Health Highlights: Oct. 3, 2006

Massachusetts Offers Health Insurance to Poorest Residents France to Consider Ban on Smoking in Public Places Exercise-Machine Defect Can Cause Weights to Fall on Users Doctor Error a Factor in Many Cases of Missed or Delayed Diagnoses Dickinson College Ranked Fittest in U.S. U.S. Doctors Slow to Use Information Technology

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Massachusetts Offers Health Insurance to Poorest Residents

Massachusetts on Monday started signing up its poorest citizens for virtually free health insurance under the new Commonwealth Care plan.

An estimated 62,000 people -- those living at or below the U.S. poverty line of about $9,800 a year -- will have their health insurance premiums paid for by the state and will only be responsible for nominal co-pays, the Associated Press reported.

Most of those 62,000 people will be automatically enrolled, while the remainder who qualify can sign up at hospitals or community centers.

This is the first step toward Massachusetts' goal to become the first state to ensure that all its citizens have health insurance, the AP reported.

Beginning in January, people who earn up to three times the federal poverty level will be required to pay from $18 to $106 per month for health insurance premiums, depending on their income. The state will pay for the balance of the full premiums, expected to range from $280 to $387 a month.

Come July 2007, all Massachusetts residents who earn more than three times the U.S. poverty level will have to have health insurance, either their own or through their employer. People who don't have insurance will face tax penalties, the AP reported.


France to Consider Ban on Smoking in Public Places

The French government should ban smoking in offices and public places such as cafes and restaurants within the next year, a parliamentary panel said Tuesday.

But such a move may face fierce resistance in cigarette-friendly France. The government is expected to make a decision about the proposed ban by mid-October, the Associated Press reported.

The panel noted that secondhand smoke kills 3,000 to 5,000 people in France each year.

"The status-quo is not acceptable," the panel said in its report.

In Europe, bans on smoking in public areas have been adopted by Britain, Ireland, Italy, and Spain, the AP reported.


Exercise-Machine Defect Can Cause Weights to Fall on Users

About 5,600 FreeMotion Cable Cross and Dual Cable Cross exercise machines are being recalled because weight plates can become dislodged and fall on users, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said Tuesday.

The selector pin for the weight plates can slip out of its slot if the edges of the pin are worn. This can cause the weight plates to fall on people using the exercise machines. So far, there have been nine reports of head and shoulder contusions caused by falling weight plates.

The machines were distributed by FreeMotion Fitness Inc., of Colorado Springs, Colo., and sold in exercise specialty stores across the United States and through direct sales from FreeMotion from December 1999 through May 2006.

The recall involves machines with model numbers GZFM6006 and GZFM6024.

Consumers with these machines should stop using them and contact FreeMotion to receive a free repair kit. The company can be reached at 1-800-201-2109 between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. ET Monday through Friday.


Doctor Error a Factor in Many Cases of Missed, Delayed Diagnoses

Basic errors made by doctors were a factor in nearly 60 percent of cases in which missed or delayed diagnoses allegedly caused harm to patients, says a U.S. study in the current issue of the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

The errors included failure to create follow-up plans for patients and tests that were ordered too late or not at all, the Associated Press reported.

The study authors reviewed 307 closed medical malpractice claims, including 181 cases that allegedly involved diagnostic errors that resulted in harm to patients. Many of the cases involved cancer patients.

Most of the claims involved numerous factors, the study said. However, some doctor errors included -- failure to order appropriate diagnostic tests (100 cases); failure to obtain an adequate patient history or to perform an adequate physical exam (76 cases); and incorrect interpretation of test results (67 cases).

Study lead author Dr. Tejal K. Gandhi, director of patient safety at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, said the findings suggest that doctors could use more help, the AP reported.

This help could include: increased use of electronic records; better algorithms for making evaluations; and using nurse practitioners to help ensure that patient follow-ups actually take place.


Dickinson College Ranked Fittest in U.S.

Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., is the "fittest college" in the United States, according to Men's Fitness magazine.

The magazine's second annual survey of nearly 12,500 students at 115 colleges and universities appears in the October issue, the Associated Press reported.

The magazine's editor-in-chief, Neal Boulton, said the rankings are based on student responses to questions about their exercise and diet habits, and the availability of fitness trainers, nutritionists, and fast food on campus.

Dickinson is a 2,300-student liberal arts college. Other schools at the top of the list include the University of Richmond, the University of Virginia, Roanoke College, Virginia Tech, and the University of Maryland, the AP reported.

Eight schools were labeled fitness underachievers: California State University, Long Beach; Carnegie Mellon University; Eastern Michigan University; Flagler College; Seton Hall University; University of Michigan, Flint; University of Missouri, Rolla; and University of New Orleans.


U.S. Doctors Slow to Use Information Technology

Fewer than half of U.S. doctors routinely use common information technology (IT) -- such as e-mail and other Internet-based and computerized information resources -- in their practices, according to a survey of about 1,700 physicians in six different specialties.

The Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) researchers found that only four percent of doctors frequently use e-mail to communicate with patients, while 30 percent frequently use e-mail to communicate with colleagues.

The survey also found that 24 percent of the doctors routinely access online medical education courses; and about 40 percent reported frequent use of online scientific journals and computerized or online text decision support tools.

"We are investing tens of billions of dollars in health information technology nationally, yet the medical profession has been very slow to adopt these tools for clinical care," lead author Dr. Richard Grant, of the division of general medicine at MGH, said in a prepared statement.

"We were shocked at the very low rate of basic IT use, particularly among solo practice and non-academic physicians. I'm sure that the vast majority of them personally use e-mail and the Internet, but most do not have effective ways to integrate these tools into clinical practice," Grant said.

The study appears online in the Journal of General Internal Medicine and will be published in the November print issue.

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