing physicians," a press release states. reported that "Drug and medical-device company
contributions for continuing medical education have surged nationwide
from $302 million in 1998 to $1.2 billion in 2006, according to the
Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education. Stanford
officials said about $1.87 million — or 38 percent — of the medical
school’s budget for continuing education came from industry sources in
fiscal 2006-07."

Reports on Gardasil study offer varying interprations

Merck’s HPV vaccine, Gardasil, has received significant press in recent days, following a cost-effectiveness study published in the current issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Depending on where Americans get their news, they received different summaries and interpretations of the study. No wonder consumers are confused. Here are four examples:

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Prescribing a dose of healthy skepticism

Headlines declare wine is good for your health. So is a small bit of dark chocolate. Then, they say it’s not. One day coffee is bad for you and the next it’s good.

We’re bombarded with health messages daily from companies selling things, advocacy groups promoting their agendas and journalists trying to sift through it all.

Who are you to believe? Unless you have a degree in epidemiology, it’s very difficult to discern the valuable information from all the garbage.

In his new book, “The Healthy Skeptic,” journalist Robert Davis gives readers some quick tips to become better consumers of health care information.

“A healthy skeptic carefully and critically evaluates each piece of advice taking into account not only its source but the science behind it,” Davis writes.

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Finding the best balance in health reporting

Starting with the first article they write, journalists learn to seek balance, objectivity and facts in their reporting. Balance often is translated into giving various viewpoints equal weight in an article.Scale

But do journalists always have to give equal weight to discordant opinions
on a subject even when there is no/minuscule scientific credibility for

I’ve been wondering lately if that traditional idea of balance best serves the public, or would journalists better serve the public by weighting their reports based on the credibility of the research available?

Examples of where this could be important that easily come to mind are stories on the vaccine-autism connection and water fluoridation.

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Healthy Howard coverage expansion could inform future reforms

Howard County, Maryland is set to launch an ambitious universal health coverage, and the county’s top health officials says the effort will provide valuable lessons for future reformers.Fastfacts

Starting next month, 2,200 of Howard County’s 20,000
uninsured residents can enroll in the Healthy Howard Plan,
which will provide them access to primary, specialty and hospital care, and
prescriptions drugs for $85 or less a month.

Dr. Peter Beilenson, Howard County health commissioner and former Baltimore City health commissioner who ran for Congress in 2006, said this is the most ambitious local effort at universal coverage since San Francisco launched a universal coverage plan in April 2007.

Like Healthy San Francisco, Healthy Howard is not portable health insurance but rather health coverage for local treatment. Instead of levying a "pay or play" tax on businesses like San Francisco, however, Healthy Howard’s funding comes from individual premiums, county general fund dollars and substantial amounts of charity. (The Golden gate Restaurant Association is battling San Francisco in court over its tax.)

Beyond the grand ambition to provide universal health coverage, what Beilenson says  distinguishes Healthy Howard is its emphasis on personal responsibility, mandatory health coaching and a forthcoming rigorous evaluation.

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Hospital offers a window to the world


A hospital brings together the best and worst of people often in chaotic, traumatic scenarios that for some are everyday events, and for others are life changing moments.

In her latest book, Hospital, journalist Julie Salamon uses palpable descriptions and poignant anecdotes to capture  those moments and personalities that make a hospital what it is.

Salamon spent a year at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn to tell a story about a hospital, but it turns out to be a reflection on societal values, priorities, tolerance and politics told through the lens of doctors, nurses and patients. Salamon shows how a hospital can be far more than a building of laboratories and medical equipment but a source of community pride, consternation and certainly conversation.

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Herd immunity — vaccinations protect us all

I’m currently in the masters in public health program at Johns Hopkins University and am taking my first course in epidemiology. I have my first midterm tomorrow and among the many concepts the professors want me to understand is herd immunity.Herd_2

Herd immunity is the ability to resist an attack of a disease because the majority of the members are immune to it. Disease passes from person to person so when a large portion of the population is immune — most likely through immunizations — this protects those who aren’t immune by decreasing the likelihood a susceptible person will come in contact with the disease.

I hope that was review for the clinicians. But for me, though I had been reporting on health care for four years, this was a new concept. It helps put the importance of mass vaccinations into context. Immunizations don’t only protect those who receive them, but the entire population.

That’s why this seemingly growing movement by parents not to immunize their children is so worrisome. I want to know why public health experts have not taken a stronger, more public position about the importance of immunization.

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