Health Buzz: America's Best Hospitals and Other Health News

Autism Genes, a rise of skin cancer cases, suicide warnings for epilepsy drugs, and new stents


America’s Best Hospitals: Annual rankings revealed

What makes a hospital a "best"? A smart, caring workforce armed with the latest technology? Of course. But a great hospital is different because of an internal culture of excellence. Set at the top and embraced by caregivers, medical standards are high and emphasize not only doing well but striving to do better—to hammer down the number of infections, to boost survival of high-risk surgery patients, to systematically squeeze out errors rather than painting a scarlet "E" on those who make them. If such goals cannot be achieved by using conventional means, goes the thinking at such places, invent new ones.

They are places like Johns Hopkins Hospital, the Mayo Clinic, and the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, which top this year's U.S.News & World Report Honor Roll. All told, U.S. News analyzed data on 5,453 medical centers to produce 170 standouts in 16 specialties, from cancer and heart care to geriatrics and urology. This year's rankings offer a database of hospitals searchable by location and specialty, as well as the Honor Roll of 19 institutions that achieved high scores in at least six specialties.

For the entire special report, including our methodology, a glossary of terms, and spotlight articles on Vanderbilt University Medical Center, go to U.S. News's America's Best Hospitals.

Changing a child’s experience to treat autism

A new study on the genetic origins of autism has found that some cases of the disease may begin in the first few years after birth when the developing brain is refining its networks of brain cells in response to a child's experience, reports Healthday News. Published in the journal Science, the findings suggest that as some of the mutated genes identified can be turned on or off by mental activity triggered by their interaction with the environment, doctors may be able to treat children with autism by activating those genes through changing their experiences, according to the Washington Post.

In January, Nancy Shute reported on findings suggesting a genetic basis for autism and evidence that vaccines containing thimerosal are unlikely culprits for the rise in autism cases.

FDA panel says “no” to black box warning for anti-seizure drugs

A health advisory panel rejected a Food and Drug Administration proposal that drug manufacturers include a "black box" warning on epilepsy medications regarding potential suicide risks, according to the Chicago Tribune. The panel was concerned that such a warning, the highest level the FDA can issue, may scare patients into avoiding medication treatment entirely. The panel did, however, vote unanimously that the drugs, some of which are also used to treat psychiatric conditions including bipolar disorder, can raise the risk of suicide.

HealthDay reported last month that patients with epilepsy who do not take their medication regularly are

three more times likely to die. Read more about the disease at the U.S. News Epilepsy Health Channel.

Rates of lethal skin cancer in young women on the rise

Rates of melanoma, one of the more deadly forms of skin cancer, have risen by an alarming 50 percent since 1980 among women between the ages of 15 and 39, reports the Washington Post . Melanoma rates for men, however, have stayed relatively stable during the same time. While the analysis of skin cancer data, published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, did not assign a cause to the higher incidents of melanoma in women, experts suggest that indoor tanning and spending more time in the sun may be the culprits.

Last month, Adam Voiland reported on the ongoing debate on safety between dermatologists and the indoor tanning industry.

Slim, flexible stents approved to treat heart disease

A new generation of drug-coated stents—the small scaffoldlike devices that hold clogged arteries open—is now available for people with coronary artery disease, Adam Voiland reports. The stents, approved last week by the FDA, are slimmer and more flexible than earlier models and use a different drug to inhibit the growth of scar tissue that can lead to reblockage. Abbott Laboratories won approval for its Xience V stent, and another company, Boston Scientific, is also offering the Abbott-manufactured stent under the brand name Promus. The stents are available now to doctors, the companies say.