Surgeon Scorecard Brings Much-Needed Transparency to Healthcare

Conventional wisdom maintains that, just as there are good and bad schools and school districts, there are also good and bad hospitals. Funding from insurance, grants, Medicare, and Medicaid along with patient quality of care reports are the most relied upon—though not necessarily the most reliable—metrics to determine which hospitals are the "best" and which are the "worst." But just as the RAND Corporation has shown that individual teachers have a larger impact on students' growth (or lack thereof) than their schools, mounting research in medical complication rates has indicated that individual surgeons and other practitioners can have a commensurably substantial impact on patient outcomes.

ProPublica stands at the forefront of this movement, claiming in a recent article that their "analysis of Medicare data found that, when it comes to elective operations, it is much more important to pick the right surgeon" than the right hospital. ProPublica recently announced that they were "making public the complication rates of nearly 17,000 surgeons nationwide," with the aim of informing patients of their potential for substantial risk of bodily harm and/or death at the hands of underperforming surgeons.

Researchers have compiled this data into a website called Surgeon Scorecard, which allows patients to search a list doctors and hospitals for past success and complication rates in eight elective procedures. Ranging from hip and knee replacement to lumbar spinal fusion and gallbladder removal, these eight procedures are meant to reflect the greatest actionable statistics for patient decision-making. Since the patients involved in these procedures were typically in good health before the surgery (hence, "elective"), they serve as a control group that most directly reflects the quality of each respective attending surgeon.

Unsurprisingly, Surgeon Scorecard has received a fair amount of criticism, mostly from surgeons and medical spokespeople who are skeptical of patients' abilities to adequately interpret the data. Dr. Joshua Jacobs of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons remarked to NBC News, "I think you need to have a little more information than just this data to choose a surgeon." ProPublica has responded to this ambivalence with a comprehensive account of their methodologies and intentions, ranging from how they selected the procedures to how they weight various doctors according to their location, experience, education, and patient profiles.

It remains to be seen whether Surgeon Scorecard will be effective in its aims to empower patients in the increasingly complex and expensive medical arena. Nevertheless, the issue of unnecessary and often deadly surgical complications remains high on the list of problems to tackle for healthcare administration and public policy generally. Between 2009 and 2013, surgical complications led to more than 3,000 deaths during elective surgery alone (where poor patient health and stability play very little role in the outcome of the procedure). Not only that, but problematic surgeries also contributed to 63,000 readmits of Medicare patients over the same time period. The data is open to interpretation, but the fact remains that improving surgeon performance could make a real difference in patient health. Websites like Surgeon Scorecard don't pass overt judgment on doctors, but they do stand for transparency, and opening the data up to public scrutiny may be the motivation hospitals need to address this long-standing issue.

Surgeon ScoreCard
ProPublica – Surgery Risks
NBC News

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.

Mobile Technology Presents Smart Solutions To Confusing Hospital Design

Hospitals have grown exponentially in size and scope over the past few decades, expanding their research and educational facilities, outpatient services, and introducing specialized treatment centers in oncology, orthology, prosthetology, and more. Unfortunately, much of this growth has been unstructured and poorly incorporated into existing hospital design, leading to unintuitive entrances and corridors for newly constructed wings, unmarked doors and passageways, and staircases and hallways ostensibly leading to nowhere. And these problems are only compounded by a monotony of design and décor that can make hospitals feel maze-like, while time-critical diseases lurk around every corner like the fabled Minotaur. Ultimately, these design flaws have a directly negative impact on patient care and resource allocation.

Confusing hospital designs can pose an especially troubling problem for first-time patients, who face great difficulty in locating procedure rooms, doctors' offices, and even entire facility wings due to increasingly abstruse layouts. The struggle to locate their doctor's offices can even be significant enough to cause patients to abandon the appointment entirely. In fact, the Health and Social Care Information Centre estimates that missed hospital appointments now cost UK hospitals upwards of £700 million a year. Almost unbelievably, in 2014 patients actually missed more appointments than they kept (100 million and 80 million, respectively). This is an escalating trend, and missed appointments have already increased 8.2% from last year. And this is not only an issue overseas; the Wall Street Journal has also reported on the flaws in U.S. hospital design and the strategies that could potentially combat this obstacle to public health.

Outside of complete architectural and decorative overhaul, it seems as though the most promising solution to baffling hospital design is, unsurprisingly, technology. In particular, mobile technology—from tablets and smartphones to wearable tech like Swipe Sense—has shown great potential in addressing many of the chronic administrative problems that have arisen from modern medicine infrastructure. Given that 64% of adults in the U.S. use smartphones – and that figure is only likely to increase with time – mobile technology solutions can completely bypass archaic and proprietary IT protocols to make integration seamless and intuitive.

One such solution driving this initiative is a new app startup called Locatible. Riding the wave of crowd-sourced navigation solutions like Waze and Google's speculative indoor navigation additions to Maps, Locatible is poised to make a splash in healthcare administration by providing both doctors and patients with an easy shortcut to get around hospitals: their smartphones. Locatible draws on analytics long used in retail environments to determine customer traffic patterns. By modifying the application, Locatible can use this technology to statistically isolate problematic design flaws in hospitals around the world. The app then provides information in a feedback loop with users to provide valuable, real-time insights into facility navigation.

On paper, the applications for Locatible are endless. Doctors and staff members could use the app to stay on track or offer better directions to visitors, while the visually impaired or otherwise disabled could tap into its powers to find their healthcare providers more easily. What's more, Locatible offers personalized information about people's schedules – including updates and reminders – that could be useful for administrators to organize meetings and keep track of productivity.

In support of this concept, Locatible has reported that 74% of hospitals that use mobile technology are more efficient than their anachronistic counterparts. As a new wave of technological integration crashes down on the shores of healthcare, it's likely that statistic will rise steadily up toward 100%.

PEW Research Center
The Guardian
The Times Health News
The Wallstreet Journal

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.

Laughter’s Great, but Consider Sleep too as the “Best Medicine”

The ancients believed sleep was a trip to another world. Early psychologists found it to be an opening to the subconscious. Physicians, then and now, know it to be a daily rejuvenation of body and mind. We know we need it, and when we miss sleep we feel it all day long. Still, many people frequently skip sleep because they have hectic schedules, are so worried they wake up in the middle of the night, and place priority on other activities.

R. Morgan Griffin, of WebMD, explains that not getting the right amount of sleep affects "your health, your mood, your weight, and even your sex life." Not getting a full night of sleep over long periods is linked to heart problems, obesity and diabetes. Moreover, according to the article, a good night's sleep helps with overall health and lessens the risk of accidents.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' statistics show that poor sleep patterns affect 25 percent of adults. Losing sleep about every other night is too much; it causes health problems and makes individuals accident prone. Sleep disorders that remain untreated adversely affect "quality of life" and contribute to poor general health, even an "increased risk of death from any cause."

Research at the Harvard Medical School Division of Sleep Medicine finds that sleep has an important role for "immune function, metabolism, memory, learning, and other vital functions." Science has yet to fully understand why we sleep, but we're sure lack of sleep causes poor memory and learning problems. Sound decision-making becomes difficult and makes individuals accident-prone.

There is general agreement on what it takes to get a good night's sleep. Going to bed and waking at regular times keeps the body's clock synchronized; you fall asleep more easily and your sleep is more restorative. The bedroom environment needs to be as quiet as possible. Many people are in the bad habit of thinking that noise from a radio or television aids sleep. While it may help you fall asleep initially, the mind is distracted subliminally by the continual noise. Also, a low temperatue will keep your bed more comfortable, and of course low lights are a must.

It's unavoidable that daily activities come with some stress and anxiety, so decompressing before sleep creates a much needed transition. A nightly routine that slowly tones down activity can help you sleep soundly through the night.

You can also prepare yourself for better sleep during the day by getting adequate physical activity, which contributes to well-being and stages the body for rest. The body is on a 24-hour cycle and naps can interfere, leading to restless nights. In addition, avoid late night meals and allow a few hours for digestion. Furthermore, cigarettes and too much alcohol always disrupt sleep.

Unfortunately for some, a disorder is at the root of missing needed sleep. Sleep disorders can be physical or psychological, often both. Serious problems falling and staying asleep, problems staying awake during the day, unusual behavior during sleep and oversleeping are all indications it's time to seek professional help. Insomnia, acid reflux and sleep apnea are common sleep disorders, but with over 100 possible conditions it's best to not self-diagnose.

When an occasional night of tossing-and-turning ruins a night's sleep there is no need to worry. It is clear that a bad night's sleep is problematic, but a pattern of losing sleep puts good health at risk. Long-term sleep disorders cause serious health problems and unnecessary emotional distress. When what should be a sensible approach does not work, it's time to take a step back and evaluate how sleep is affecting your waking hours and health.


Web MD – Reasons to Sleep More
Department of Health and Human Services
Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School
National Sleep Foundation
U.S. National Library of Medicine
Wikipedia – Sleep Disorders
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America

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.

50 Great Career Resources for Women in Healthcare Administration and Management

Top Master's in Healthcare Administration - Great Career ResourcesBy Iris Stone
April 2015

The following is a list of resources for women who are pursuing careers in healthcare administration, management, or a related field. You'll find links to organizations and associations, legal counsel, research opportunities, conferences, useful reading material, networking and social media sites, career search engines, internships, and scholarships and fellowships for women.

Table of Contents

Organizations and Associations
Legal Counsel
Reading Material
Networking and Social Media
Career Opportunities
Scholarships and Fellowships

Organizations and Associations

Healthcare Businesswomen's Association – an organization that focuses on networking, knowledge-sharing, educational programs, and the recognition of outstanding women.

Women in Healthcare Management – this organization offers events, job alerts, workshops, networking, and access to a comprehensive member directory.

Women in Health Administration of Southern California – WHA provides forums for professional growth and career development, creates opportunities for networking, raises awareness of health issues, mentors young women, and promotes the visibility of female healthcare professionals.

Women in Health Management – through a variety of programs, WHM members meet colleagues in health-related fields, discuss current issues, and share career development opportunities in the New York area.

Academy of Women's Health – this is an interdisciplinary, international association of health professionals who share research and evidence-based practices for the advancement of women's health.

Women Healthcare Executives – this is a dynamic community of healthcare executives in the Northern California area whose goals are to promote career advancement, increase professional and technical knowledge, provide a forum for networking, and promote the accomplishments of female executives in healthcare.

Women's Healthcare Executives Network of South Florida – WHEN hosts educational programs and networking events to educate women about healthcare management-related issues.

Executive Women in Healthcare – the women of EWHC work together to learn from one another about the healthcare industry, provide educational opportunities to the community, develop leadership skills, and help change the healthcare industry in Indiana.

Women Executives in Science and Healthcare – this organization works to change the face of healthcare leadership and promote the advancement of female executives in academic medicine, healthcare, and the sciences.

Women Business Leaders – a nonprofit organization of over 3,000 senior healthcare executives who gather to build relationships and have "honest conversations" about the industry.

Women's Healthcare Leadership Trust – this organization offers workshops, seminars, programs, and other educational offerings in the community to advance the healthcare careers of women.

Connecticut Women in Healthcare Management – associated with the American College of Healthcare Executives and the Connecticut Association of Healthcare Executives, CWHCM offers a variety of educational programs for working women covering topics like healthcare regulation, provider environment, and managed care.

National Women's Health Network – this is a network designed to give women a greater voice in the healthcare system by affecting policy and supporting consumer decision-making.

Women Executives in Healthcare – this organization is for healthcare professionals who want to connect in order to better understand the changing healthcare industry.

Legal Counsel

National Women's Law Center – this center conducts research, analysis, and advocacy efforts to advance women in a variety of areas and support their education, employment, and retirement.


Society for Women's Health Research – this society is a "thought leader" in research dedicated to transforming women's health through science, advocacy, and education.

National Center for Healthcare Leadership: Women in Healthcare Leadership Project – the goal of this project is to study healthcare careers in order to determine how to most effectively increase the number of women in executive roles.

Virginia Research and Development on Women's Health – this health research agenda is designed to inform healthcare policy and services related to women veterans, with a broad focus on biomedical, clinical, rehabilitation, and health services research.


BioConferences International: Women's Health – a networking event in Washington D.C. for clinicians, academics, researchers, policy makers, students, and fellows in the healthcare industry.

Women's Leadership Conference – the purpose of this conference is to inspire women to seek their highest level of personal and professional development through programming that covers such topics as financial management, stress management, career advancement, and community engagement.

Audio Conferences for Aspiring Women Healthcare Executives – a series of audio conferences in which female CEOs, healthcare experts, and other professionals share tips about how to succeed in the industry.

Women Leading Healthcare Annual Summit – this three day conference of "cross industry conversations" includes peer sessions and notable speakers.

Quality and Safety for Leaders in Women's Healthcare – this course is designed to give healthcare leaders in hospital departments, managed care settings, and private practice the performance improvement and management tools needed to meet the challenges of the industry.

Reading Material

Becker's Hospital Review: 10 Reads for Healthcare's Executive Women – read ten different articles and studies about the role of women in healthcare administration.

Six Awesome MHA Jobs in Healthcare Administration – discover different types of healthcare administration jobs for graduates with a master's degree.

A New Obstacle for Professional Women: The Glass Escalator – this article discusses the difference between men and women who try to climb the corporate ladder to upper-level management.

Building Diversity in Healthcare Administration: Women's Perspectives from the C-Suite – two female CEOs explain how their minority status has affected their experience in the healthcare industry.

Women CEO's in Healthcare: Did They Have Mentors? – one author interviewed 35 female CEOs of healthcare organizations to determine how important mentoring was to their success.

Blog of the National Center for Healthcare Leadership – this article details recommendations for how hospitals and health systems can support more women in leadership roles.

Networking and Social Media

LinkedIn: WHEN Chicago – this networking group supports the needs of the Women Health Executive Network in the Chicago area.

Executive Women's Networking Blog – this is a forum for female executives to share their opinions and experiences about networking, mentoring, business development, and lifework balance.

Women in Healthcare Jersey Shore Facebook Group – this Facebook group is for women in Monmouth and Ocean Counties who want to have a conversation about love, balance, and healing in healthcare.

LinkedIn: Professional Women in Healthcare – PWH is a growing group of businesswomen in healthcare, most of whom are currently working in the medical products arena.

LinkedIn: Boston Women in Healthcare Management – this Boston-based organization provides a forum for professional women to network, share information, and learn about new issues affecting the industry.

Career Opportunities

Healthcare Administration Jobs in the Navy – help manage a global healthcare network and gain valuable experience with a job in the nation's military.

Healthcare Administration Jobs from CareerBuilder – conveniently search for jobs based on keyword, location, and posting date.

Health-e-Careers Network Administration/Executive Jobs – search for jobs in the United States and Canada in categories like administrative/operations, executive/management, finance/accounting, and patient services.

Health Jobs Start Here – answer questions to find the perfect job match and search for training opportunities, volunteer experiences, and internships.

Health Jobs Nationwide – upload a resume or browse jobs in categories such as advanced practice, therapy, IT, healthcare management, and medical billing.

Health Career Web – search thousands of jobs in administration and support, get useful information from the article and blog pages, and follow Health Career Web on Twitter.


Women's Health Internship Opportunities – the Office of Women in Medicine and Science coordinates women's health internships with the Wake Forest School of Medicine for students who are looking for research opportunities or healthcare experience.

Health Career Connection Internships – HCC matches students with full-time, 10-week internships in a variety of health organizations and also hosts workshops and networking events.

InternMatch: Healthcare Internships – InternMatch allows users to search for openings or create a professional profile to attract relevant employers.

World Endeavors Healthcare Internships Abroad – World Endeavors matches students with international internship opportunities in clinical care, research, and administrative work.

Scholarships and Fellowships

Lynn Adamson Memorial Scholarship – this scholarship is for female graduate students who are pursuing health-related careers at a university in the San Francisco Bay area.

WHCE Undergraduate Scholarship – this $2,500 scholarship is for third-year undergraduate students who are pursuing health-related careers.

Lynne O'Day Scholarship – this scholarship is for female students at Marian University in Indianapolis who plan to pursue a career in healthcare leadership.

Jane M. Klausman Women in Business Scholarship Fund – these $1,000-$7,000 scholarships are for female undergraduate or graduate students who are pursing degrees in business or management, and awards can be used for tuition, books, or living expenses.

American Association of University Women International Fellowships – these fellowships are for women who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents to complete research or full-time postgrad study at an accredited U.S. institution.

American Association of University Women American Fellowships – these fellowships include funding for female students who are working on their dissertation, conducting independent research in pursuit of a tenure-track faculty position, or preparing research for publication.

Additional Resources

A high resolution version of the award badge can be found here. Feel free to use the award badge in your promotions and/or publications.

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.

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.


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 "phys ­iological 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.


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

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.



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.


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.


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.



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.

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