A smile will do just fine, doc

No Handshake ZoneSkeptics scoffed when a self-described germophobe physician suggested that hospitals should discourage health care professionals from shaking hands with each other and with patients and patients’ family members in an effort to reduce the spread of infections. But an experiment beginning in 2015 to create handshake-free zones in two UCLA neonatal intensive care units demonstrates the idea might have real merit. As reported in Kaiser Health News, the NICUs didn’t ban shaking hands outright, but staff and visitors were encouraged to try other forms of greeting, like smiles, bows and waves. Findings published in the American Journal of Infection Control showed “that establishing handshake-free zones is possible, can reduce the frequency of handshakes and that most health care workers supported the idea.” A second study is needed to determine if such zones significantly reduced the rate of infections.

Investors pour $500 million-plus into Outcome Health

Outcome Health raises $500 millionOutcome Health, a digital point-of-care network, is expected to raise as much as $600 million when it closes a deal with investors in a few weeks, according to Crain’s Chicago Business. The company was launched in 2006 to provide video content to TV screens in doctors’ offices to educate patients about treatments for chronic disease like diabetes. It has since added tablets and large video displays in waiting rooms and exam rooms. Pharmaceutical companies advertise their drugs for those specific diseases. Outcome Health’s founders have even more ambitious ideas to connect health care professionals and patients. As Crain’s quotes one: “We see a vision where every exam room you step into knows you and knows your clinical data, knows your preference maps, and it has all available information.”

Another state restricts antibiotics for animals we’ll eat

antibioticsIn an effort to slow the proliferation of drug-resistant bacteria —superbugs in popular lingo — Maryland will become the second state after California to ban the use of antibiotics for routine disease prevention in livestock and poultry, Reuters reports. The Food and Drug Administration has issued guidelines to discourage the use of antibiotics to promote growth in farm animals. Maryland’s law, which takes effect Oct. 1, limits antibiotic use to animals that are actually sick or when a disease outbreak is verified, but not for routine disease prevention.

First responders risk accidental overdoses

First Responders OverdoseNew and astonishingly potent substances like fentanyl and carfentanil are increasingly being mixed with heroin to create drugs that pose deadly risks not only to users, but also to police officers and paramedics who respond to overdose cases. The Associated Press reports on incidents in Maryland and Ohio in which police officers came in contact with enhanced heroin and needed to be revived with the opioid antidote Narcan. Last fall, AP reports, 11 SWAT officers in Connecticut “were sickened after a flash-bang grenade sent particles of heroin and fentanyl airborne.” Police departments and EMT teams are starting to stock heavy-duty gloves and suits and are sending drugs directly to labs rather than field-test them at the scene. They’re also carrying bigger doses of Narcan because the synthetic opioids are so potent.

Another chilling sign of our opioid times

Opioid Overdose NeighborsThe New Yorker’s Margaret Talbot offers a richly reported and truly frightening story from the front lines of America’s opioid epidemic — West Virginia, which has the highest overdose rate in the country, and where, she writes, “nearly all the addicts are white, born in the area, and have modest incomes.” One particularly poignant point in Talbot’s story is that many addicts overdose in public places like restaurant bathrooms, gas stations and stores because they want somebody to help them before they die. Here’s the jaw-dropping explanation from the head of one county’s emergency medical services: “To people who don’t have that addiction, that sounds crazy. But, from a health care provider’s standpoint, you say to yourself, ‘No, this is survival to them.’ They’re struggling with using but not wanting to die.”