Good news, bad news. Heart disease, cancer and stroke-the three leading causes of death in the U.S.-were slightly less deadly in 1999, the National Center for Health Statistics said last week in a preliminary report analyzing death certificates. But death rates from diabetes and lower-respiratory illnesses crept higher from the year before. Heart disease, the nation's top killer, continued its decades-long decline, falling to 267.7 deaths per 100,000 people. The rate was 269.7 per 100,000 in 1998, according to the NCHS. The cancer death rate, which has been falling since about 1990, was 202.6 per 100,000, down slightly from 204.4. Strokes caused 61.8 deaths per 100,000 people, down from 63.1. Health statistics, however, continue to point to a less active, more overweight nation. The diabetes death rate rose more than 3% to 25.2 deaths per 100,000 people. Death rates for chronic lower respiratory illnesses rose 4% to 45.8 deaths per 100,000 people.
Hey, big spender. The U.S. remains the biggest spender on healthcare among industrialized nations, although the share of its gross domestic product consumed by healthcare fell in the mid-1990s, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said last week. The U.S. spent 12.9% of its GDP on healthcare in 1998, down from 13.2% in 1993 but well above the 1998 average of 8.3% for the 29 member nations of the OECD. Switzerland, which spent 10.4% of its GDP on healthcare, was the next-biggest spender.
We go for the gut. Americans logged 103 million visits to hospital emergency rooms in 1999, a 14% jump from 90 million in 1992, explained by the country's aging population and overall growth, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last week. The increase meant hospitals took on 35,000 more patients per day in the 1990s, the agency said. Stomach pain, chest pain and fever were the most common reasons for ER visits, according to the CDC. Adverse reactions to drugs and other complications from medical care accounted for 1.4 million visits in 1999, up 80% from 1992.
Utah gets stricter. Utah officials last month launched a push for stricter reporting of hospital-based errors with the release of a state-commissioned list of 90,000 medical errors in Utah hospitals over a five-year period. More than two-thirds of the errors involved complications during surgery or other procedures. Nearly half of all problems involved adverse reactions to medicines. The health department is proposing that hospitals be required to report adverse drug reactions, babies discharged to the wrong families, surgeries performed on the wrong body parts, treatment-related deaths, rapes in their facilities and intentional injuries to patients. The reporting requirements are expected to take effect in October.
Warning on infant condition. The Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations recently issued a special alert to hospitals regarding kernicterus, a preventable but potentially life-threatening condition in infants resulting from severe jaundice. Ninety cases of the condition have been recorded in the U.S. since 1984; three resulted in death; and all victims suffered brain damage, according to one registry. The JCAHO recommends that hospitals adhere to American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines, which include providing medical follow-up for newborns within 24 to 48 hours of discharge.