TACKLING ALZHEIMER’S FROM A NEW ANGLE. A drug developed at the Stanford University School of Medicine has cured Alzheimer’s in mice and is now preparing for Phase 2a of clinical testing — the first time it will be tested in patients with Alzheimer's disease. Typically, scientists have tried to rid patients of the amyloid protein plaques, the signature feature of Alzheimer’s. Phase 1 of the clinical trial study completed in 2014 determined that the drug, LM11A-31, was safe for use in humans. LM11A-31 attempts to interrupt abnormal signals that instruct brain nerves to fail, possibly allowing doctors to prevent damage before it begins. “If approved, these could be the first drugs that will change the course of the disease,” said James Hendrix, director of global science initiatives at the Alzheimer’s Association in a Feb. 22 Time magazine article.

DO YOU ACCEPT IOUs HERE? When patients fail to pay their bill, it usually falls to the hospital to eat the costs and incur what is known as "bad debt." Even though millions have gained coverage through Obamacare, high deductibles and cost sharing are leaving patients looking through their pockets and finding they don’t have enough to cover their medical costs. As Bloomberg noted, the median household income in the U.S. is nearly $53,000; that will make it hard for many to meet out-of-pocket charges exceeding $2,600. Hospitals should beware. “Patients expect to get care when they show up at the emergency room — and they do — yet, consumers still need education in how to control their medical costs,” said Chip Kahn, president of the Federation of American Hospitals.


FLEETING FAME IN THE WINDY CITY. Nobody would be surprised about a breezy day in Chicago, but a Feb. 19 windstorm surprised even those of us who live and work here with its power. Gusts sent construction materials flying through the air and cracked a window near the American Hospital Association offices in the Loop. A couple of nearby buildings had to be evacuated. As prudent and responsible journalists, H&HN Senior Editor Paul Barr (left), Health Forum colleague Margo Weglarz (right) and I (center) went to check out the goings-on after a well-deserved lunch break — only to be caught on camera by ABC 7 news cameras.

NEARLY 500,000 WOMEN GIVE BIRTH EACH YEAR IN RURAL HOSPITALS, but as The Atlantic pointed out, access to labor and delivery units have been declining. It’s tougher for rural hospitals that often don’t have enough clinicians to staff these units, not to mention that a significant proportion of births in rural hospitals are covered through Medicaid, which pays half as much as private insurance pays for childbirth. Of course, there is no simple solution, but encouraging medical professionals to move to rural areas is a step, and a bill introduced in Congress would require the federal government to designate maternity care health professional shortage areas. Primary care providers who serve in these areas for two years receive scholarship and loan repayment benefits.

SIDE EFFECTS GOING UNREPORTED? Prescription drug prices are rising, prescription drug abuse is growing and the method for collecting side-effect data is failing. A recent article in STAT claims that many drug makers are filing incomplete reports in the Adverse Event Reporting System, the key method for collecting side-effect data, managed by the Food and Drug Administration. An analysis looked at 528,192 reports in 2014; it found that of those filed by doctors and consumers, 86 percent included complete information in four key data points — patient age and gender, date the side effect occurred and a specific medical term for the problem. Drug makers weren’t as efficient, filing 95 percent of total reports, with 51 percent incomplete. The last revamp of the reporting system was made in 2001, but a lot has changed since then and, unfortunately, properly reporting side effects hasn’t been one of those changes.