Take time for women’s health

This week is National Women's Health Week, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' observance of the importance of women doing the things they need to do to stay healthy. The theme this year is "It's Your Time."

Today was National Women's Checkup Day, on which women are urged to make appointments with their health-care providers and to find out what screenings and immunizations they need.

The general message from Uncle Sam to the women of America is the usual good stuff: Eat a nutritious diet, get plenty of sleep and exercise, wear your seatbelt, don't smoke.

This is a great idea, setting one week aside for women, who often are too busy taking care of others to take care of themselves, to concentrate on doing what they need to do to maintain their own health.

What are you doing for yourself this week? I would love to hear from you.

Women’s health fail

For every step forward the United States takes toward improving women's health, the country appears to be taking one back — or more.

The overall picture is so bad that the nation got a big, black "Unsatisfactory" grade on a report card issued recently by the National Women's Law Center, in conjunction with Oregon Health & Science University.Art deco woman

We are doing all right in some areas. Women are smoking less. The percentage of women getting regular mammograms, annual dental checkups and colorectal screenings has held steady since 2007. In only one area, cholesterol screenings, have we actually improved.

On the negative side, more women are binge drinking, and fewer are getting Pap screening tests for cervical cancer. More women are obese, diabetic and hypertensive, too. More are turning up with chlamydia, a sexually transmitted disease.

Not a single state got a "Satisfactory" mark this year; in 2007, three states made the grade. Massachusetts and Vermont have the best scores, a limp S (for satisfactory) -minus.

Many of the goals have to do with things people can conceivably control themselves, like quitting smoking, and drinking only moderately.

However, nearly 20 percent of women ages 18 to 64 have no health insurance. The disparities are troubling: 38 percent of Hispanic women, 32 percent of Native American women, 23 percent of African-American women — but only 14 percent of Caucasian women — lack health coverage.

And only seven states now require comprehensive maternity care — prenatal care, childbirth and postpartum care — be included in all individual and group health plans.

Most of the goals the report card addresses come from the Healthy People 2010 campaign of the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services. On its website, Healthy People is already hoping for better results in 2020, its new goal year.

"The Favorite" by Leon-Francois Comerre, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Patient safety is not improving: studies

Well, this is discouraging. Two recent studies indicate that, after a decade-long, nationwide campaign to make hospitals safer for patients, essentially no progress has been made.

A patient checking into a hospital today appears to face at least a one-in-four chance of coming to some degree of harm there.

A study published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine looked at the records of 2,341 patients discharged from 10 randomly selected hospitals in North Carolina, which was chosen because of that state's "high level of engagement in efforts to improve patient safety."

The study took place between January 2002 and December 2007. What it found was, in short, that "harm to patients resulting from medical care was common in North Carolina, and the rate of harm did not appear to decrease significantly during a 6-year period ending in December 2007, despite substantial national attention and allocation of resources to improve the safety of care," the report stated.

A total of 588 patients were injured — 25.1 percent of study subjects. Harm was caused by, in declining numbers, procedures, drugs, hospital-based infections, other therapies, tests, falls and other causes, the study found. Sixty-three percent of these injuries were deemed to have been preventable. Nine preventable errors resulted in death, and 13 in permanent damage.

In addition, a report from the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services released earlier this month documented the experiences of 780 randomly selected Medicare patients discharged from various hospitals in October of 2008.

About one in seven of these patients experienced "adverse events" — serious harm that comes to a patient as a result of medical care.

A second group of about the same size in the HHS study suffered "temporary harm," a transient injury like bedsores (here called "pressure ulcers") for example, or hypoglycemia. Twenty-seven percent of temporary harm events were caused by drugs.

Twenty-eight percent of patients who experienced more serious "adverse events" also suffered some temporary harm during the same hospital stay.

About 44 percent of all these events — adverse events and temporary harm — in the HHS study were deemed preventable — the result of errors, substandard care, or insufficient monitoring.

In 1999, the independent, not-for-profit Institute of Medicine published a report on hospital safety, "To Err is Human," which caused a sensation and produced a massive effort to improve protocols at hospitals across the country. The goal was to decrease errors by 50 percent over a five-year period.

"To Err is Human" asserted that as many as 98,000 patients die in hospitals each year because of medical error.

Commenting on the two discouraging new studies, the authors of the NEJM report on patient safety in North Carolina write, "All the findings about extent of harm should increase our commitment to prevent it."

If Mama ain’t healthy…

We're halfway through National Women's Health Week, a time for women to remember that a mother's health is the linchpin for the whole family's health.

On Monday, National Women's Check-Up Day, we were all supposed to make all our necessary medical and dental appointments. If you missed it, you might consider making one or two of those appointments today.Art deco woman

If you're not sure what sort of maintenance you need to do, check out the Interactive Screening Chart and Immunization Tool on the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services website. It breaks down recommended exams, screenings and immunizations by age groups and classifications of health (mental health, reproductive health, oral health, to name a few).

The website notes that it's a good idea to talk with your health-care professional about the recommendations.

The basics of women's health are these, according to the HHR website:

*Get at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate physical activity, 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous physical activity, or a combination of both each week.

*Eat a nutritious diet.

*Visit a health care professional to receive regular checkups and preventive screenings.

*Avoid risky behaviors, such as smoking and not wearing a seatbelt.

*Pay attention to mental health, including getting enough sleep and managing stress.

"The Favorite" by Leon-Francois Comerre, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons