At Mercy Virtual, the Future Is Here, but the Patients Aren’t

Mercy Virtual Care CenterLike medical staff at any hospital, physicians and nurses at Mercy Virtual keep very busy caring for their patients —however, these patients happen to be somewhere else entirely. The facility in suburban St. Louis may be “the world’s most advanced example of something gaining momentum in the health care world: A virtual hospital where specialists remotely care for patients at a distance,” writes Arthur Allen in Politico. Patients may be in other care facilities or in their homes and are monitored by ever-more-sophisticated technology. Several factors are fueling the virtual care trend; the biggest may be hospitals’ increased focus on promoting wellness and keeping an eye on patients after discharge. “Mercy Virtual reaches out to patients before they’re even aware of symptoms,” Allen writes. “It uses technology to sense changes in hospitalized patients so subtle that even bedside nurses often haven’t picked up on them.” Nurses can zoom cameras in on the individual and on equipment like IVs. One big plus, Allen notes: “Monitoring patients from afar with regularity can create more intimacy between patient and his caregivers than a sporadic, once-every-three-months visit in person.” To learn more about how a full-fledged virtual medical facility operates, read Allen’s complete article in Politico.

FDA: Kratom Kills

FDA Warns of KratomThe Food and Drug Administration this week warned people not to use kratom, a plant product some individuals use recreationally or to treat pain, anxiety and even opioid addiction. The FDA has received reports of 36 deaths associated with kratom. NBC News’ Maggie Fox notes that “some people think kratom is safe because it comes from a plant — it’s a relative of coffee — but many poisons come from plants, including opioids, cyanide and ricin.” In a statement, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., cited reports of kratom laced with hydrocodone and warned that “the use of kratom is also associated with serious side effects like seizures, liver damage and withdrawal symptoms.” The FDA has already begun to seize shipments of kratom products, and Gottlieb called for supporters of the drug to produce “sound science” to back up claims of its benefits.

Gates Invests $50 Million in Alzheimer’s Research, Identifies 5 Goals

Bill GatesIn a blog post this week, Bill Gates announced that he will personally invest $50 million in the Dementia Discovery Fund, “a private fund working to diversify the clinical pipeline and identify new targets for treatment” of Alzheimer’s disease. As people live longer, the likelihood of chronic illness like arthritis and Parkinson’s disease increases, but Alzheimer’s “stands out as a particularly big threat to society,” Gates writes. It is among the top 10 causes of death in the U.S. “without any meaningful treatments that becomes more prevalent each year.” The emotional toll on caregivers is profound, and the economic burden to the U.S. and every other nation with growing older populations will be immense. He would like to see researchers make progress in five areas: better understanding the causes and biology of the disease, earlier detection and diagnosis, more approaches to stopping Alzheimer’s, getting people enrolled in clinical trials more easily, and better use of data. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the Gates Foundation has pledged $50 million for research in the future.