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Costs will rise as rates of obesity in the U.S. grow

Today’s news points to a study on projected obesity costs released by Kenneth E. Thorpe, PhD, Robert W. Woodruff professor and chair of health policy at Rollins School of Public Health, and colleagues from Emory. The unique study departs from looking at historical costs of obesity and uses an econometric model developed by Thorpe and team to estimate the growth of health care costs over time that are linked to changes in obesity rates.

Obesity costs rising

Obesity costs rising

Using nationally representative data on adults, the study estimates the effect of the increasing prevalence of obesity on total direct health care costs in the next decade. The report is titled “The Future Costs of Obesity: National and State Estimates of the Impact of Obesity on Direct Health Care Expenses.”

The report was commissioned by three groups – the UnitedHealth Foundation, the Partnership for Prevention and the American Public Health Association – in conjunction with their annual America’s Health Rankings report.

Major findings from the report include:

  • Obesity is growing faster than any previous public health issue our nation has faced. If current trends continue, 103 million American adults will be considered obese by 2018.
  • The United States is expected to spend $344 billion on health care costs attributable to obesity in 2018 if rates continue to increase at their current levels. Obesity‐related direct expenditures are expected to account for more than 21 percent of the nation’s direct health care spending in 2018.
  • If obesity levels were held at their current rates, the United States could save an estimated $820 per adult in health care costs by 2018 ‐ a savings of almost $200 billion dollars.

Thorpe says, “At a time when Congress is looking for savings in health care, this data confirms what we already knew: obesity is where the money is. Because obesity is related to the onset of so many other illnesses, stopping the growth of obesity in the U.S. is vital not only to our health, but also to the solvency of our health care system.”

The Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease, co-directed by Thorpe, says that a top priority must be addressing the obesity epidemic through meaningful, evidence-based approaches, including:

  • Removing barriers and empowering Americans to take control of their health.
  • Educating Americans to see being obese as a serious medical condition that significantly heightens their risk for other health problems
  • Ensuring that fear about the stigma of obesity does not eclipse the need to combat it
  • Redesigning our health care system to treat obesity like a preventable medical condition
  • Engaging employers and communities to get them invested in promoting wellness

Follow Thorpe on his Health Reform Blog.

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Biomedical informatics impact on health care outcomes

Biomedical informatics is a multi-disciplinary field, involving the collection, management, analysis and integration of data in biomedicine used for research and healthcare delivery.

DNA double helix

DNA double helix

According to Joel H. Saltz, MD, PhD, director of Emory’s Center for Comprehensive Informatics, biomedical informatics enhances medical research via technology by making it possible to collect, weed through and analyze widespread data on patient treatments and outcomes.

Saltz is a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar and serves as chief medical information officer at Emory Healthcare and as a professor in the departments of pathology, biostatistics and bioinformatics, and mathematics and computer science at Emory.

Joel H. Saltz, MD, PhD

Joel H. Saltz, MD, PhD

A recent essay excerpted below, published by Knowledge@Emory, says advances in information technology are becoming increasingly critical to disease treatment and administrative efficiency at healthcare facilities.

Given the national debate over costs in the healthcare system, medical practitioners and IT experts say that the evolving field of biomedical informatics can provide large scale improvements in treatment processes, and ultimately, in the price tag for care.

Saltz notes in the article that biomedical informatics can be applied to any subset of medical research, giving clinicians access to “rich” or large pools of patient data and applying technological solutions and mathematical modeling to the process.

He says that the overarching goal of the Center is to foster collaboration between scientific and software systems researchers. However, the synthesis of medical information from disparate and numerous sources remains a key research effort at the Center and for other institutions and companies in the biomedical informatics field

The Center was selected recently as an In Silico Brain Tumor Research Center and will use advanced informatics tools and databases to discover more effective brain tumor treatments. Read here for more information about projects at the Center.

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$30M grant to Children’s Healthcare supports Emory partnership

Pediatric researchThe Joseph B. Whitehead Foundation has given $30 million to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta to support pediatric research. The grant includes $25 million to help fund a new research building located on the Emory campus, and $5 million to support the Marcus Autism Center.

The grant will allow Children’s and Emory to expand their research partnership, attract top scientists, and advance research discoveries that will improve the health of children.

Some of the pediatric research conducted in a new building to be built on the Emory campus will focus on cardiology, cancer, vaccines, and new drug discovery. The grant has implications for the city of Atlanta as a growing research community, building on collaborations among Children’s Healthcare, Emory, Georgia Institute of Technology, Morehouse School of Medicine, and others.

Fred Sanfilippo, MD, PhD, executive vice president for health affairs at Emory, and Donna W. Hyland, president and CEO of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, explained that the new grant, which is the largest single gift ever to Children’s, will have an enormous impact on the two institutions, building on the strong partnership between Emory and Children’s and leading them to become a major pediatric research hub in the Southeast and the nation. Most importantly, it will help in finding cures for some of the most common and devastating childhood diseases.

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Reducing stress in cancer patients and caregivers

Emory’s Susan Bauer-Wu, PhD, RN, is recognized both nationally and internationally for her understanding of the mind-body connection and enhancing the quality of life for individuals affected by cancer. Her research programs aim to make a difference in the care that cancer patients receive and in the health of family caregivers. She is a national leader in palliative care and integrative medicine and health.

Susan Bauer-Wu, PhD, RN

Susan Bauer-Wu, PhD, RN

Bauer-Wu, nurse scientist and Georgia Cancer Coalition Distinguished Cancer Scholar, joined Emory’s Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing and Emory Winship Cancer Institute faculties in 2007.

Bauer-Wu studies whether psycho-behavioral interventions have a positive effect on psychological and physical health. She is currently conducting a large randomized clinical trial that looks at whether meditation affects subjective symptoms as well as lab findings such as stress hormones or how long a patient’s white blood cells take to recover after a bone marrow transplant.

This National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded study has enrolled 241 patients at Emory and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, where Bauer-Wu previously served as director of the Phyllis F. Cantor Center for Research in Nursing and Patient Care Services. The study will finish in 2010. Bauer-Wu is also involved in research with neuro-imaging to see what parts of the brain respond to such interventions.

Bauer-Wu says mindfulness meditation provides skills for the cancer patient to better cope with stressful circumstances, and in turn, the stress response can be minimized, and a sense of well-being ensues, and the cancer patient feels more relaxed, in control and physically comfortable. Bauer-Wu’s interest in cancer patients began early in her career when she worked as an oncology nurse.

In addition, she recently received a $3.5 million NIH grant for a study aimed at reducing heart disease risk and improving health and wellbeing among family caregivers of dementia and heart failure patients.

Recently, the American Academy of Nursing inducted Bauer-Wu into its new Fellowship class of 98 top national nursing. Fellows are elected through a highly selective process that recognizes individuals who have made major contributions to nursing and health care and whose work has influenced health policies benefiting all Americans.

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CNN reporter and Emory doctor tells his story

Sanjay Gupta, MD, assistant professor of neurosurgery at Emory School of Medicine and associate chief of neurosurgery service at Grady Memorial Hospital, navigates a busy schedule as a practicing doctor and the internationally known face of health reporting for CNN.

Sanjay Gupta, MD

Sanjay Gupta, MD

Next week, on Nov. 18, Gupta shares his story and discusses his new book at a book signing event at Emory. His book is titled “Cheating Death: The Doctors and Medical Miracles that Are Saving Lives Against All Odds.”

In a recent article, Emory Magazine profiles Gupta and remarkable journey:

  • Gupta can barely disguise the wonder he still feels when he ponders the complex circuitry of the human brain. And he can barely contain the wonder he feels when he is called upon to care for a patient, the way he saw doctors care for his grandfather.
  • “I love the intellectual challenge of it. I love the technical challenge of it. But at the end of the day—if someone comes in with a tumor or some kind of chronic pain issue that I can help in some way—that’s a remarkable feeling,” he says. “I operated all day Monday, and I walked home and told my wife all about my day, and it’s one of the most satisfying things I can do.”
  • Gupta reports from the field

    Gupta reports from the field

    Barely sixteen when he was accepted into an accelerated program to enter medical school, Gupta fast-tracked his career along parallel yet complementary paths. He wanted to be a great doctor and a great communicator. He wanted to heal patients, and he wanted to hear them.

  • Those interests synthesized when he joined CNN as its chief medical correspondent. With his straightforward yet reassuring manner, he has become the nation’s calm voice of medical reason—a doctor who possesses the rare ability to talk to the camera as if he were talking to a patient. He speaks, and somehow we believe he wouldn’t mind taking all the time in the world to help us separate facts from fears.

Read more about Gupta in Emory Magazine. Learn more about Gupta’s book signing event. For stories from Gupta on the road, visit here.

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Expandable implants utilize magnets for treatment

One of the most exciting areas in the treatment of pediatric extremity sarcomas is the development of expandable implants and a procedure that uses magnets to treat sarcoma of bone and soft tissue.

The latest devices allow lengthening of the bone using a non-invasive technique with a simple magnet held against the patient’s leg, which preserves the patient’s own joint. These implants can be expanded and grow with the patient as they get taller without multiple operations.

The patient’s leg is put through a round magnet every few months and, using different settings, the physician can turn the magnet on and patients can watch their leg get longer. There are only a few centers in the country performing this procedure – Emory Musculoskeletal Oncology and Limb Reconstruction Center is the only center in Georgia that offers this treatment.

David K. Monson, MD, Emory assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery, and Shervin V. Oskouei, MD, Emory assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery, lead the Emory Musculoskeletal Oncology and Limb Reconstruction Center.

Monson’s focus is on rare tumors, sarcomas of the bone and soft tissue as well as other uncommon benign bone and soft tissue tumors. He also treats metastatic cancers that have spread to areas of the bone from other primary malignancies, and often performs complex reconstructive procedures for these disorders not available in the community. Oskouei is an expert in the treatment of musculoskeletal (extremity) tumors, total hip and total knee replacements and revisions. His specialty is in orthopaedic oncology.

Monson and Oskouei point to the advantages of the procedure:

  • The procedure can save the patient’s limb by avoiding amputation.
  • The procedure can be done in one operation so patients don’t have to make multiple trips to the operating room, using one implant that can be expanded as the patient grows.
  • It allows lengthening of the bones and maintains an equality in limb length.
  • The technique is noninvasive and can be done in the office using just a mild anesthetic, rather than general anesthesia.
  • The procedure can be done more frequently, allowing physicians to lengthen in much smaller increments, which is much safer and more comfortable for the patient.
  • The procedure provides patients improved function — patients are able to put their full weight on their leg immediately after surgery

Learn more from patient Ned Crystal or visit Emory Healthcare.

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Managing heart disease and diabetes in South Asia

Illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease are affecting increasing numbers of young people in developing countries. In light of this worrisome trend, K. M. Venkat Narayan, MD, and his colleagues are launching a new center of excellence aimed at preventing and controlling heart disease and diabetes in India and Pakistan.

K.M. Venkat Narayan, MD

K.M. Venkat Narayan, MD

It’s essentially a center of excellence for cardiac metabolic disease prevention and control in South Asia with Emory playing a very important role in the project, says Narayan, professor of global health and epidemiology at Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health and professor of medicine in Emory School of Medicine.

The primary partner of this grant will be the public health foundation of India, New Delhi. Emory is the developed country academic partner working with other network partners, namely, the Madras Diabetes Research Foundation in Chennai, India and the Aga Khan University in Karachi, Pakistan.

The center will focus on surveillance, prevention of mortality stemming from cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and training young investigators in the field of diabetes and cardiovascular disease prevention and control.

It’s estimated that by 2030, the number of people with diabetes will reach 400 million worldwide, double today’s number, says Narayan. Cardiovascular disease is a major cause of death among people with diabetes with 80 percent of deaths from chronic diseases worldwide occurring in low and middle-income countries.

What is particularly worrying about developing countries is that diseases like diabetes are hitting younger people, says Narayan. The implications, he says, are young people who would otherwise be economically productive must leave the labor market. In addition, in India, one person having diabetes uses 25 percent of the family’s income just for his own treatment. The economic impact and the health impact are enormous, says Narayan. Read more in Emory Public Health magazine.

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Serendipity & strategy: Nox researcher David Lambeth

David Lambeth, MD, PhD, with one of his paintings

David Lambeth, MD, PhD, with one of his paintings

NADPH oxidases (Nox for short) are enzymes that help plants fight off pathogens, guide sexual development in fungi, are essential for egg laying in flies and even help humans to sense gravity.

But what first attracted the interest of Emory researchers was the role of Nox in vascular disease and cancer. Along with Emory cardiologist Kathy Griendling, pathologist David Lambeth pioneered the discovery of how important these reactive oxygen-generating enzymes really are.

Lambeth will be honored this month in San Francisco by the Society for Free Radical Biology and Medicine with their 2009 Discovery Award. A profile in Emory Report explores his musical and artistic pursuits as well as his science.

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Malpractice insurance rates examined

A recent article published by Knowledge@Emory, an online business journal, presented the view of a leading Emory expert on health care reform regarding malpractice insurance rates. The article is titled “Will Medical Practices Survive Malpractice Insurance Rates?” and covers recent health care reform news including a discussion of medical malpractice insurance rates.

Excerpts from the article:

  • President Barack Obama’s planned overhaul of America’s healthcare system took a step forward October 13 when the powerful Senate Finance Committee voted 14 to 9 along party lines, except for Republican Senator Olympia Snowe, to move its healthcare bill along for broader consideration. While this vote is a positive sign in a debate that has raged on for years, it comes too late for many physicians in high-risk specialties who have made the difficult choice to either restrict their practice, relocate to friendlier states, or to shut down shop altogether because of galloping increases in malpractice and other liability insurance.
  • Kenneth E. Thorpe, PhD

    Kenneth E. Thorpe, PhD

  • Kenneth E. Thorpe, Robert W. Woodruff professor and chair of health policy and management at Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health, said, “In response to rising medical malpractice insurance rates, many physicians feel compelled to practice so-called defensive medicine, which may involve ordering extensive patient tests primarily to help defend their decisions in case the physician is later sued. Concern over malpractice insurance costs are also driving more specialists like obstetricians and gynecologists, and neurosurgeons, to restrict, sell or close their practices, leading to some question about whether or not there will be enough specialists available to meet the demand for their services.
  • Part of the challenge is that the standard rules of a business model don’t always apply to medical providers, according to Thorpe.
  • In a traditional business model, a larger organization can generally reduce many costs with economies of scale, but even if a doctor sells his or her practice to a larger group practice or a hospital, the insurance rates are still set by state commissioners,” he notes. “So even though a hospital practice may be substantially larger than a typical physician group practice, a hospital generally can’t exercise any more leverage when it comes to med-mal rates.”
  • Regulatory restrictions on the medical business model may limit the ability of medical practitioners to respond to liability insurance rates, but Thorpe says other approaches could put a dent in the costs.
  • “To begin with, more than 60 percent of med-mal claims go to identifying fault and administering the medical malpractice system leaving only 40 percent of the premium dollar paid to injured patients,” he says. At the same time 70 to in some states up to 90 percent of claims filed never receive any payment and are dismissed or dropped. “So it would likely be helpful if regulatory authorities or the courts can weed out the frivolous ones. Setting up specialized courts—similar to tax and other highly focused courts that already exist—might help to fast track the adjudication of these claims, which would cut down on administrative and other overhead costs. Will the proposed healthcare reforms address these issues? It remains to be seen if true reform can overcome the efforts of special interest groups that are trying to place their own interests above the public good.”
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Encouraging news on women and heart disease

A new study reported this week in the Archives of Internal Medicine delivers encouraging news that Americans are on the right track in the fight against heart disease among women.

The study reports that all women, especially those younger than 55, have recently experienced a greater increase than men in their chances of survival following a heart attack.

Study leader, Viola Vaccarino, MD, PhD, professor of medicine (cardiology), and director of the Emory Program in Cardiovascular Outcomes Research and Epidemiology, researched trends in the rate of in-hospital deaths following heart attack from June 1994, through Dec. 2006. Data were collected from 916,380 patients through the National Registry of Myocardial Infarction.

Between 1994 and 2006, in-hospital death rates decreased among all patients, but decreased more strikingly in women than in men. The decreased risk of death was largest in women younger than 55 years (a 52.9 percent reduction) and lowest in men of the same age (33.3 percent). The absolute reduction in the risk of death among patients younger than 55 was three times larger in women (2.7 percent) than men (0.9 percent).

Vaccarino and her colleagues say a large part (93 percent) of this sharper decrease in mortality of younger women compared with men in recent years is due to the improved risk profile of women compared with men at the time of the heart attack hospitalization, perhaps the result of better recognition and management of coronary heart disease and its risk factors in women before the acute heart event.

Whatever the reason, the improvement indicates that we are headed in the right direction, says Vaccarino. Increased and ongoing awareness to the prevention of cardiovascular risk factors—by healthy diet, regular physical activity and avoidance of smoke and smoking—is saving lives, she notes.

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