Monday, November 21, 2011

Egg Allergy Doesn’t Rule Out Flu Shots

New Recommendation

For many years when fall and flu shots rolled around, patients were told that if they have allergies to eggs they should not have a flu shot.  The reason cited was that chicken eggs are used in vaccine production and there were concerns about traces of egg protein triggering reactions.  Turns out, it’s probably okay.

New recommendations by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) say that anyone with a history of suspected egg allergy should first be evaluated by an allergist or immunologist for testing and diagnosis but can probably receive the vaccination.

Matthew J. Greenhawt, M.D., M.B.A., clinical lecturer at the University of Michigan Health System and James T. Li, M.D., Ph.D.,chair of the Division of Allergic Diseases in the Department of Internal Medicine at Mayo Clinic, co-authored the AAAAI guidelines based on recent studies.

Because about 20% of the US population comes down with the flu each year, vaccination is important.  Many studies have shown few reactions, with a scattering of hives or mild wheezing.  No skin tests are needed, as results aren’t predictive. 

There is also no need to divide the dose. Single-dose studies support giving the entire vaccine dose at one time. Egg-allergic patients must get the inactivated flu shot since this is what was used in research, and they cannot receive nasal vaccine.

You can read more about these guidelines and the research findings at:

Literacy Affects Health

Higher Mortality

Low health literacy is significantly associated with higher mortality in patients with heart failure. This is the conclusion drawn by researchers who designed a retrospective study of patients at Kaiser Permanente in Colorado.

They examined cases of heart failure from 2001 to 2008, surveying patients by mail.  The patients were also followed for a median of 1.2 years.  Health literacy was assessed using well-established screening questions and categorized as either “adequate” or “low”.  Then researchers looked at hospitalization and mortality for all causes.

The survey response rate was 72% (1547 of 2156); 17.5% of responders had low health literacy.  Low health literacy was associated with:
  • Increased age
  • Lower socioeconomic status
  • Less likelihood of having at least a high school education
  • Higher rates of co-morbidities 
In multivariable Cox regression, low health literacy was independently associated with higher mortality (unadjusted rate, 17.6% vs 6.3%; adjusted hazard ratio, 1.97 [95% confidence interval, 1.3-2.97]; P = .001), but not hospitalization (unadjusted rate, 30.5% vs 23.2%; adjusted hazard ratio, 1.05 [95% confidence interval, 0.8-1.37]; P = .73).

This study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA.  2011; 305(16):1695-701 (ISSN: 1538-3598).

People Want Palliative Care Info

Education Gap

78% of Americans think palliative care and end-of-life treatment should be a part of public discussion, and a whopping 93% believe such decisions should be a top priority for the US healthcare system, according to a survey released this year conducted by the news magazine National Journal and the Regence Foundation.

More than 70% of the respondents agreed with the statement: “It is more important to enhance the quality of life for seriously ill patients, even if it means a shorter life.” While 23% said it was “more important to extend life through every medical intervention possible.” 

Panelists at the health summit at which the data was presented agreed that patients want to make their own decisions.  “It’s really about control,” said John Rother, executive vice president of policy, strategy, and international affairs at AARP.  The survey’s findings suggest many Americans want to better understand what is available to those who have few options left.

Around 23% of those surveyed said they thought the law allows government to make end-of-life decisions for older adults.  Only 40% correctly answered that the law does not include “death panels,” while 36% said they didn’t know.

These results illustrate the huge need for education. Of those surveyed, 54% said their doctor or healthcare provider was the source of information on end-of-life issues, and 75% said they got their information from family and friends.  Only 33% said they trusted politicians and elected officials for accurate information.

Those polled gave the US healthcare system a “C” grade of 5.5 on a scale of 1 to 10.  36% scored the system 7 - 10; 41% rated it 4 - 6; 21% gave scores of 0 - 3.

Pathways has a robust palliative care program under the auspices of our Home Health department.  It is designed for those with serious illness who may still be receiving curative treatment and who may have up to 12 months to live.

More information about this survey can be obtained at:

Should I Tell My Patient Death Is Imminent?

Does Not Increase Anxiety

When your patient with cancer is terminally ill and you have a good sense of the short prognosis, should you tell him?  It is a well-established practice for American physicians to be forthcoming about prognosis, but not so well established when death is just around the corner.

A study recently published online suggests that keeping the patient fully informed in the final days means that they are more likely to have their preferences met and to die in their preferred place.  Their family members are also more likely to be prepared for the death and to be offered bereavement support.

Researchers in Sweden looked at more than 1,000 cases in which patients were informed of their imminent death and compared this with a similar number who were not informed.  Results showed no differences with regard to pain control, nausea, anxiety, confusion, respiratory tract secretions and other end-of-life symptoms.

“People vary about the extent they want to know the truth, if they want to know at all, and in their understanding of what constitutes telling the truth,” the authors wrote.  But, they concluded, “being informed about imminent death does not lead to more unrelieved pain and anxiety during the last week of life.”

The study concludes that, “providing information of imminent death to a patient with cancer at the end of life does not seem to increase pain or anxiety, but it does seem to be associated with improved care and to increase the likelihood of fulfilling the principles of a good death.”  

The study appears in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, July 2011.

Coffee May Help Depression

You may have read about the benefits of one or two cups of coffee a day: reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and dementia.  Now it looks as though a little java may also decrease the risk for depression.

“There is certainly much more good news than bad news, in terms of coffee and health,” says Frank Hu, MD, MPH, PhD, nutrition and epidemiology professor at the Harvard School of Public Health.

New research published after a 10-year study of more than 50,000 older women suggest that the risk for depression may decrease as coffee consumption increases.  Those who drank 2-3 cups a day had a 15% decreased risk of depression compared to women who drank one cup a day or less.

“People have often worried that drinking caffeinated coffee might have a bad effect on their health, but there is more and more literature, including this study, showing that caffeine may not have the detrimental effect previously thought,” according to lead author Michel Lucas, PhD, RD, epidemiologist/nutritionist at Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.

The study is published in the September 26 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Friday, November 18, 2011

How Common Are Medical Errors?

Researchers at the University of Utah led by Dr. David Classen found that about one of every three patients hospitalized in the US will experience some sort of mistake during their stay.  The findings indicate the error rate may be as high as 10 times greater than estimated using older methods. 

“It’s clear that we still have a great deal of work to do in order to achieve a health care system that is consistently high-quality -- that is, safe, effective, patient-centered, efficient, timely, and devoid of disparities based on race or ethnicity,” said Susan Dentzer, editor-in-chief of Health Affairs, a peer-reviewed journal that explores health policy issues of current concern that published the research.

The medical errors found ranged from decubitus ulcers and staph infections to objects left in the body after surgery.  It is estimated that medical errors that cause harm to patients annually cost $17.1 billion in 2008 dollars.

“A key challenge has been agreeing on a yardstick for measuring the safety of care in hospitals,” the researchers wrote.  To find the best yardstick, the team tested three methods of tracking errors on the same set of medical records from three different hospitals.

Among the 795 patient records reviewed, voluntary reporting detected four problems, the Agency for Healthcare Research’s (AHR) quality indicator found 35, and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement’s tool detected 354 events -- 10 times more than AHR’s method.

“Our findings indicate that two methods commonly used by most care delivery organizations and supported by policy makers to measure the safety of care ... fail to detect more than 90% of the adverse events that occur among hospitalized patients,” the team wrote.

The research was supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which focuses on U.S. healthcare issues.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Grief and the Holidays


With the holidays come reminders of their loss for those who are grieving.  Others are savoring a time of joy, sharing memories, and coming together in love. For those who are grieving, the holidays are a vivid reminder of who is NOT there.

Many grieving people find this the most difficult time of the year.  They cannot forget and cannot bury the pain.  Their hearts, minds and bodies are grieving and not functioning in their full capacities, as though part of them is missing.  These are natural feelings—they are all a part of the process—they can share them, accept them, and feel them.

Ways of Coping
As the holidays approach, it may help for those who are grieving to start with a blank slate. Accept that they may not have the energy or desire to accomplish all the things that people have come to expect during the holidays.

Rather than do things automatically, they can discuss and think about what they really want to do, what they don’t want to do, and what will be difficult but they want to try anyway.  Grief experts encourage people not to be afraid to change traditions or start new ones.

Equally important is to acknowledge how one feels.  Many recently bereaved worry they will spoil the holidays for others.  According to families Pathways has counseled, the most painful thing is when they try to keep their feelings inside. 

If friends or family members take the initiative to talk about the person who has died, it relieves the tension and creates an opportunity for sharing. 

Managing Grief
While there are no universal methods for healing and coping, there are some concrete things a person can do that may make the holidays easier and provide an opportunity to honor loved ones who have died.  

Grieving families can:
  • Acknowledge the grief; accept whatever mood occurs.
  • Remember they are not alone.  Attend a remembrance event or grief support group.
  • Give themselves permission to let go of certain traditions—it’s okay to make changes.
  • Share plans with others; let them know how they can help.
  • Reserve time to honor the loved one quietly, alone or with others—light a candle, place a photograph on the table, share memories, or make a memorial donation.
And finally, grieving family members should remember to care for themselves at this time.