On this Thanksgiving eve, the fact that health care never takes a holiday is something Americans can be very grateful for. We can also give thanks to the researchers, clinicians, administrators, trustees and all the support staff who continually work to improve that care.
I’ve been collecting a file of reports about positive trends that have recently emerged in health care. A tiny sample of the things I’ve come across are compiled below. My list is modest in scope; it doesn’t include big, glamorous stuff like predictive analytics and personalized medicine and amazing new technologies. In fact, there’s no rhyme nor reason to it at all other than to spotlight — in the most random way — that despite the tumultuous transformation now underway in our field, despite its many flaws and serious deficiencies, there are reasons to give thanks for steadfast American health care as we gather with family and friends tomorrow afternoon.
- The number of potentially preventable deaths dropped significantly for three of the five leading causes of death in the U.S. From 2010 to 2014, preventable deaths fell 25 percent for cancer, 11 percent for stroke and 4 percent for heart disease, according to research published Nov. 18 in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Researchers say the good news can be credited partly to advances in medicines, education of patients and the public, and teamwork among public health and health care organizations. Though the other two leading causes of preventable deaths — chronic lower respiratory disease and unintentional injuries — increased, experts say similar efforts can be applied in those areas as well.
- Dementia rates declined 24 percent among Americans older than 65 between 2000 and 2012, according to a study published Nov. 21 in JAMA Internal Medicine. Kaiser Health News reported that the rate fell from 11.6 percent to 8.8 percent and “translates to about 1 million fewer Americans suffering from the condition.” While reasons for the decline are not entirely clear, researchers pointed to a better educated population and to doctors doing a better job of controlling high blood pressure and diabetes, which can contribute to age-related memory problems.
- Hospitals around the country have instituted palliative care programs, and a study published Nov. 22 in the Journal of the American Medical Association confirms that such services improve patients’ quality of life, reduce suffering and in some cases even extend survival. A press release from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, whose researchers conducted the study, also noted that “palliative care was associated with improvements in advance care planning, patient and caregiver satisfaction with care, and lower health care utilization.”
- Smoking dropped from nearly 21 of every 100 adults in 2005 to about 15 of every 100 adults in 2015, a decline from 20.9 percent to 15.1 percent, the CDC reports. The news was equally promising for younger Americans. About two of every 100 middle school students (2.3 percent) reported in 2015 that they smoked cigarettes in the past 30 days — a decrease from 4.3 percent in 2011. And about nine of every 100 high school students (9.3 percent) reported in 2015 that they smoked cigarettes in the past 30 days — a decrease from 15.8 percent in 2011. Experts say people are more aware of the fact that smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in this country and that increased taxation on cigarettes discourages many people from indulging in the dangerous habit.
- The World Health Organization last Friday reported that the Zika virus is no long a world health emergency, though it remains a “significant enduring public health challenge requiring intense action.” While sudden outbreaks of deadly disease are bound to occur in the future, the lessons learned from Zika and Ebola will help health care professionals to identify threats and react more quickly and effectively.
Oh, and one other thing: I’ve lived in the relative vicinity of Wrigley Field for more than 40 years now. So apropos of absolutely nothing in health care, I’m obliged to acknowledge one other thing I’m very grateful for this Thanksgiving: The Chicago Cubs are baseball’s world champions.