2014 Health Care Roundup: the Good and Bad News on Drugs, Food, Lifestyle, and Health Policy

Our 4th annual health care roundup highlights some of 2014’s notable happenings in health-related research and news.

The worst Ebola outbreak in history resulted in over 20,000 cases in West Africa. The World Health Organization deemed the Ebola outbreak an international emergency that could continue spreading for months. In the United States, several medical workers have been successfully treated for this viral disease, which has a 50% fatality rate and is contagious when a victim has symptoms of the sickness.

The "Mobile Stroke Clinic" topped Cleveland Clinic’s recent list of medical innovations predicted to make the biggest impact in 2015. Ambulance connections to in-hospital neurologists and telemedicine are combined to provide the fastest diagnosis and care for stroke patients. They also predict a new technique for blood testing will make a big difference in the coming year. The new virtually painless collection method uses just a drop of blood drawn from the fingertip and costs less than the needle and vial method. Another innovation that will probably make the list in a future year is 3D printing, which has prototype applications ranging from growing cartilage, to blood vessels, to organs.  3D anatomical models are already being created for use by medical students and by doctors who can study a personalized model of a patient’s organ prior to surgery.

There were no apparent blockbuster-type discoveries in drug treatments in 2014, but the FDA did approve 41 new chemical (NME) and biological (BLA) drugs, which was a whopping 14 more than the total approved in 2013. Patients being treated for flu in the hospital will have a new intravenous drug option called Rapivab. New cancer treatments were approved for advanced lung and ovarian cancer, late stage melanoma, blood cancer, and for nausea associated with chemotherapy.  Other drugs were approved for skin conditions, diabetes, advanced liver disease (cirrhosis), multiple sclerosis, psoriatic arthritis, and hepatitis C.  Here is the complete list of 2014 drug approvals.

Food news included a follow-up to a study on arsenic in rice by Consumers Union. Consumers Reports provided some guidance on the safest rice and grain options. While by year's end the porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) virus seemed to be under control, during the course of the year the virus spread to 30 states, wiped out an estimated 10% of American pigs, and caused the price of bacon to soar.

Hacking incidents, data theft, and cyber crimes involving medical information continued to escalate. 2014 brought a record number of HIPAA violations, with 45% more complaints filed in 2014 vs. 2013. Significant breaches included one resulting in a record breaking $4.8 million HIPAA settlement involving New York-Presbyterian Hospital and Columbia University. Patient information including names, clinical data, and social security numbers were accidentally posted on the internet and a patient's relative saw the information online. Much press was given to the Sony Pictures hacking incident in November, which not only involved leaks about movie industry information, but also compromised thousands of documents with employee health insurance and medical information. A database that lists all organizations with violations involving 500 or more patients is available at HHS.

Take a look at some more of our year-end highlights list below, compiled from AskaPatient’s tweets over the course of 2014.
Highlighted words for each news item will take you to the original source.  May your 2015 be even happier and healthier than 2014. Cheers!

Drugs and Treatments: The Good News

ER doctors can treat pain in children using nasal medication rather than with a painful needle.
A new study verified that long-term testosterone therapy does not increase the risk of prostate cancer.
With a potential for huge medical benefits, hydrogel, a jelly-like substance, was issued a patent.
Ibuprofen, rather than frequently used morphine, is the ideal painkiller for children with broken bones.
A Swedish woman successfully delivered the world's first baby after a uterus transplantation.
In a stage III trial, pertuzumab added 16 more months of life to metastatic breast cancer patients.
The FDA approved the first home-use HIV test which yields results in 20-40 minutes.
With decreasing blood donors worldwide, a team of scientists is trying to create an artificial blood substitute.
Recycling a patient's blood during surgery is cheaper and more effective than using donated blood.
Children with uncomplicated appendicitis may only need antibiotic treatment rather than surgery.
For the first time in the U.S., doctors replaced a failing heart valve from outside the heart
FDA approved a device that puts heroin overdose antidote in the hands of family members.

Drugs & Treatments: The Bad News

Laparoscopic surgery devices banned in most cases for hysterectomies and uterine fibroids.
A review revealed a massive amount of fake malaria drugs that are costing countless lives.
Lung cancer can lie dormant in ex-smokers for up to 20 years before they become aggressive.
Though the number of double mastectomies has increased, they are not associated with reducing risk of death.
The FDA revised warnings on a long list of antidepressants due to an increased risk of angle-closure glaucoma.
A look at a dark side of clinical trials: recruiting the homeless and destitute for drug studies is not uncommon.
A federal grand jury accused FedEx of distributing drugs for illegal internet pharmacies for years.
Nearly one third of children 9 to 11 screened for cholesterol levels had borderline or high cholesterol.
A New York hospital warned 4,200 patients of possible HIV and hepatitis exposure due to insulin contamination.
More antioxidants might not be better - a study showed that excess vitamin E may be helping tumors spread.

Food: The Good News

Alcohol has been shown to damage DNA, but a chemical in red wine cleans up the damaged cells.
New coatings with antimicrobial properties can extend the lifespan of soft cheeses while being edible.
A bacteria found in turkeys, forgotten for 30 years, could be used to engineer a powerful antibiotic.
Just 1 gram of turmericeach day can spice up your memory.
Preventing kidney stones may be as easy as drinking more water.
Overweight children who regularly eat vegetablesare healthier regardless of whether they lose weight.
The other sweet side of honey: its antimicrobial properties could be an alternative to antibiotics.
Countries struggling with macronutrient deficiencies may be seasoning their food for more than taste soon.
A biomaterial from beer brewing waste can be used as scaffolding to regenerate bone tissue.
Coca-Cola and Pepsi agreed to phase out a controversial chemical from several of their drinks.

Food: The Bad News

Despite having healthier optionsat lunch, children are still unlikely to eat them.
Shift workers might want to skip high-iron foods at night to avoid throwing off their liver's clocks.
Drinking soda daily could age you as much as smoking does.
For celiac disease sufferers, rice-based foods can be great, but some contain significant levels of arsenic.
Artificial sweeteners could be causing the very disease they are supposed to prevent.
For women with breast cancer, a high-soy diet may drive tumor growth.
Lithuania ordered the killing of over 19,000 pigs in response to an African swine fever outbreak.
5,000 Red Robins customers were potentially exposed to Hepatitis A in a Missouri restaurant.
98% of grocery store spinach and lettuce is never inspected and may cause millions of cases of preventable diarrhea.
Banning chocolate milk in Oregon schools led to 29% more milk waste and less protein and calcium consumed.

Lifestyle: The Good News

There's now another benefit to having your kids play outside: sunlight lowers the risk of nearsightedness.
Denmark's lifestyle-changing pilot program could help solve its childhood obesity problem.
A simple "coat of armor" has been developed for batteries that render them harmless if swallowed by children.
Curiosity saved the brain: being curious helps people learn and retain information.
Short bouts of intense exercise can improve long-term memory by up to 10%.
Different sleep schedules can often strain relationships, but there is hope for saving sleep and partnership.
A five minute walk break every hour can reverse the negative effect sitting has on leg arteries.
Older adults may benefit from scheduling their most mentally-challenging tasks for the morning.
Give your buddy a fist bump - they transfer 90% less germs than handshakes.

Lifestyle: The Bad News

Toiletry chemicals are costing the European Union millions due to testicular cancer and male infertility.
80% of infectious diseases are spread by 20% of people, known as "super-spreaders".
Using hand dryers can increase airborne bacteria by up to 27 times more than using paper towels in bathrooms.
Your phone habits could be adding up to 60 lbs of pressure to your spine.
Laundry detergent pods are responsible for hundreds of hospitalizations of young children each year.
Be careful with air fresheners indoors; clean smelling air doesn't always mean clean air.
Hollow-head toothbrushes harbor up to 3,000 times the bacterial growth as their solid-head counterparts.
3 hours of TV each day can double the risk of premature death from any cause.
Inactivity is the biggest contributor to heart disease in women over 30, which kills 1 in 4 women in the U.S.
Second hand smoke can prematurely age children’s arteries by more than 3 years.

Health Care Policy & Practice: The Good News

The U.S. government will publish new rules requiring restaurant chains to post calorie counts on menus.
By year's end, more than 7 million had enrolled in Affordable Care Act health plans, with fewer glitches than last year.
Ultrasounds are just as good at detecting kidney stones as CT scans that expose the patient to radiation.
Clean air in a Chinese city halved the cost of health care between 2001 and 2010.
Water scarcity affects one third of the world, but through 6 combined strategies can be reduced by 2050.
For the 300,000 Americans who sustain a hip fracture every year, surgery saves money in the long run.
Medicaid is now going to cover autism services, along with many states that require private insurance to do so.
Florida is the first state to offer a unique Medicaid program specifically for people with mental illness.
People who are treated for gum disease have lower healthcare costs than those who go untreated.
Medicare wants hospitals to release a standard list of prices for services, which could lower variability in prices.
Mild control of systolic blood pressure in older adults is adequate: 150 is good enough.
A sigh of relief: you might not have to get a colonoscopy as often as you think.

Health Care Policy & Practice: The Bad News

A medical firm profited on pain with knockoff spine surgery hardware.
Decades-old vials with smallpox and other pathogens were found improperly stored at NIH and FDA labs.
Is the FDA pushing cancer drugs on to the market too soon? Some drugs have no evidence they extend lives.
Millions of dollars of operating room medical equipment are thrown away unused each year.
Patients who visit an E.R. in their network may be surprised by their bill if the doctor is a private contractor.
A cyber attack from China resulted in the theft of data for 4.5 million patients in a U.S. hospital group.
A pesticide that is still used in some countries puts family members at risk 3 generations down the line.
Johns Hopkins settled a year-old lawsuit with thousands of women filmed by a doctor.
The AIDS community was shocked by the death of dozens of leading AIDS experts in Ukraine.
Consumers in our poll gave the FDA a poor grade for its performance on overseeing drug advertising.
FDA is reviewing its rules on marketing drugs for unapproved uses. Skeptics say industry will exploit loosened rules.
Try to avoid weekend surgeries for your kids: complications are 40% more likely.

-by Katie Rowley with list compiled and edited by Thomas Williams.  Follow AskaPatient's health news at Twitter.com/Askapatient or sign up for our weekly newsletter.

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