Healthcare media highlights - February 2024

Healthcare media highlights - February 2024

The Briefing

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5 February 2024
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7 minute read
  Key highlights
  • Scientists have identified cases of medically-transmitted Alzheimer’s disease, prompting new questions about what causes this disease.
  • Both public and private healthcare organizations are investing in nutrition services to expand access to healthy foods. 
  • New research has determined that intentional weight loss can be a risk factor for cancer, and that a history of cancer can be a risk factor for future cardiological events. 
  • Cases of measles are becoming more common in the UK due to dropping vaccination rates, which has global health officials concerned.
  • Since it took effect in 2022, the No Surprises Act has effectively prevented surprise medical bills, but associated disputes are increasing. 

Scientists have found the first instances of medically-transmitted Alzheimer’s disease. 

Research has identified five instances of patients in the United Kingdom who have developed Alzheimer’s disease as a result of a medical procedure they received decades ago. All five were cases of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, starting when the patients were in their thirties, forties, and fifties. 

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Each patient had received a now-banned treatment for short stature during their childhood. This treatment used human growth hormone taken from the brains of human cadavers. Research has found that the procedure transferred beta-amyloid proteins from the cadaver to the patient. This research has spurred discussion within the medical community about what truly causes Alzheimer’s disease. 

This comes as Biogen announced that they will discontinue Aduhelm, a controversial Alzheimer’s disease drug. Aduhelm received accelerated approval from the FDA in 2021 despite doubts about its efficacy. Biogen has announced that they will focus on the development of other Alzheimer’s drugs, such as Leqembi.

 

 

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Healthcare organizations are expanding nutrition services to provide access to high-quality food. 

Diet plays a crucial role in our overall health, but unfortunately, not everyone has access to fresh, nutritious foods. This month, we’ve seen both public and private healthcare organizations take steps to change this and make high-quality food more accessible. Eating a balanced diet is an important aspect of preventative healthcare and can lead to better long-term health outcomes. 

The US Department of Health and Human Services announced this week that they will be partnering with Instacart, Feeding America, and the Rockefeller Foundation to expand food-as-medicine initiatives. These initiatives educate consumers on the importance of healthy eating and make nutritious food more accessible. Instacart is a popular food delivery service that already has its own health division. 

Foodsmart, a telehealth nutrition company, is also taking steps to make healthy food more accessible. The company recently raised $10 million in venture capital and has partnered with three major health systems for patient referrals. Foodsmart’s technology connects users with dieticians online, helping them save money on both coaching and grocery prices. The company also plans to launch Foodscripts, where dieticians will be able to prescribe individualized nutrition programs for patients. 

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New research helps experts identify new cancer risk factors and understand how the disease works. 

Scientists are learning more about factors that put patients at risk for cancer, as well as how cancer affects patients’ future health outcomes. A recent study indicated that patients who have had cancer are at a higher risk for cardiovascular events. The study found that cumulative incidence rates for cardiovascular events during the study period were 28.4% for participants with a history of cancer and only 22.2% for participants without a history of cancer. 

Another recent study indicates that intentional weight loss comes with an increased risk of developing cancer, which goes against common assumptions about weight loss and healthcare. The study analyzed data from over 170,000 healthcare professionals and found that those who had lost more than 10% of their body weight in a two-year period were at the highest risk for a future cancer diagnosis. Additionally, their risk was 40% higher than that of those who did not lose weight. 

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Recent research has also uncovered new information about the ways that cancer cells affect the nervous system. For example, there is evidence that cancer cells in the brain work like synapses to communicate with each other. This could change the way we develop cancer drugs and treat aggressive forms of the disease in the future. 

 


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Concerns about measles outbreaks are on the rise as vaccination rates fall.

Measles cases are rapidly increasing in the United Kingdom and in parts of Europe, with more than 200 cases over the past four months. Local health officials cite dropping vaccine rates as a reason for the outbreak. Approximately 85% of children under five in the UK have received their measles vaccines, falling short of the 95% rate necessary to achieve herd immunity and keep infections at bay. Rates are even lower in London, where just 74% of children are fully vaccinated against measles. 

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The UK isn’t the only place where measles infections are becoming more common. In the United States, several cases have popped up in Philadelphia, as well as isolated incidents in Delaware, New Jersey, and Washington state. Vaccination data indicates that over 8,500 schools across the country are at risk for measles outbreaks. This is because the student body at these schools is below the 95% vaccination rate needed for herd immunity. 

The CDC had declared measles eliminated in the United States back in 2000, but with infections rising, this is no longer the case. This alarming trend indicates that children aren’t getting the vaccines they need despite the fact that the MMR vaccine is widely available. This could be indicative of anti-vaccine sentiment increasing around the world, and illustrates the need for more comprehensive health education. 

 

 

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Research has found that the No Surprises Act has been effective in preventing surprise medical bills, but there are concerns about the law’s associated negotiation processes. 

The No Surprises Act became effective in the United States in January 2022. This legislation is designed to protect patients from unexpected medical bills for emergency services from out-of-network providers. 

Research from AHIP and Blue Cross Blue Shield found that the No Surprises Act prevented more than 10 million unexpected bills between January and September 2023. However, the survey also found that payment negotiations associated with this legislation have been on the rise. This could negatively affect patients as 71% of these informal dispute resolutions favor healthcare providers rather than patients.

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The No Surprises Act has also been the target of multiple legal challenges. At the end of January, the Second Circuit Appeals Court rejected an appeal to overturn the law from a medical provider based in New York. Despite these legal challenges, it appears that the No Surprises Act is here to stay for now. 

 

Opportunities for deeper insight

As technology improves, healthcare organizations are investing in new research and patient services to support better long-term care outcomes. Economic challenges and public distrust in healthcare institutions are major barriers to change. Healthcare organizations will need to continue to support scientific breakthroughs with patient education and accessibility initiatives. 


Areas of particular interest include: 
  • Vaccination rates: Why are more people opting not to vaccinate their children (or themselves)? How do dropping vaccination rates affect the general public?
  • Medical bills: How do surprise medical bills affect patients’ finances? Are patients willing to negotiate for lower medical bills
  • Nutrition: What barriers prevent consumers from accessing healthy food? How could diet changes improve a patient’s overall health? 

Interested in launching a study on these trends for due diligence or strategic missions? Potloc helps you unlock reliable insights at the speed of consulting. 

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