Health Highlights: July 26, 2007
Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:
Disney Bans Smoking in Its Films
Walt Disney Co. will ban smoking in any movie branded with the Disney name, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.
The first studio to announce such a move, Disney also plans to include anti-smoking public service announcements on DVDs of any of its films that include an actor smoking, the newspaper said.
The company will also "discourage" smoking in movies made by its Miramax and Touchstone subsidiaries, CEO Bob Iger told the Journal.
Disney's move follows recent efforts by the Motion Picture Association of America to discourage smoking in movies. In May, the MPAA suggested that smoking be included as a factor in assigning ratings to movies, in addition to criteria such as violence, sex and illicit drug use, the newspaper said.
Among other Hollywood studios, NBC Universal earlier this year said it would reduce the incidence of smoking in its movies, and Weinstein Co. has included anti-smoking announcements in major releases on DVD, the Journal said.
HMO Fined for Lax Complaint Investigations
Kaiser Permanente has been fined $3 million by the State of California for what regulators deemed insufficient investigations into patient complaints and performance by member physicians, the Associated Press reported Thursday.
Last summer, California fined the HMO $2 million over allegations of a mismanaged kidney transplant program, the wire service said.
In the latest investigation, state inspectors examined 246 cases that involved complaints and quality-of-care concerns at five hospitals in Northern California and four in Southern California. The inspectors concluded that Kaiser "lacked the ability to verify consistent handling of complaints throughout its medical centers or to determine whether serious or chronic problems were being addressed."
The company operates 29 medical centers throughout California, the AP said.
The latest fine could be reduced to $2 million if the company makes changes to the way it handles complaints, a state regulatory official told the Los Angeles Times.
Cell Phone Towers Don't Cause Illness: Study
Cell phone towers aren't responsible for a collection of ills including anxiety, nausea and fatigue, a new British study found.
While University of Essex researchers conceded that people who thought they had the so-called "phone mast allergy" showed real symptoms, sufferers reported greater distress when they thought phone signals were actually being transmitted. This led researchers to conclude that the problem could be at least partly psychological, BBC News reported.
"Belief is a very powerful thing," study author Elaine Fox told the network. "If you really believe something is going to do you some harm, it will."
The study was funded by the Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research Programme, a group with ties to the mobile phone industry, the BBC reported.
Presidential Panel Urges Better Care for Veterans
A hike in benefits for family members caring for wounded soldiers was among a sweeping series of changes recommended Wednesday by a presidential commission appointed to suggest better ways to care for the nation's veterans.
The nine-member panel, led by former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and former Health and Human Services secretary Donna Shalala, also recommended:
- Establishing a Web site for easy access to veterans' medical records.
- Overhauling the way disability pay is awarded.
- Working with the private sector to improve treatment programs for combat-related disorders, including traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The commission's 29-page report was presented to President Bush in the Oval Office, the Associated Press reported. Bush hand-picked the panel in March, following revelations of substandard care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center near the nation's capital.
The report did not directly criticize nor attribute blame for the Walter Reed revelations, although it cited the need to move forward and improve care for all veterans, the AP reported.
Drug-Resistant Infections Spur Jump in Hospital Stays
Hospital stays for a type of antibiotic-resistant staph infection known as MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus) jumped nearly 10-fold in the decade since 1995, the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality said Wednesday.
There were 368,800 hospitals stays among MRSA-infected patients in 2005, up from 38,100 in 1995, the agency said.
MRSA is resistant to frequently used antibiotics, including amoxicillin and penicillin, the AHRQ said in a statement. It's often acquired by hospitalized patients who have had surgery or have weakened immune systems, but the agency noted a significant increase in the infection's incidence among otherwise healthy people.
People over age 65, among those most susceptible, are three times more likely than other people to be hospitalized for MRSA, the agency said.
The infection occurs most often in people with skin infections, (19 percent), complications from medical care (16 percent), pneumonia (9 percent), and a blood poisoning infection called septicemia (7 percent), the AHRQ said.
Groups Want Devices Labeled for Toxic Chemical
Any medical device that contains the toxic chemical di-20ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) should be labeled to warn prospective users of the chemical's dangers, including a risk to the developing reproductive systems of boys, a number of health organizations say.
In a petition letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which regulates medical devices, groups including the American Medical Association said products that contain the chemical are still being used at many hospitals, despite the availability of safer alternatives.
DEHP is used to make certain forms of vinyl and plastic. According to a statement issued by another of the petitioning groups, Health Care Without Harm, the chemical can leach out from medical products, potentially endangering the reproductive health of pregnant women and their offspring.
The FDA warned of the chemical's risks in 2002, and the European Union recently announced mandatory labeling of medical devices that contain DEHP, the statement said.
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