The most important chart in health policy

If health is a luxury good, why should we expect the health spending trajectory to change?

The chart shows that on a log-log scale, the relationship between per capita national health expenditures and per capita GDP is ram-rod straight and has been since 1935.* Based on several statistical tests, Woodward and Wang conclude that there are

no significant changes in either the intercept or the slope for the years of any of the major reforms of the period, including the introduction of Medicare and Medicaid in 1966, in the years following Nixon’s Wage and Price Controls and the health planning legislation of the early 1970s, in the years following Medicare’s introduction of the Prospective Payment System in 1984, or after the widespread adoption of managed care in the 1990s.

With such overwhelming evidence from our past that, despite our efforts, this national health spending curve has not bent, why do we think the future will be much different?

IBM’s Jeopardy playing computer, Watson -- a new generation of AI meets the public

After its Jeopardy! fame fades, Watson is going to get down to serious work. The IBM team led by computer scientist  Dave Ferrucci is already deploying Watson in health care. The same way IBM fed Watson Wikipedia, the Bible, a geospatial database–the equivalent of a million pages of documents–it has begun to feed Watson electronic medical records, doctors’ notes, patient histories, symptoms, the USP Pharmacopeia. Here’s the amazing thing: The machine is getting faster at learning. Teaching it to play Jeopardy at a championship level took four years. Teaching it to deliver reasonably accurate answers to diagnostic questions took only four months. I can see IBM selling Watson as a Web-delivered service to doctors and hospitals seeking answers to a patient presenting with problems. Watson considers everything and creates evidence profiles (the types of information it relies on, weighted based on their reliability and utility) that feed into diagnoses graded on varying levels of confidence.  These can be offered up as charts on an iPad  showing a doctor Watson’s thought process. It’s like peering into the mind of a House, M.D. The doctors make the final call but they can assess possibilites they may not have seen and can click right to source material used to compile Watson’s answers. This is powerful stuff.

Research tying vaccine to autism an "elaborate fraud"

The first study to link a childhood vaccine to autism was based on doctored information about the children involved, according to a new report on the widely discredited research.

The conclusions of the 1998 paper by Andrew Wakefield and colleagues were renounced by 10 of its 13 authors and later retracted by the medical journal Lancet, where it was published. Still, the suggestion the MMR shot was connected to autism spooked parents worldwide and immunization rates for measles, mumps and rubella have never fully recovered.

A new examination found, by comparing the reported diagnoses in the paper to hospital records, that Wakefield and colleagues altered facts about patients in their study.

The analysis, by British journalist Brian Deer, found that despite the claim in Wakefield's paper that the 12 children studied were normal until they had the MMR shot, five had previously documented developmental problems. Deer also found that all the cases were somehow misrepresented when he compared data from medical records and the children's parents.

Bonus: For a two line lesson on how "mainstream media" reacts when they realize they sensationalized the wrong side of a story, just look at MSN's headline versus subhead.

Daily aspirin linked to steep drop in cancer risk

Long-term use of a daily low-dose aspirin dramatically cuts the risk of dying from a wide array of cancers, a new investigation reveals.

Specifically, a British research team unearthed evidence that a low-dose aspirin (75 milligrams) taken daily for at least five years brings about a 10 percent to 60 percent drop in fatalities depending on the type of cancer.

The finding stems from a fresh analysis of eight studies involving more than 25,500 patients, which had originally been conducted to examine the protective potential of a low-dose aspirin regimen on cardiovascular disease.

Review of TSA X-ray backscatter body scanner safety: hide your kids, hide your wife

Last spring, a group of scientists at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) including John Sedat Ph.D., David Agard Ph.D., Robert Stroud, Ph.D. and Marc Shuman, M.D. sent a letter of concern to the TSA regarding the implementation of their 'Advanced Imaging Technology', or body scanners as a routine method of security screening in US airports. Of specific concern is the scanner that uses X-ray back-scattering. In the letter they raise some interesting points, which I've quoted below:
  • "Our overriding concern is the extent to which the safety of this scanning device has been adequately demonstrated. This can only be determined by a meeting of an impartial panel of experts that would include medical physicists and radiation biologists at which all of the available relevant data is reviewed."
  • "The X-ray dose from these devices has often been compared in the media to the cosmic ray exposure inherent to airplane travel or that of a chest X-ray. However, this comparison is very misleading: both the air travel cosmic ray exposure and chest X-rays have much higher X-ray energies and the health consequences are appropriately understood in terms of the whole body volume dose. In contrast, these new airport scanners are largely depositing their energy into the skin and immediately adjacent tissue, and since this is such a small fraction of body weight/vol, possibly by one to two orders of magnitude, the real dose to the skin is now high."
  • "In addition, it appears that real independent safety data do not exist."
  • "There is good reason to believe that these scanners will increase the risk of cancer to children and other vulnerable populations. We are unanimous in believing that the potential health consequences need to be rigorously studied before these scanners are adopted."

The only safe driving is no driving

The number one killer of young Americans is the automobile.

However, the Secular Humanists dominating our schools refuse to acknowledge that the only safe driving is abstinence from driving. Instead, they advocate courses in “Driver Education,” in which teenagers are taught “Safe Driving,” and no attention is given to traditional values.

They are even taught the use of “Seat Belts” (and some classes even give explicit demonstrations of the proper method of applying these belts!) with, at best, a passing mention that the protection provided by these belts is only partial.

Clearly, this sends a mixed message to our young people: it appears to condone driving, and the more inquisitive will surely feel encouraged to experiment with driving.

Good sleep, good learning, good life

"This article attempts to produce a synthesis of what is known about sleep with a view to practical applications, especially in people who need top-quality sleep for their learning or creative achievements. Neurophysiology of sleep is an explosively growing branch of science. Many theories that are currently contested will soon be forgotten as a result of new findings. Consequently, this text is likely to grow old very quickly. Yet some basic truths about sleep are well-established, and practical conclusions can be drawn with the benefit to human creativity and intellectual accomplishment. In this text, I provide some links to research papers and popular-scientific articles that advocate disparate and contradictory theories. Please consult other sources to be certain you do not to get a one-sided view! This article includes some indications on how to use free running sleep in the treatment of insomnia, hypersomnia, advanced and delayed phase shift syndromes, and some other sleep disorders."

New evidence caffeine may slow Alzheimer's disease and other dementias, restore cognitive function

Although caffeine is the most widely consumed psychoactive drug worldwide, its potential beneficial effect for maintenance of proper brain functioning has only recently begun to be adequately appreciated. Substantial evidence from epidemiological studies and fundamental research in animal models suggests that caffeine may be protective against the cognitive decline seen in dementia and Alzheimer's disease (AD). A special supplement to the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, "Therapeutic Opportunities for Caffeine in Alzheimer's Disease and Other Neurodegenerative Diseases," sheds new light on this topic and presents key findings.