Friday Five: Non-fatal illness, Medicare, gay blood donors, e-cigarettes, infographic

Each Friday, I use five sentences to summarize and comment on five important, interesting, or just plain amusing health stories from the week. Q: What’s the most prevalent form of non-fatal illness in the world? A: Mental illness and substance abuse disorders. That’s right—mental and emotional issues such as depression, anxiety, drug abuse, and schizophrenia account for 22.8% of all non-fatal illnesses. This isn’t just in the US, but across 187 countries and 30 years. It’s time to stop pretending these disorders don’t exist. The authors of the study presenting these findings say it best: In view of the magnitude of their contribution, improvement in population health is only possible if countries make the prevention and treatment of mental and substance use disorders a public health priority.

Doctors still take Medicare beneficiaries Rumor has it that in light of the Affordable Care Act’s changes to Medicare reimbursement, doctors are fleeing the system and leaving seniors without medical care. But a report from the Department of Health and Human Services showed that in 2012, 90.7% of doctors accepted new Medicare patients, compared to 87.9% in 2005. Furthermore, more doctors are accepting new Medicare patients than are accepting those with private insurance. If you have Medicare, nearly all doctors will accept you. ACA myth debunked.  

Banned4Life wants the FDA to allow gay blood donors Men who have sex with men cannot donate blood. The FDA reasons that because gay men comprise 2% of the US population but in 2010 accounted for 66% of all new HIV infections, and because HIV goes through an “undetectable” period just after initial infection, keeping gay men out of the donor pool maintains the safety of the blood supply. The newly formed Banned4Life group seeks to change this policy. Banned4Life is urging the FDA to consider sexual behaviors, rather than sexual preference or orientation, when deciding who cannot donate blood. Life-threatening illnesses, gay rights, and government regulations can rile up lots of people, and I hope the FDA looks carefully at its policy and is transparent about the decision it makes.  

E-Cigarettes are getting popular among teens Combining two of their favorite things, rebellion and new technology, teens are adopting the newest form of nicotine on the market, electronic cigarettes (or e-cigarettes). Nearly 10% of high schoolers have tried them, doubling the rate from 2011 and far exceeding the 6% of adult smokers who have given e-cigarettes a puff or two. This finding from the CDC raises some interesting questions: are e-cigarettes safer than regular ones? Are the anti-smoking campaigns aimed at teens intended to be anti-cigarette or anti-addiction? Hypothetically, if e-cigarettes carry no risk of disease, would it be okay for teens to use them? Will indoor smoking bans apply to e-cigarettes? These will be crucial questions to address as e-cigarettes gain popularity.

Just how imperfect is US health care, anyway? This colorful, informative, and slightly dizzying infographic from the MPH program at George Washington University shows us how not-so-well our health care stacks up to the rest of the world. Interesting points to consider:

  • 79% of Americans use some kind of contraceptive, one of the only times we’re mostly ahead of the pack, trailing only Russia, the UK, and Canada.
  • Ghana, Algeria, Mexico, and many more countries have higher measles vaccination rates among one year olds.
  • There is 1/3 of a general practitioner for every 1000 Americans, while there is just over two specialists for every 1000 people (87.5% of practicing doctors are specialists).

US vs World Infographic