The Internet contains a plethora of sites that dispense advice on medical conditions ranging from heart disease to hair loss, but a lot of it may do more harm than good, a study shows.
The study by the University of Michigan Health System found that much of the information may be inaccurate, inappropriate, misleading or unreviewed by doctors. A report about the study appears in the August issue of the journal Cancer.
Researchers reviewed World Wide Web pages about Ewing's sarcoma, a rare, often fatal bone cancer that occurs mostly in children and teen-agers. The unusual disease was chosen to keep the search results manageable.
The study found that more than 40% of the pages contained treatment information that appeared not to have been validated by a reliable medical source, such as the National Cancer Institute.
"For the public's sake, we should work to improve the quality of health information on the Internet and to increase public understanding of how important it is for medical data to go through the process of scientific verification," says the study's author, J. Sybil Biermann, M.D.
No more CPT? Back in 1989, Congress restructured Medicare payments to physicians to compensate more fairly for the work involved in evaluating and managing care.
But that effort became mired in complex billing codes. Since 1997 physicians have been fuming over new rules that require detailed documentation of office visits.
A study published July 29 in the New England Journal of Medicine says a much simpler billing system could be just as accurate.
Researchers at the New York Academy of Medicine and Rand Corp., who studied 19,143 physician-patient visits, propose billing based on two factors: the duration of an office visit and its nature (new or established patient, new or pre-existing problem, etc.). Moreover, overbilling and inefficiency could be discouraged by reducing the payment per minute for longer visits.
But don't toss away those enormous code books just yet. The American Medical Association opposes a move away from the current system, even though its own members are some of the loudest critics of the procedural documentation guidelines. The AMA, by the way, holds an exclusive copyright on the current coding system of 7,500 medical procedures.
It's all in the community. Sometimes it's easier to change in order to stay the same.
As part of an effort to "distinguish" its brand, a Fresno, Calif.-based system has changed its name for the third time in as many years. The system, which owns three hospitals in Fresno and Clovis, Calif., hasn't undergone any earth-shattering transformation: Its new name, Community Medical Centers, is a heck of a lot like its old monikers, Community Health System and Community Hospitals of Central California.
After 18 months of market research, Community Medical Centers was arrived at because it was "familiar and memorable," according to a gushing promotional videotape explaining the name change. System officials said the old names blurred the product, and trumpeted the renaming of former 375-bed Fresno Community Medical Center to Community Medical Center Fresno as an example of eliminating "brand confusion."
Cleared to vote. The U.S. Senate's ethics committee says there is nothing wrong with Sen. William Frist's (R-Tenn.) voting on healthcare legislation even though he owns stock in the nation's largest hospital company, Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp.
Rep. Harold Ford (D-Tenn.), who may challenge Frist next year for the Senate seat, says the Republican should have abstained from voting on patients' rights bills because of his ties to Columbia.
Victor Baird, staff director and chief counsel for the Senate's Select Committee on Ethics, said in a letter there was no conflict of interest, because "it would appear that neither Senator Frist nor his immediate family own a controlling interest in any company in the healthcare field."
Baird added that the bill would apply widely to the healthcare industry, not just Columbia. Frist owns between $5 million and $25 million in stock in Columbia, which his brother Thomas Frist Jr., M.D., runs and co-founded with their father.
Frist, the Senate's only physician, led the GOP's successful effort to pass a bill giving patients a broad array of rights against HMOs, but the measure did not go as far as Democrats wanted. President Clinton has promised a veto.
Preventing TV. The next time you bring your children in for a checkup, don't be surprised if your doctor asks you how much television you let them watch.
A new policy promulgated by the American Academy of Pediatrics urges pediatricians to take a "media history" of their patients, following a form that includes such questions as "Does your child watch more than one to two hours of TV per day?" and "Do you read to your child?"
The new policy, published in the August issue of Pediatrics, also urges doctors to caution parents against letting children under age 2 watch any television whatsoever.
"Research on early brain development shows that babies and toddlers have a critical need for direct interactions with parents and other significant caregivers . . . for healthy brain growth."