We’re making gains against illness, but we could use more—and less
We’re gaining in fight against cancer and HIV, but other gains are bad news
As the healthcare industry continues to face plenty of functional, operational and clinical challenges, it’s the same for our health prognosis in general. Although there’s been good news in recent weeks on a number of fronts, we, as a nation, face afflictions that will probably always dog us.
Providers continue to be confounded by patient-safety and quality issues. Patients entering a hospital are still too vulnerable to contracting infections they didn’t have upon admission or experiencing other life-threatening complications. Then there are overdoses of radiation in routine medical testing. Wrong-site surgeries. Dangerous drug interactions. Because we’re human, such mistakes will never disappear, but we can and must continue to demand an ongoing path to improvement.
At the same time, we can’t say there hasn’t been progress involving illness and disease.
The American Cancer Society last month released its annual report on progress made against one of the most dreaded diagnoses we can face. And slowly but steadily we’re winning this fight. According to the organization’s report Cancer Sta
tistics, 2010, death rates dropped 21% for men and 12.3% for women from 1991 to 2006, which means that some 770,000 deaths from cancer were prevented.
Screening procedures enabling early detection of cancers are among the reasons cited for the gains as well as improved treatments. Here, it’s our oncologists and the rest of the provider team doing what they do best—saving lives.
Smoking cessation is another reason cited for the decline in cancer rates, and the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also represent good news, showing that adult Americans have been steadily kicking the habit. Since 1965, the percentage of adult cigarette smokers has dropped by more than half, from 42% to 20% in 2007.
Last month also brought exciting news in the fight to defeat HIV/AIDS. Almost daily during the XVIII International AIDS Conference held in Vienna, there were reports of new drug combinations to help keep infections in check, as well as other potential breakthroughs in the quest to block new cases of the virus. Remember that it wasn’t so long ago when infection with HIV was a quick death sentence. Again give thanks to the physicians and researchers for today’s long-term survival rates.
We also know that in many nations, much of Africa for instance, the lack of resources to fight HIV means the outlook remains grim for the populations of those more underdeveloped regions. Even in our own country disparities in treatment are apparent, one factor that led the Obama administration to recently launch a new national strategy to fight HIV.
Meanwhile, the administration continues to take a high-profile role, led by first lady Michelle Obama, in attempting to budge another seemingly intractable public-health crisis: obesity.
On top of all the health problems directly linked to obesity in America, and the economic toll associated with them, there are other more indirect costs that are quickly mounting as well.
As Modern Healthcare reporter Shawn Rhea explained in her Aug. 2 special report (p. 26), the supply-chain costs tied to obesity are adding up, and much of the cost isn’t reimbursed. While specific estimates of the total tab are elusive, one source said the added costs of special products such as oversized wheelchairs and other medical devices redesigned specifically for the morbidly obese have led to “significantly more” expense for providers.
We applaud the entrepreneurial spirit behind the companies that have rushed to deliver the vital supply of these jumbo products, but just from a public-health perspective it would be nice if this lucrative market didn’t need to exist.
Maybe one day it won’t.