Thursday, February 02, 2012

The Morning Drill: February 2, 2012

Groundhog Club handler John Griffiths, left, holds Punxsutawney Phil, the weather prognosticating groundhog, during the 126th celebration of Groundhog Day on Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, Pa. Thursday, Feb. 2, 2012. Phil saw his shadow, forecasting six more weeks of winter weather

Good Morning and Happy Groundhog Day!

On to today's dentistry and health headlines:

Some Downsides of Social Media for Doctors

With the preponderance of optimistic takes on physicians participating (some even suggesting we have an obligation to participate) in various forms of social media through blogging, Twitter-ing, and Facebook-ing, perhaps one of us should take a moment to acknowledge that there are some downsides to this practice for doctors and nurses. Increasingly, I have been thinking a lot about this topic and how to explain it without sounding like "Debbie Downer."

As my perspective has matured in the blog-o-sphere, I have had several insights that have tempered my unabashed enthusiasm for social media. Perhaps it would be helpful to share those to keep the discussion real for doctors considering a dive into this space.

Blogging, unlike diamonds, really is forever

Even if you try to delete a single published post or an entire blog, it's tough to delete all the references to the work that have been reprinted, reformatted or placed in an archived cache online. Further, the anatomy of a single tweet exposes us to the reality of the Internet: much more is contained in any post or tweet besides its content -- like time, computer type, location. Just as important: you are writing in pen (make that an indelible marker!), not pencil, when your publish a thought on a social media platform. While this might be a good thing for many, the potential to take prose out of context (sarcastic or not) could have significant legal ramifications for those involved in the care of patients. In my 6+ years of writing, I often think about this and wonder if the benefits I have garnered by sharing my insights could be rendered mute by a single legal reference to this blog.

Eating Patterns Tend to Mimic Dining Partner's

Women adjusted their eating patterns to match those of their dining companions, researchers found.

In a small study, young women were significantly more likely to take a bite when the person with whom they were sharing a meal drew her fork to her mouth (P<0.001), Roel Hermans, PhD, of Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands, and colleagues reported online in PLoS One.

The finding suggests that behavioral mimicry -- the process by which people unwittingly imitate the behavior of another person -- may be at work during dinner.

Studies have shown that women eat more when the people they're dining with eat more, and tone down their consumption when their partners eat less. It's been hypothesized that behavioral mimicry was responsible for the behavior, but no studies had yet tested whether that's the case.

Enrollment Up, Premiums Down in Medicare Advantage Plans

Enrollment in Medicare Advantage plans has risen by 10% in the past year and premiums have dropped by 7%, despite billions of dollars in reimbursement cuts to the program, HHS officials announced Wednesday.

Enrollment in the plans -- which are run by private insurers -- has grown from 11.7 million Medicare beneficiaries in 2011 to 12.8 million in 2012, a 17% increase. The average premium has dropped by more than $2 per month since last year and now averages $31.54 per month, according to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Medicare Advantage plans were targeted by Democrats as an area in which to cut spending during debate over the Affordable Care Act (ACA), in part because the private plans used to be paid about 13% more than traditional Medicare plans. A recent Government Accountability Office study found the government overpaid private insurance companies administering Medicare Advantage plans by as much as $3.1 billion in 2010.

Current Medicare Advantage payments are closer to 7% higher than traditional Medicare plans, Jonathan Blum, MD, director of Medicare for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service, told reporters on a Wednesday morning call.

Ultimately, the ACA cut more than $100 billion from Medicare Advantage over 10 years.

Path Is Found for the Spread of Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s disease seems to spread like an infection from brain cell to brain cell, two new studies in mice have found. But instead of viruses or bacteria, what is being spread is a distorted protein known as tau.

The surprising finding answers a longstanding question and has immediate implications for developing treatments, researchers said. And they suspect that other degenerative brain diseases like Parkinson’s may spread in a similar way.

Alzheimer’s researchers have long known that dying, tau-filled cells first emerge in a small area of the brain where memories are made and stored. The disease then slowly moves outward to larger areas that involve remembering and reasoning.

But for more than a quarter-century, researchers have been unable to decide between two explanations. One is that the spread may mean that the disease is transmitted from neuron to neuron, perhaps along the paths that nerve cells use to communicate with one another. Or it could simply mean that some brain areas are more resilient than others and resist the disease longer.

The new studies provide an answer. And they indicate it may be possible to bring Alzheimer’s disease to an abrupt halt early on by preventing cell-to-cell transmission, perhaps with an antibody that blocks tau.

Enjoy your morning!

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