Posts Tagged ‘Massachusetts General Hospital’

US News Names New Hospital as Best

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

Massachusetts General Hospital or Mass General is No. 1 for the first time, according to the US News & World Report Best Hospitals rankings. It marks the end of a 21-year run for Johns Hopkins that started in 1991, the year after U.S. News began publishing Best Hospitals.

When Mass General was founded, James Madison was President, Napoleon was Emperor of France and the Juliana, the first ever steam-powered ferryboat, began operation.   Only Pennsylvania Hospital (1751) and New York–Presbyterian Hospital (1771) are older. The fact that Mass General hasn’t taken the top spot before may come as a surprise to some, given its pedigree: It was the original teaching affiliate and flagship of Harvard Medical School; it remains the largest hospital-based research program in the United States, with an annual research budget of more than $400 million; and is renowned in such specialties as diabetes & Endocrinology, Ear, Nose & Throat, Neurology & Neurosurgery, Ophthalmology, Orthopedics, and Psychiatry.

The 950-bed medical center each year admits about 48,000 inpatients and handles nearly 1.5 million visits in its outpatient programs at the main campus and satellite facilities. It also delivers more than 3,600 babies annually. It is now the largest non-government employer in the city of Boston, with more than 19,000 employees, including a nursing staff of 2,900. In addition, its 3,600-member medical staff includes physicians, dentists, psychologists, podiatrists, residents and fellows.

MGH is owned by Partners HealthCare, which was formed by MGH and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in 1994. MGH is also a member of the consortium which operates Boston MedFlight.

Brain Scans a Tool In Early Alzheimer’s Detection

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

Researchers believe they can see revealing brain shrinkage years before a person develops memory loss or other symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. The new finding may ultimately let physicians detect the disease and treat patients earlier with the goal of keeping them functional longer.

Massachusetts General Hospital and the University of Pennsylvania researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to measure how thick the brain’s outer layer is in 159 people who did not suffer from memory loss.  Earlier studies have linked Alzheimer’s disease with distinctive shrinkage in nine regions of the brain’s gray matter, or cerebral cortex.  This is what physicians call the “Alzheimer’s signature.”

According to researchers, the brain shrinks as it loses nerve cells – more commonly known as neurons.  They aren’t entirely sure what causes this.  One theory is that the cells die after they become choked by excess amounts of two kinds of protein — beta amyloid and tau.  “The neurons degenerating over time are really what we think causes the shrinkage,” said researcher Brad Dickerson, M.D., an associate professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School and director of the frontotemporal disorders unit at Massachusetts General Hospital.  “And that shrinkage in their size is something you can measure with an MRI scan.”

Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.  The number of deaths has increased in recent years, and there is no cure.  In the new study, researchers focused on how thick the edges of the brain are.  “We’re looking at the parts of the cortex that are particularly vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease, parts that are important for memory, problem-solving skills and higher-language functions,” Dickerson said.

The 15 percent of participants – who averaged 76 years old –who had the thinnest brain areas performed poorly on the tests: About one in five of them were experiencing cognitive decline, as well as increases in signs of abnormal spinal fluid, a possible sign of developing Alzheimer’s disease.  “That suggests they may be developing symptoms,” according to Dickerson.

Susan Resnick, PhD, who works at the National Institute of Aging, wrote:  “The ability to identify people who are not showing memory problems and other symptoms but may be at a higher risk for cognitive decline is a very important step toward developing new ways for doctors to detect Alzheimer’s disease.”

Dr. Simon Ridley, from the charity Alzheimer’s Research UK, said, “The ability to predict who will develop Alzheimer’s disease is a key target for dementia research, as it would allow new treatments to be tried early, when they are more likely to be effective.  These findings add weight to existing evidence that Alzheimer’s begins long before symptoms appear, although it’s important to note that the study did not assess who went on to develop the disease.  This research provides a potential new avenue to follow, but we need to see larger and longer-term studies before we can know whether this type of brain scan could accurately predict Alzheimer’s.”

Writing in Time, Alice Park notes that “Alzheimer’s disease has always been difficult to diagnose — the only way to identify it definitively is by autopsying the brain after death — but scientists may now have an easier way to spot the degenerative brain disease long before that, even before symptoms appear, using brain scans.  By studying people’s brain scans over time, they were able to see that these nine brain regions appear to be thinner in people who eventually go on to develop Alzheimer’s — but that it takes many years for this structural difference to show up as symptoms of memory loss or cognitive problems.  Using this brain-size signature as a yardstick, the researchers decided to confirm the correlation by testing the patients’ cognitive abilities three years after a baseline brain scan.  Indeed, they found that 21 percent of participants, who had the thinnest Alzheimer’s-related brain regions but showed no signs of memory problems or other cognitive deficits at the start of the study did show signs of cognitive decline three years later, compared with none of the subjects who did not have the same brain thinning and seven percent who showed moderately thinner brain areas.”

America’s Healthcare System Needs Improvement: Study

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

The American healthcare system is not very healthy, according to a wide-ranging new assessment of the system that covers 42 measures of healthcare delivery, the United States scored just 64 out of 100.  “Costs are up sharply, access to care deteriorated, health system efficiency remains low, disparities persisted, and health outcomes fail to keep pace with benchmarks,” concluded the 2011 National Scorecard on U.S. Health System Performance. The report was issued by the Commonwealth Fund, a nonprofit healthcare policy foundation.

There are some bright spots on the report.  For one, the number of Americans who are controlling their high blood pressure rose from 31 percent in 2008 to 50 percent in 2009.  Additionally hospitals have improved their ability to care for patients with heart attacks, pneumonia, and other common conditions.

The Commonwealth Fund report also determined that the typical U.S. infant mortality rate is 35 percent higher than the top-performing states.  Other wealthy countries still have infant mortality rates that are significantly lower than the best-performing states in the United States.  If the U.S. did as well as the top-performing country in that category — France — 91,000 fewer babies would die prematurely each year, Cathy Schoen, senior vice president at Commonwealth Fund said.  “These statistics are real,” she said.  “They are real human lives.”  Other “areas of concern” include childhood obesity, preventive care and infant mortality.

Another issue is cost, an oft-cited statistic that the U.S. spends more per person on healthcare than any other country.  According to the Commonwealth Fund report, the nation in general spends twice as much as comparable countries, but doesn’t have better care to show for it.  “We are headed toward spending $1 of every $5 of national income on healthcare,” the report’s authors said.  “We should expect a better return on this investment.”  The high cost of healthcare takes a toll on personal finances, the report said.  By 2010, 40 percent of working-age adults had medical debt or difficulties paying medical bills, an increase of 34 percent when compared with 2005.

It is important to note that the majority of the report’s data is from 2007 – 2009, prior to the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).  The healthcare reform law is likely to lead to improved scores on some of the categories, particularly access and affordability.  For example, 25 percent of residents in 15 states lacked health insurance.  The ACA will require that all Americans have health insurance in 2014.  It also will reduce eligibility requirements for Medicaid so more low-income people will be eligible, and provide government subsidies to others who can’t buy insurance on their own.

The report’s authors remain optimistic that the health reform law will address many of the problems highlighted in the report.  This scorecard illustrates that focused efforts to change the healthcare system for the better are working and are worth the investment,” said Maureen Bisognano, president and CEO of the Boston-based Institute for Healthcare Improvement.  “If we target areas where we fall short and learn from high-performing innovators with the United States, we should see significant progress in the future,” said Dr. David Blumenthal, commission chair and professor of medicine and healthcare policy at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

Writing in the Huffington Post, a Social Epidemiologist at Columbia University, thinks that the price Americans pay for their healthcare is too high.  “It’s well known that Americans pay more for less when it comes to healthcare than just about any other country in the world.  In 2009, we spent nearly $8,000 per person to provide medical care to just over 80 percent of our population — that compares, for example, to just under $3,500 spent per person in the U.K. to provide care for the entire population.  To add injury to insult: our counterparts across the pond get an extra year of life for their $3,500 than we do for our $8,000.

“Why do we pay more for less when it comes to our health?  Every policy wonk has his theory.  Common ones include the high cost of American medical education (which is too expensive), or that permissive tort laws in the U.S. enable lawyers to profit from the health system (which is true).  But while each of these theories, and others, explain small quirks in our health system that certainly contribute to it’s gargantuan price tag, they don’t address the fundamental issue with our health system.  And that’s that our market-driven system introduces perverse financial incentives for medical providers that don’t align with the health or wellbeing of Americans.  This leads to wasted money and lost lives.

“In our healthcare system, the fundamental billing unit is the “procedure” — doctors charge per action, diagnostic or curative, taken on the part of a patient.  While, on the surface, rewarding doctors for each step they take to make a patient better may seem fair, it has disastrous consequences for the structure of our health system.  Chief among them is our top-heavy specialty physician structure,” El-Sayed concluded.