Midweek Update

Photo by Manasvita S on Unsplash

The Acting OPM Director Michael Rigas and the Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar have issued a memorandum and resource document encouraging federal employees to get their flu vaccination. According to the memo –

“By getting an annual flu vaccine, employees can reduce the spread of flu and reduce stress on the healthcare system, as well as keep our entire federal workforce – and country – healthier and stronger during COVID-19. For these reasons, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Office of Personnel Management urge every federal employee to do their part to fight flu and get vaccinated and to encourage family members, friends, and coworkers to as well.

“It is also a good time to make sure you, and others close to you, are up-to-date on other recommended vaccinations, so ask your health care provider about other vaccines you need. All vaccines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, such as flu vaccines, are covered at no cost to Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) plan members. Most FEHB plans also cover vaccines at pharmacies and retail stores, in addition to doctor’s offices and clinics, with no co-pays when in-network.”

CNBC reports that prescription drug manufacturer Biogen is drawing stock market attention due to positive Food and Drug Administration staff reaction to the study results of its Alzheimers Disease treatment aducanumab. “Patients [in a study] receiving the highest dose of aducanumab experienced a significant reduction in the progression of cognitive and functional impairments.”

The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company’s drug targets a “sticky” compound in the brain known as beta-amyloid, which is hypothesized to play a role in the devastating disease. A panel of outside experts is expected to meet Friday to recommend the drug’s approval to the FDA. The FDA’s final decision on Biogen’s drug is expected by March 2021.

Health Payer Intelligence discusses a study on Medicare spending for beneficiaries with diabetes 2 and multiple chronic diseases. A takeaway from the study is that

Medicare spending among beneficiaries 65 years and older with type 2 diabetes is greatly affected by the presence of multiple chronic conditions. The presence of multiple chronic conditions increases the odds of any payments being made for services, as well as the mean spending in multiple service categories. However, patient characteristics, especially race, are also associated with variation in total spending for services.

Minority beneficiaries have lower odds of any spending, possibly due to not seeking care, but when services are provided, spending is higher, on average, compared with White beneficiaries.

Total spending for minority beneficiaries with multiple chronic conditions is higher compared with their White counterparts with the same combinations of disease.

Health systems, insurance systems, and the public health infrastructure can use these results to inform outreach programs and policy initiatives to make preventive care more accessible for racial and ethnic minorities.

As further evidence of American medical ingenuity, Healthcare Dive reports that

A new study in JAMA Network Open provides a potential roadmap to hospitals that may be leery to shut down elective surgical procedures while trying to deal with a spike in coronavirus patients. The key is the use of predictive modeling in developing a clinical decision support tool. Although such tools are abundant in healthcare, few are used to determine how likely a patient is to use certain hospital resources.

According to the study, such a tool is able to separate out elective surgical cases based on length of hospital stay, intensive care length of stay, whether or not a ventilator is required and discharge to a skilled nursing facility. A patient’s age is the biggest factor in most of those determinations, followed by the number of previous inpatient and outpatient visits made by those patients.

“This work shows the importance of a learning healthcare environment in surgical care, using quantitative modeling to guide decision-making,” the study concluded. Along the same lines, Banner Health in Arizona has been using artificial intelligence to continue performing elective procedures during the pandemic.