Health and Medical News and Resources

General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

Medical Research We Never Hear About: The Problem of Unpublished Studies

From the 2 May 2012 article at The Health Care Blog

Every day, there is another medical study in the news. There’s another newspaper or TV story telling us that X can cure depression or make you thinner or cause autism or whatever. And since it’s a medical study, we usually think that it’s true. Why wouldn’t it be?

But what most people don’t realize, let alone really think about, is that there might be other studies that show that X does none of those things — and that some of those studies might never have been published.

Just this week, the journal Pediatricsreleased an article that perfectly demonstrates this problem. There have been a number of studies that have shown that a certain type of medication, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), can help stop the repetitive behaviors of autism, like hand-flapping or head-banging. If you were to do a search of the medical literature, as doctors and parents and patients often do, you’d think that using SSRIs is a good idea. But when researchers dug deeper, they found that there were just as many unpublished studies that showed that SSRIs didn’t help. If they had all been published (they were all good enough to be published), that same search of the medical literature would have shown that using SSRIs isn’t a good idea.

This is bad. We rely on studies to guide our decisions. What is going on?

The journals that publish articles certainly play a role. After all, it’s cooler to publish a study that has a grabby headline, that promises an answer or a cure. That’s much more likely to get readers than a study that says that something doesn’t do anything at all. But it turns out that the researchers themselves play a bigger role.

 

Some researchers don’t even write up their studies or try to publish them. ….

 

May 14, 2012 Posted by | Medical and Health Research News | , , | Leave a comment

Psychologists reveal how emotion can shut down high-level mental processes without our knowledge

From the 8 May 2012 Eureka Alert

‘How reading in a second language protects your heart’

Psychologists at Bangor University believe that they have glimpsed for the first time, a process that takes place deep within our unconscious brain, where primal reactions interact with higher mental processes. Writing in the Journal of Neuroscience (May 9, 2012 • 32(19):6485– 6489 • 6485), they identify a reaction to negative language inputs which shuts down unconscious processing.

For the last quarter of a century, psychologists have been aware of, and fascinated by the fact that our brain can process high-level information such as meaning outside consciousness. What the psychologists at Bangor University have discovered is the reverse- that our brain can unconsciously ‘decide’ to withhold information by preventing access to certain forms of knowledge.

The psychologists extrapolate this from their most recent findings working with bilingual people. Building on their previous discovery that bilinguals subconsciously access their first language when reading in their second language; the psychologists at the School of Psychology and Centre for Research on Bilingualism have now made the surprising discovery that our brain shuts down that same unconscious access to the native language when faced with a negative word such as war, discomfort, inconvenience, and unfortunate.

They believe that this provides the first proven insight to a hither-to unproven process in which our unconscious mind blocks information from our conscious mind or higher mental processes.

This finding breaks new ground in our understanding of the interaction between emotion and thought in the brain. Previous work on emotion and cognition has already shown that emotion affects basic brain functions such as attention, memory, vision and motor control, but never at such a high processing level as language and understanding….

May 14, 2012 Posted by | Psychology | , , , | Leave a comment

New book busts myths about sex, race and violence

From the 9 May 2012 Eureka News Alert

here are three pervasive myths about human nature centered on sex, aggression and race. They are:

  1. Men and women are truly different in behavior, desires and wiring.
  2. Humans are divided into biological races (white, black, Asian, etc.).
  3. Humans, especially males, are aggressive by nature.

 

A new book by University of Notre Dame Anthropology Professor Agustín Fuentes titled “Race, Monogamy, and Other Lies They Told You: Busting Myths about Human Nature” (University of California Press, 2012) counters these pernicious myths and tackles misconceptions about what race, aggression and sex really mean for humans.

Presenting scientific evidence from diverse fields, including anthropology, biology and psychology, Fuentes incorporates an accessible understanding of culture, genetics and evolution, requiring us to dispose of notions of “nature or nurture.”

Fuentes devises a myth-busting toolkit to dismantle persistent fallacies about the validity of biological races, the innateness of aggression and violence, and the nature of monogamy and differences between the sexes. He includes a list of the most common misperceptions about human nature on race, sex and violence, and counters those myths with a myth buster….

May 14, 2012 Posted by | Psychology | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why do people choke when the stakes are high?

From the 9 May 2012 Eureka News Alert

Caltech researchers find that loss aversion may be the culprit

 IMAGE: A new study by researchers at the California Institute of Technology suggests that when there are high financial incentives to succeed, people can become so afraid of losing their potentially…

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PASADENA, Calif.—In sports, on a game show, or just on the job, what causes people to choke when the stakes are high? A new study by researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) suggests that when there are high financial incentives to succeed, people can become so afraid of losing their potentially lucrative reward that their performance suffers.

It is a somewhat unexpected conclusion. After all, you would think that the more people are paid, the harder they will work, and the better they will do their jobs—until they reach the limits of their skills. That notion tends to hold true when the stakes are low, says Vikram Chib, a postdoctoral scholar at Caltech and lead author on a paper published in the May 10 issue of the journal Neuron. Previous research, however, has shown that if you pay people too much, their performance actually declines.

Some experts have attributed this decline to too much motivation: they think that, faced with the prospect of earning an extra chunk of cash, you might get so excited that you will fail to do the task properly. But now, after looking at brain-scan data of volunteers performing a specific motor task, the Caltech team says that what actually happens is that you become worried about losing your potential prize. The researchers also found that the more someone is afraid of loss, the worse they perform.

May 14, 2012 Posted by | Psychology | , , , | Leave a comment

A healthy look at social media

From the 10 May 2012 Medical News Today article

Can social media solve the US healthcare crisis?

The creation of a social media videoconferencing platform geared towards healthcare might pave the way for enhanced use of social media in the world of healthcare according to a study published this month in the International Journal of Electronic Finance.

Peter DeVries of the Department of Finance, Accounting, and CIS, at the University of Houston – Downtown, explains that despite the advent of social media tools and accessible mobile communications devices, the patient-doctor relationship has changed little. DeVries suggests that innovative use of social media might improve that relationship as well as the healthcare industry as a whole not only by reducing inefficiencies but by making healthcare provision and advice more immediate and engaging at lower cost. DeVries suggests that from the perspective of healthcare providers social media might also open up new revenue streams that could bolster an industry currently in economic turmoil.

DeVries points out that many industries are using social media to improve the customer and user experience and to provide social interaction among like-minded individuals. The popularity of Twitter and Facebook, which is fast approaching 1 billion worldwide users, is testament to the power social media might wield and the opportunities it could bring. “We are seeing companies linking to social media sites from their corporate websites to form closer relationships with their customers,” says DeVries. In his paper, he offers healthcare providers several pointers as to how they might engage their customers, the patients, through social media with a view to not only improving medical provision but improving the company finances too.

Two aspects of social media that might revolutionize healthcare provision lie in the relationships between patients, the relationships between physicians and perhaps most importantly the relationships between the two. If social media can enable patients to share information with other patients and to gain knowledge and at the same time give physicians the ability to share and learn from their peers more readily, then the meshing of these two threads could make for better informed connections between patients and their physicians too.

DeVries cites the Association of American Medical Colleges on how there is likely to be a 124,000 shortfall of full-time physicians in the USA by 2025, while there will be a need for almost 140,000 family physicians by 2020 if Americans are to have adequate access to primary healthcare.

The projected shortage of physicians demands innovation in the healthcare industry, says DeVries. “Doctors and hospitals must find ways to provide healthcare in more productive and efficient ways,” he adds. “If a growing number of patients are finding themselves as users of Web 2.0, then Web 2.0 might be the answer to alleviate the forecasted overcrowding.”

May 14, 2012 Posted by | health care | , , | Leave a comment

Hospital readmission rates linked to availability of care, socioeconomics

From the 11 May 2012 Eureka News Alert

American Heart Association meeting report – Abstract 12

Differences in regional hospital readmission rates for heart failure are more closely tied to the availability of care and socioeconomics than to hospital performance or patients’ degree of illness, according to research presented at the American Heart Association’s Quality of Care & Outcomes Research Scientific Sessions 2012.

U.S. regional readmission rates for heart failure vary widely ― from 10 percent to 32 percent ― researchers found. Communities with higher rates were likely to have more physicians and hospital beds and their populations were likely to be poor, black and relatively sicker. People 65 and older are also readmitted more frequently.

To cut costs, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services plans to penalize hospitals with higher readmission rates related to heart failure, heart attack and pneumonia. Next year, hospitals with higher-than-average 30-day readmission rates will face reductions in Medicare payments.

But the penalties don’t address the supply and societal influences that can increase readmission rates, said Karen E. Joynt, M.D., lead author of the study and an instructor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Mass….

May 14, 2012 Posted by | health care | , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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