Getting to Know “Orphan Drugs”

If someone were to ask you what the most common drugs are in the country, what would you say? Chances are, this survey would produce a narrow range of results – drugs for cholesterol, erectile dysfunction, birth control, high blood pressure, and maybe a few other common and low-cost prescriptions. And while it’s wonderful that we have treatments for even our most trivial needs, there’s still a huge, mostly unmet need within the pharmaceutical market.

Rare conditions receive very little attention from BigPharma, mostly because the ailments are too rare and too costly to make a drug profitable to produce. And while it sounds abhorrent to rank diseases based on profitability, pharmaceutical companies are a business just like every other industry. If they can’t scrounge up enough money to support the R&D for these often poorly understood afflictions, it doesn’t make sense to bother trying – especially if the number of patients who could benefit from the undoubtedly expensive medicine wouldn’t pay anywhere close to what the business would need to recoup its investment.

Luckily, governments can – and do – play an important role in these matters. In the United States, the 1983 Orphan Drug Act was enacted to stimulate funding for rare diseases and encourage research in areas that would otherwise be a money pit. It also created the FDA Office of Orphan Products Development, which evaluates potential new medications and determines their efficacy in the treatment of low-incidence conditions.

To clarify, a “rare disease” is one that affects fewer than 200,000 people in the United States, or one that affects more than 200,000 people but is so expensive to treat that without external funding, pharmaceutical companies would stay far away. In the last 30 years, the act has enabled medical researchers to develop more than 400 unique drugs, although most of the nearly 7,000 conditions covered under the legislation are still lacking effective treatment options.

Although many people have never heard of the term “orphan drug,” its importance for the healthcare industry is huge. Many of these rare conditions – including Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, Narcolepsy, and Trigeminal Neuralgia – are far more serious than an ailment like high blood pressure, in that they are either fatal or lead to substantially compromised functioning in the afflicted.

Unfortunately, many healthcare providers are unaware of both the conditions and their potential treatments. It can take many years and a highly qualified specialist to recognize a rare condition, and even then, practitioners need to know how to get their hands on these valuable orphan drugs. In some cases, it is not as simple as calling a prescription into CVS or Rite Aid.

Healthcare administrators can do their part by organizing educational seminars on rare conditions, sending doctors and nurses to conferences within their specialty, and educating themselves on the financial costs of treating the unlucky patients. Administrators who work in research should see orphan drugs as an opportunity – tax incentives, marketing rights, clinical research subsidies, and other forms of government assistance are all available to companies that are willing to partake. Lastly, healthcare administrators who work in the insurance industry arguably need to stay informed more than anyone; without knowledge of who needs these expensive medications and just how badly they need them, many insurance agents are quick to deny coverage or push for less expensive (and less effective) alternatives.

For more information, see an overview of the global report for 2015 here.

Sources:
Orphan Drug Act
FDA Office of Orphan Products Development
Global Genes: Rare Diseases List
Orphan Drugs Market

About the Author:
Iris Stone is a freelance writer, editor, and business owner who has written on a range of topics. She has experience covering content on medicine, healthcare, and career training, as well as education. Iris is also interested in science and mathematics and is currently studying to be a physicist. Check out her Google+ Profile.

Antibiotics: When They’re Helpful and When They’re Dangerous

In decades past, doctors used little consideration when prescribing antibiotics. The miracle cures that destroyed life-risking infections were widely available and worked well. Often prescribed merely on suspicion of an infection, or even to comfort worried parents, antibiotics became ubiquitous for almost any ailment. What went unnoticed was that microbes were evolving to resist and survive treatment. Higher doses worked for a while, but today antibiotic resistant microbes cause serious illnesses — even death.

Modern antibiotics include the penicillins and many others made from natural or synthetic processes. There are two broad groups: bactericidals that kill bacteria, and bacteriostatic that agents simply slow growth.

The risk to individuals and populations stems from the misuse of antibiotics. When doctors prescribe antibiotics, the medicine attacks all bacteria – good and bad. After the antibiotics lose strength, the strongest and fittest of the bacteria remain – and they are often the bad type. These then reproduce a new strain, and a more antibiotic resistant one at that. Moving from host to host, harmful bacteria continue to evolve. The new strains become increasingly resistant, and then antibiotics begin to fail.

They simply adapt and continue to survive and duplicate. Once only a problem in healthcare facilities, Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) is infecting individuals in the broader community. In this example, as with most bacteria, medical science is having difficulty keeping up with the quickly evolving microorganisms.

The most common mistake physicians made in the past was prescribing antibiotics for viral infections. A virus easily survives any dose of antibiotics. Taking the antibiotics only kills bacteria that play an important role in health, and using antibiotics too often unnecessarily leads to bacterial resistance. Worse yet, not finishing a full course when needed leaves the fittest bacteria to reproduce. In the face of resistant bacteria, doctors are forced to use riskier and more expensive antibiotics, often with dramatic side effects.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers the problem “one of the world’s most critical public health threats.” According to the CDC, “Widespread overuse and inappropriate use of antibiotics continues to fuel an increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria.” They warn parents against using antibiotics unnecessarily, and that adverse drug reactions are the most common reason children go to the emergency room.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says, “Antibiotics are powerful drugs, but they are not the cure for all that ails you.” Further, “almost all” bacteria strains are “becoming resistant to antibiotics.” The FDA goes on to advise doctors in the “smart use” of antibiotics — use them only when absolutely necessary.

There are emerging controversies in regard to antibiotic use in livestock productions. Typically, farm animals are given antibiotics to prevent disease and bolster profits. Animals in the close quarters of the feedlots or hatcheries easily share bacteria, so to avoid the inevitable they are fed a constant stream of antibiotics. As in human populations the bacteria are developing greater resistance; now there is an additional threat of bacterial strains crossing over to humans.

Antibiotic resistance is a worldwide problem with simple solutions. Being aware as a parent or patient is critical. Doctors need to prescribe with greater care by targeting specific bacteria. Use antibiotics only if needed and take the full course, which can prevent bad bacteria from producing new strains. As science struggles to develop stronger antibiotics, we should follow the new protocols to promote public health. Unfortunately, like many new concepts, antibiotic resistance has yet to become common knowledge. Education is key.

Sources:

Wikipedia – Antibiotics
Center for Disease Control
Wikipedia – Antibiotic Misuse
Food and Drug Administration
MayoClinic – Antibiotics

About the Author:
Iris Stone has worked as a freelance writer since 2011. Her writing has included content on medicine, healthcare, and education, although her interests are wide and varied. Prior to breaking into the freelance biz, Iris worked in sales for a health company and prior to that as an assistant in a chiropractic office. She is currently attending George Mason University and is majoring in Political Science. Check out her Google+ profile.

The Good Side of Bacteria

In the 20th century antibiotics seemed on the verge of conquering bacterial infections forever. Lives were saved, children lived on to adulthood, illnesses were shortened, and science proved a bright future. That is until a new reality crept in. Recent research points to a new actuality; there are good and bad bacteria in the human body.

Microorganisms live on and inhabit the body, and they may constitute up to three pounds of total body weight. Bacteria, viruses, some fungi and parasites form a natural balance called the microbiome. While parasites, fungi and viruses can be very problematic, bacteria rarely cause disease and are needed for good health — they’re the body’s helpers.

These invisible creatures are an original life form that has co-evolved with all animals in existence today, including humans. A single cell, yet incredibly complex form of life, bacteria coexist in the environment inside and outside of the bodies of all animals. Their DNA is not enclosed in a nucleus, yet they are considered to be “true cells.”

Bad bacteria are pathogenic. When we fall ill these bacteria compete with the good bacteria, over produce and often invade body tissues. Some may emit toxins. Salmonella and Escherichia coli are notorious causes of food poisoning. Helicobacter pylori has in recent years proven to play a large role in gastritis and ulcers. Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcal bacteria are at the root of many infections.

There are, on average, 100 trillion individual bacterium in a healthy adult. As science learns more, we are finding that normal bacteria aid in digestion and vitamin production and fight pathogenic bacteria. A recent federal study, the Human Microbiome Project, inventoried the bacterial microbiome of 250 healthy individuals. Their landmark findings showed that any individual could have as many as a thousand different bacteria strains in their body, and each microbiome varies.

We are gaining understanding of what a healthy bacterial balance is, and it’s proving to be of great value to the medical community. Antibiotics kill bad and good bacteria, upsetting the microbiome’s balance, and there is a growing concern about what that does. Imbalances may disrupt immunity function and contribute to chronic illness.

Writing for WebMD, Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, explains, “Your body needs to have a healthy amount of ‘good’ bacteria in the digestive tract.” She recommends yogurt with active good bacteria in the diet. This “probiotic” food contains “living organisms” that promote health. Registered dietitians at WebMD say to maintain and restore a balanced microbiome, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. For their good bacteria content, they recommend fermented foods and dairy products.

Many health advocates are beginning to recommend probiotic supplements (live good bacteria). In theory, adding to the body’s bacterial microbiome should be a good thing, but what’s needed is more conclusive research. The news is especially encouraging for sufferers of gastrointestinal disorders — where bacteria do most of their work.

A recent study at Penn State found a truce between the immune system and “commensal bacteria,” that is to say the good bacteria. When the truce is broken and the immune system attacks the good bacteria, the body becomes more susceptible to chronic diseases. Examples cited include bowel disorders, diabetes, heart disease, and chronic inflammations. Researchers believe that understanding the relationship between immunity and bacteria is key to the treatment of many disorders.

In a Scientific American article by Jennifer Ackerman, she reports that we used to believe we were “phys­iological islands” and completely self-sufficient. The body is now seen as a “complex ecosystem” of microbes that assists in “basic physiological processes.”

The National Library of Medicine, under the National Institutes of Health (NIH), identifies Bifidobacteria as a group of bacteria that live in normal intestinal tracks. Because we can grow it outside the body, it can be “taken by mouth as medicine” for diarrhea and other intestinal problems. As a probiotic, it may be able to restore a good balance after bacteria-killing antibiotic use, including chemotherapy and radiation treatment. Other possible uses include: treating skin conditions, flu symptoms, lactose intolerance, Lyme disease, mastitis, yeast infections and even cancer.

We must do more research to determine if the microbiome and its role in good health will lead to a panacea. The good news is that science is on to something. It’s time to take some good common sense measures. Being aware of what affects the microbiome and how to hopefully restore and maintain balance will prove another step forward in healthcare.

Sources:

Local Health
Microbe World
NIH – Common Fund
New York Times
Web MD
University of Pennsylvania
Scientific American
Wikipedia – Probiotics
MedLine Plus
MayoClinic

About the Author:
Iris Stone has worked as a freelance writer since 2011. Her writing has included content on medicine, healthcare, and education, although her interests are wide and varied. Prior to breaking into the freelance biz, Iris worked in sales for a health company and prior to that as an assistant in a chiropractic office. She is currently attending George Mason University and is majoring in Political Science. Check out her Google+ profile.

FAQs about MERS

If you follow the news, you’ve likely heard at least one segment about the MERS virus, which made its way over to the United States in May. MERS stands for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome and is not a new illness. Many people in the U.S. are just hearing about it now because up until recently the infections had been limited to the Middle East (which explains the name). You can familiarize yourself with all the basic information about MERS, including where it comes from and what the symptoms are, by checking out the frequently asked questions below.

Q: From where does MERS originate?

A: The illness is caused by the coronavirus, a common virus that can infect the nose, sinuses, and upper throat. Most of the time it is not dangerous and only causes simple cold symptoms that go away with rest and medication. Almost everyone will catch a coronavirus at some point in his or her lifetime. For this reason, MERS is sometimes called MERS-CoV. The first incidence of the illness was reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and is believed to have been contracted from an animal common in the region, such as a camel or bat.

Q: What are the symptoms of the infection?

A: People who develop MERS will most often experience a cough, shortness of breath, and a fever.

Q: Is MERS dangerous?

A: The CDC is closely monitoring MERS cases throughout the world. This is because the illness can be very dangerous, and nearly 1 out of every 3 people who contracts a case ends up dying from it. Currently there is no known cure for the infection and all doctors can do is treat the symptoms.

Q: Is it contagious?

A: Yes, MERS is contagious. However, it isn’t as easily spread as the common cold, which often spreads through families and friend groups very quickly. You can only catch MERS from someone if you are in close contact with that person. It also does not spread as easily between people as do other deadly viruses, such as SARS. Because of this, the risk the virus poses to the general public is relatively low.

Q: How common is MERS?

A: So far there have been more than 630 cases reported in 18 countries, and 193 of those people have died. While those numbers may seem high, it is important to remember that they actually represent a very low incidence of disease. You can put this in perspective by comparing it to SARS, a deadly but more contagious virus. That illness infected an estimated 8,000 people and killed 750 in its 2003 outbreak alone.

Q: How did MERS arrive in the United States?

A: Until very recently, MERS had only been reported in countries like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman, Jordan, Kuwait, Yemen, and Lebanon. However, travel-associated cases have sprung up in parts of Africa, Asia, and Europe. The infection was first recognized in the U.S. in two travelers from Saudi Arabia, although these cases were not related. Later, an Illinois resident who had been in contact with one of the travelers tested positive for MERS-CoV.

 

Sources:

http://www.webmd.com/lung/coronavirus

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/007192.htm

http://www.cdc.gov/CORONAVIRUS/MERS/INDEX.HTML

http://www.webmd.com/lung/news/20140505/mers-faq

About the Author:

Iris Stone has worked as a freelance writer since 2011. Her writing has included content on medicine, healthcare, and education, although her interests are wide and varied. Prior to breaking into the freelance biz, Iris worked in sales for a health company and prior to that as an assistant in a chiropractic office. She is currently attending George Mason University and is majoring in Political Science. Check out her Google+ profile.

 

Forget Fad Diets, Just Follow the Basics

We’re getting fatter worldwide and it’s affecting our health and self-esteem. While tabloids churn out the latest fad diets, and even well meaning “experts” do the same, the facts point to a common sense approach. The simple calculation is all about input and output. Taking in more calories and burning less causes weight gain; the opposite means weight loss.

With 129 million overweight adults in the United States alone, according to the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), incidents of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke and asthma are exploding. On a personal level, it means a shorter life. Changes in the national diet, with high calorie, low nutrition foods, are the main culprit once combined with less physical activity. The Body Mass Index is the starting point for determining an ideal weight range. This widely accepted index has been set by the National Institutes of Health and can help you gauge your own fitness level, although it is by no means the last word in physical health.

The Mayo Clinic, a leader in public health information, says the “balancing act” of weight loss comes down to “burning more calories than you take in.” Understanding that is the core of a successful diet plan. When you’re ready for change talk to your doctor, then prepare for “situations that challenge your resolve,” and remember dieting is a “commitment to making indefinite changes” in lifestyle. Considering a healthy diet plan means choosing one that fits your likes and dislikes, advises the Mayo Clinic. The diet should include grains, vegetables and fruits combined with low fat proteins. Availability and affordability is important as you embark on a new staple diet. Nutrition, calories, and exercise all need to be balanced for safe weight loss.

And what is a balanced diet? Opinions vary only on the specifics. Overall, diets high in vegetables and low unhealthy fats, with considerations for carbohydrates, stand out among the recommendations. Sugar and salt are out. The USDA Food Guide Pyramid was an attempt to define good nutrition; it has since been revised twice and today is called My Plate. While there’s no last word and research continues, Harvard School of Public Health, critical of My Plate, has their own alternative – the Healthy Eating Pyramid. Their pyramid is similar in “shape only” and adds a “wealth of research” from the last 20 years. At the base of this pyramid is “daily exercise and weight control.” The diet seeks an “energy balance” by the rule: “Weight change = calories in – calories out.”

The Healthy Eating Pyramid promotes whole grains, vegetables and fruits, nuts, beans, healthy fats and oils, and a serving or two of dairy with the sparing use of red meat and butter. Dense carbohydrates like refined grains, pastas, and potatoes should be used sparingly, and salt and sugar only with great moderation.

Some diet using general rules-of-thumb, while others meticulously track every last calorie and nutrient. Most will be in-between, but success depends on a knowledge of the basic facts, more than a little bit of will power, and a commitment to consistent action. In time, lifestyle changes become self-reinforcing. Everyone will falter; real strength is in getting back on track until it is second nature to live healthily.

Sources:

http://aspe.hhs.gov/health/prevention/

http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/weight-loss/basics/weightloss-basics/hlv-20049483

http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/pyramid-full-story/

http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/files/2012/10/healthy-eating-pyramid-700-link.jpg

About the Author:
Iris Stone has worked as a freelance writer since 2011. Her writing has included content on medicine, healthcare, and education, although her interests are wide and varied. Prior to breaking into the freelance biz, Iris worked in sales for a health company and prior to that as an assistant in a chiropractic office. She is currently attending George Mason University and is majoring in Political Science. Check out her Google+ profile.

How Wearable Technology Will Transform Healthcare

You may have heard of “wearable technology,” which is, well, technology that is in some way “wearable.” Wearable technology has broken into (and found success in) multiple industries, including communication, education, and entertainment. Now innovations in this realm have made their way into healthcare. The potential impact in the industry is huge. If you think FitBit and other wearable pieces like it have made a splash, you may be surprised to hear that that’s just the beginning. Even conservative projections seem to predict that things are just getting started. It is estimated that by 2018 over 130 million consumers will have purchased some type of wearable device, and there’s no reason they wouldn’t also accept the technology in doctors’ office or hospitals.

Wearable technology in healthcare could mean that doctors get assistance in the operating room, have easy access to patient records, and encourage patients to monitor their own health. There are a number of themes to the devices being designed for use in the healthcare sphere. One of these is information. If you’ve had much experience going to doctor’s offices, you know that one of the challenges healthcare providers face is that different pieces of information are isolated from each other. Offering wearable devices to people that put all patient data on a single, protected network could solve that problem.

Another theme that underlies this movement is community. Wearable technologies that would bring people together based on common health goals, such as weight loss, running times, certain diets, or maintaining heart heath, have the potential to create supportive healthcare communities. Lastly, designs for certain types of “wearables” could include a gaming element that taps into peoples’ innate love of competition. Comparing your progress toward healthcare goals with a huge network of other participants can be not just fun, but also incredibly motivating.

Here are some examples of innovations in wearable technology:

Nursery 2.0: A sensor-enhanced onesie for babies that monitors a baby’s activities and can be tracked on a parent’s coffee mug.

Freescale KL02 Chip: a chip that can be swallowed or embedded directly into an organ that then sends biometric readings back to healthcare providers via Wi-Fi.

Google Glass: a set of high-tech “smart” glasses that can provide surgeons with multiple points of views during operations and can also be used in medical training.

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) Patch: a patch that delivers weak electrical stimulation to chronic pain suffers to reduce pain; also includes Bluetooth connectivity so physicians and patients can monitor their symptoms on their smart phones.

Misfit Shine/Jawbone fitness bands: two different types of wearable wristbands that monitor sleep patterns, nutritional intake, fitness, and bodily functions and encourages users to make changes in line with achieving their goals.

In addition to improving patient health and making healthcare more fun, wearables will potentially reduce healthcare costs by identifying trends among various demographics and increasing the effectiveness of preventative and predictive care. Wearable technology also encourages patients to take responsibility for their healthcare and to be more accountable by making healthcare data both easily accessible and interactive.

Sources:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/vala-afshar/wearable-technology-the-c_b_5263547.html

https://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20140108151332-12941029-5-ways-wearable-technology-will-impact-healthcare

About the Author:

Iris Stone has worked as a freelance writer since 2011. Her writing has included content on medicine, healthcare, and education, although her interests are wide and varied. Prior to breaking into the freelance biz, Iris worked in sales for a health company and prior to that as an assistant in a chiropractic office. She is currently attending George Mason University and is majoring in Political Science. Check out her Google+ profile.

Insomnia, Circadian Rhythm Disorders, and What You Can Do

Although the term “insomnia” is often used loosely to refer to any type of sleeping difficulty, there are a number of other labels that can categorize specific struggles based on the fundamental aberration in the sufferers’ sleeping patterns. Specifically, there is a category of “circadian rhythm sleep disorders” that can further be divided into subsets. CRSD conditions affect the timing of when a person sleeps and wakes up. Everyone has a master “clock” in the control center of the brain known as the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), which regulates the body’s timing of factors such as temperature and hormone levels. Most peoples’ circadian clocks run on a schedule a little more than 24 hours long, and this schedule can be maintained or adjusted based on a number of cues. Light and darkness are the primary motivators keeping peoples’ clocks on the right schedule, but there are other cues, known as “zeitgebers” that also influence the timing of peoples’ internal rhythms. These include when you eat meals, when and how you exercise, when you drink caffeine and how much caffeine you drink.

Types of Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorders

There are many types of CRSD, but a few include:

Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder: more common among teenagers, this sleep disorder occurs when a person regularly goes to sleep and wakes up two hours later than what most people would consider normal. For example, a person might go to sleep after 1 am and wake up in the afternoon.

Advanced Sleep Phase Disorder: this sleep disorder is the opposite of DSPD, and occurs when people go to sleep and wake up two hours earlier than what is considered normal. For example, a person might go to sleep at 8 pm and wake up at 5 am. It is more common older people.

Irregular Sleep-Wake Rhythm: this sleep disorder is characterized by an undefined sleep cycle that causes a person to experience fragmented sleep, often by taking of a series of naps throughout the day. Sufferers frequently complain of fatigue, and it is more common in children with mental retardation and dementia patients.

Free-Running Type: people who have this disorder have a sleep-wake cycle that shifts later every day. It is common among blind people, those with mental retardation, and dementia patients.

What You Can Do

There are plenty of medications out there that can help regulate peoples’ sleep cycles, including a new one that is specifically for blind people who have irregular sleep-wake rhythms. Before jumping to prescriptions, though, consider some of these at-home remedies that can get your sleep back on track:

–          Use bright light in the morning to help “set” your body clock and let your brain know that it’s time to wake up

–          Dim the lights in the evening (including lights from computer and TV screens) to signal to your brain that it’s almost time to go to bed. If you work at night, wear sunglasses on your way home from work.

–          Keep a regular routine for both meals and exercise to keep your circadian rhythm schedule stable

–          Don’t drink caffeine after lunch or early afternoon

–          If all else fails, temporarily restricting your sleep until you’re sleeping solidly the entire time you are in bed can help you maximize the efficiency of your slumber. Once you are sleeping soundly again you can then start to increase the number of hours you spend in bed.

 

Sources:

http://www.aasmnet.org/resources/factsheets/crsd.pdf

http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/features/reset-sleep-cycle

About the Author:

Iris Stone has worked as a freelance writer since 2011. Her writing has included content on medicine, healthcare, and education, although her interests are wide and varied. Prior to breaking into the freelance biz, Iris worked in sales for a health company and prior to that as an assistant in a chiropractic office. She is currently attending George Mason University and is majoring in Political Science. Check out her Google+ profile.

An Overview of the Department of Health and Human Services

If you pay any attention to the news, you may have heard that Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, has stepped down from her position. You might also have heard that her resignation is tied to the tumultuous unveiling of the controversial Affordable Care Act website, healthcare.gov. Prior to this recent controversy, you may not have even known about the Department of Health and Human Services, and you still might not have any idea what it does. Google searches on the topic mostly turn up results about Kathleen Sebelius and the political unrest surrounding “Obamacare,” but let’s dive a little deeper.

What does the DHHS Do?

In short, the goal of the department is to enact policies that protect Americans’ health and provide essential health benefits to citizens in need, particularly those who may be unable to afford basic medical care on their own. The department also plays a role in regulating the quality and safety of food products that make it onto grocers’ shelves and works to diagnose and treat disease. The DHHS is headed by a secretary (formerly Kathleen Sebelius) who is considered the chief managing officer of the “family” of agencies within the department. This includes 11 operating divisions, 10 regional offices, and the Office of the Secretary. The operating divisions include such agencies as the:

  • Administration for Children and Families
  • Administration for Community Living
  • Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality
  • Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
  • Center for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
  • Food and Drug Administration
  • Health Resources and Services Administration
  • Indian Health Services
  • National Institutes of Health
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

DHHS Operating Divisions’ Budgets

Some of these, like the CDC, FDA, and Medicare and Medicaid Services, are probably familiar to you. Others, like the Indian Health Service, you might not have known exist. This may be because not every agency has the same “presence” in government, due in part to the wide range of budgets each division enjoys. For example, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) have by far the largest budget, at $763.14 billion annually, while the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), which is responsible for supporting research to improve the quality of healthcare and reduce its costs, has a budget of a mere $0.43 billion a year.

Programs and Services

Obviously, Medicare and Medicaid services are pretty much the single largest provision the department offers. In fact, DHHS provides healthcare to 1 in 4 Americans through the CMS. Total, there are 115 programs the 11 operating agencies offer, including family planning services, Indian health facilities, public health preparedness and response, vaccines for children, cancer research, substance abuse treatment, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (food stamps), intellectual and developmental disabilities services, and teen pregnancy prevention. See a full list here.

History and Origins

One could say that the initial idea for a national health services dates back to 1798, when President John Adams created the Marine Hospital Service to treat merchant sailors who had become sick or disabled. As time went on, the scope of national health services enlarged to include the prevention of epidemics, research facilities (now known as NIH), social security, help for the blind, and youth work training. The department continued to enlarge, particularly after WWII, but didn’t reach its current organization (originally called the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare) until 1953. It was renamed as the Department of Health and Human Services in 1979.

Sources:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/11/us/politics/sebelius-resigning-as-health-secretary.html?_r=0

http://www.hhs.gov/about/

http://aspe.hhs.gov/info/hewhistory.htm

https://www.federalregister.gov/agencies/health-and-human-services-department

http://www.hhs.gov/about/hhshist.html

About the Author:

Iris Stone has worked as a freelance writer since 2011. Her writing has included content on medicine, healthcare, and education, although her interests are wide and varied. Prior to breaking into the freelance biz, Iris worked in sales for a health company and prior to that as an assistant in a chiropractic office. She is currently attending George Mason University and is majoring in Political Science. Check out her Google+ profile.

Medical Advice and the World Wide Web – Who to Trust?

If you’re like the majority of people in this country, you’re quick to take to the internet with your symptoms when you’re feeling under the weather. The problem with this tactic is that not only can you get inaccurate information, but you may inadvertently convince yourself you have cancer, are having a heart attack, or are suffering from some other deadly condition. This accomplishes nothing, other than that it causes you to worry much more than is necessary. Obviously, the best course of action is just to make an appointment with your doctor if you think there is really cause for concern, but let’s be honest – most of us will Google our medical woes nonetheless.

So what can you do? There are some good tips out there that you can take into consideration when playing Mr. or Mrs. Doctor. For instance, a good rule of thumb is to stick to websites run by governments, nonprofits, or medical organizations. University medical centers (which are usually identifiable by a .edu web address) are usually pretty reliable, too. And when in doubt, you can always click on the “About Us” section of the website to determine pretty quickly whether or not the information on the site is accurate or “agenda-ridden.” For example, websites sponsored by drug and insurance companies are usually looking to sell you a product rather than trustworthy, unbiased medical advice. You can also look at the bottom of the website for an “HONcode” seal, which indicates that the information is certified by the Health on the Net Foundation.

Some reliable, unbiased websites you’ve probably heard of include MayoClinic.com and Medlineplus.gov. Other condition-specific sites include the websites for the American Cancer Society, National Cancer Institute, American Cancer Society, Congenital Heart Information Network, American Diabetes Association, National Diabetes Education Program, Alzheimer’s Association, and Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation.

Another good idea is to look for websites that doctors use themselves. Chances are, if medical professionals are using it to assist their practice and teaching, it’s safe for you to trust. For example, the Consumer and Patient Health Information Section has compiled a list of internet sites that have been assessed for a variety of credibility factors, including sponsorship/authorship, content, audience, currency, disclosure, purpose, links, design, interactivity, and caveats. You can see the full list of their top 100 sites here: http://caphis.mlanet.org/consumer/top100all.pdf.

It’s also important to look out for transparency. In other words, if it’s hard for you to determine what the website’s agenda is, what its sources are, and who’s running it, you might not want to trust it. You should be able to tell without too much trouble the company, organization, or business that is offering you a medical diagnosis. If the website asks for information from you, it should be very clear about what it will and will not do with those personal details. The website should also very clearly state what its sources are as well as back up those sources (for example, by clarifying that the information was confirmed by medical experts).

Sources:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jim-t-miller/online-medical-information_b_3667454.html

http://caphis.mlanet.org/consumer/

http://www.partnerforqualitycare.org/pdf/How_can_you_find_trustworthy_infomation_web_links.pdf

About the Author:

Iris Stone has worked as a freelance writer since 2011. Her writing has included content on medicine, healthcare, and education, although her interests are wide and varied. Prior to breaking into the freelance biz, Iris worked in sales for a health company and prior to that as an assistant in a chiropractic office. She is currently attending George Mason University and is majoring in Political Science. Check out her Google+ profile.

The Anti-Vaccine Movement – Should We Listen?

Unless you live under a rock, you’ve most likely heard of this debate that seems to be sweeping the nation in recent years – the debate about whether or not to vaccinate your children against once-common diseases like the chicken pox and measles. When vaccines were first invented they were hailed as a glorious way of avoiding many common ailments that can be very dangerous and even cost people their lives.

Apparently, the anti-vaccine movement first rose up in response to a study in the late 1990s that linked the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine, with autism. Now it seems to be a fact that everyone’s heard of, even if they don’t know the study – don’t vaccinate your children because they’ll get autism. But is it accurate? Supposedly, follow-up found that this study was rife with inaccuracies and false data, but it spawned an age of more research and more studies revealing all the harms of vaccines. The anti-vaccine movement isn’t just limited to the MMR vaccine anymore, and opponents of the disease prevention technique call out the consequences of everything from the flu to chicken pox to HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccines. So what are these people saying?

  1. Vaccines have toxins. The movement claims that vaccines carry toxins and carcinogens like thimerosal and aluminum, formaldehyde, and polysorbate 80, which are linked to a number of health consequences and can affect children’s immune systems and neurological functioning.
  2. They don’t go through enough testing. Some people say that some of the ingredients in these vaccines (such as the toxins) aren’t studied enough for their consequences and that the safety and effectiveness for certain populations (such as pregnant women and nursing mothers) have not been established.
  3. They are unnecessary. In some cases and for some vaccines, opponents insist that it’s ok for children to get sick with diseases like the chicken pox or measles and that they can just “wait it out” at home as if they had a less serious illness. After all, that’s what people did before vaccines were invented. The benefit is that after the children get better, they’ll have immunity to the disease and won’t be able to get sick again.
  4. They don’t work. Many in the anti-vaccine movement cite studies that say that rates of diseases like the flu, the measles, and the chicken pox are on the rise and it’s because the vaccines aren’t doing their job.

Most doctors do not belong to the anti-vaccine movement, and it’s because they have seen rates of these diseases drop thanks to vaccines that they say are very well studied and thoroughly researched before they ever make it onto the market. They say that “waiting it out” doesn’t always work and that children could easily die from these illnesses if they are not protected against them early on in life. They also point out that the reason rates of these diseases are on the rise is not because of their ineffectiveness but rather because of the vocalization of the anti-vaccine movement from “fear mongers” who have insisted that parents not vaccinate their children.

Whether you choose to vaccinate your children is up to you. But before you take your friends’ word for it, or even your doctor’s, do your own research. And look at your sources. Are you reading from reliable websites? What are these articles’ sources? Try reading the actual studies that were published by the scientific community so you know that whatever decision you come up with is an intelligent one. You can get started by clicking on the links under “sources” below to get two very different, comprehensive opinions.

Sources:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/robertpearl/2014/03/20/a-doctors-take-on-the-anti-vaccine-movement/

About the Author:

Iris Stone has worked as a freelance writer since 2011. Her writing has included content on medicine, healthcare, and education, although her interests are wide and varied. Prior to breaking into the freelance biz, Iris worked in sales for a health company and prior to that as an assistant in a chiropractic office. She is currently attending George Mason University and is majoring in Political Science. Check out her Google+ profile.