laurie-breen

Laurie Breen

Laurie Breen is a freelance writer well-versed in research communications and grant writing. She received her Bachelors Degree in Psychology from Smith College and has worked previously at the University of Queensland's Centre for Clinical Research in Brisbane, Australia. Her favorite conversational topic is "antibiotic-resistant bacteria," making her a big hit at parties.

ACA Repeal – Good or Bad for Doctors?

As Trump is sworn in as the 45th President of the United States, the Republican-led Congress is making strategic moves to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), a.k.a. “Obamacare.” Despite their promises to immediately replace the ACA with a new plan, no solid details have been given out by Trump or Republicans.   The effects of the ACA on the lives and practice of doctors has been complex, and opinions as to whether the law has been good or bad for doctors are clearly divided along party lines. There is high anxiety surrounding the proposed repeal from patients and doctors alike. Without a clear plan in place, it’s hard to know how a repeal would affect doctors and the future careers of current med school students.   Image: Source   Here are some concerns when considering the repeal:   Fewer patients in a smaller insurance pool – The ACA has enabled roughly 22 million previously-uninsured Americans to purchase health insurance or obtain it through expanded Medicaid programs. The ACA also has rules in place that end pre-existing condition exclusions for children, allow young adults under the age of 26 to be covered under their parents’ insurance and prohibit arbitrary withdrawals of insurance coverage. If repealed with no immediate replacement, millions of people could be dropped from their plans and left unable to purchase new plans. Fewer people with insurance equals...

When Epidemics Turn Endemic

By Laurie Breen   In 2016 the Zika virus epidemic dominated medical news headlines, especially with the drama that played out when some health experts called for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro to be cancelled. But by September WHO officials announced that there had been no confirmed Zika cases coming out of the Olympic games among visitors or athletes and on November 18th the WHO ended Zika’s designation as a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern.”   However, when diseases are no longer drawing the urgent attention of the public or the media, the interest in funding research dies out too. In December, the WHO issued a Report to Donors that highlighted the need for continued funding to seek answers to remaining questions on the Zika outbreak and its ongoing effects.   Image: Source   In a JAMA Viewpoint article, Catharine I. Paules, MD and Anthony S. Fauci, MD, the Director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), draw a comparison between Zika and to two other recent mosquito-borne epidemics that have become boring old endemic diseases – West Nile Virus and Chikungunya.   According to the authors, West Nile first appeared in 1999 with cases reported in New York. There was surge in diagnoses in 2002 as the virus spread throughout the United States, but as the rate of infection flattened out, public interest also...

Adult Asthma? – Why It’s Worthwhile to Re-Evaluate

By Laurie Breen Asthma is a chronic condition with no known cure that can be diagnosed at any age. In the United States alone there are over 25 million people with diagnosed asthma, and 7 million are children. Children with asthma typically have intermittent asthma attacks, but asthma symptoms in adults are usually persistent and require treatment with daily medication.   Image: Source   Children with chronic asthma have been shown to outgrow their condition about 75% of the time, but what about adults? A new study published in JAMA by authors Aaron, Vandemheen & FitzGerald suggests that potentially up to one-third of adults diagnosed with asthma don’t show symptoms a year later.   Image: Source   The study gathered over 700 participants who had been diagnosed with asthma at some point over the past five years and weaned them off their asthma medications. Then, for over 12 months, researchers followed up with a series of bronchial challenge tests to determine if the patients were still showing asthmatic reactions. By the end of 12 months, 613 participants had completed the study and researchers could rule out an asthma diagnosis in 203 of the participants – a recovery rate of 33%.   Image: Source   Another interesting finding during this study was that 2% of participants were found to have had a serious condition that had been misdiagnosed as asthma....

Medical Researchers Raise the Red Flag on Gun Violence Research Funding

By Laurie Breen   In a JAMA Research Letter likely intended to draw political attention, authors David E. Stark and Nigam H. Shah compared data on gun violence with other leading causes of death and questioned whether adequate funding was being given to research on gun violence, considering the high rates of death from gun violence in the U.S.     Although research into gun violence is not directly banned, a congressional appropriations bill from 1996 stated that no funding allocated for injury prevention or control at the CDC “may be used to advocate or promote gun control.” Supporters argued that a gun is not a disease and therefore falls outside the realm of the CDC, ignoring the fact that the CDC already has an Injury Prevention & Control Center. The authors argue that this ban has had a knock-on effect for all funding of gun violence research, as government agencies and institutes seeking funding will steer clear of the subject, from fear of running afoul of the appropriations ban and risking the loss of funding.   Image: Source   The letter’s authors reviewed CDC mortality statistics from 2004 – 2014. They identified the top 30 causes of death and allocated each to a Medical Subject Heading (MeSH) term. Then, for each MeSH term, the authors queried the number of Medline publications from 2004-2015 and also turned to the...

U.S. Rate of Birth Defects from Women with Zika

By Laurie Breen   In early 2016, The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced the creation of the National Zika Pregnancy Registry to track and collect information in the United States and its territories on women who tested positive for possible Zika virus. By June of that year the CDC was reporting 265 pregnant women were being monitored in U.S. States and 216 in U.S. territories.   Image: Source   As these pregnancies progress, researchers are carefully monitoring the birthing outcomes for these women to identify the rate of birth defects. Reports from other countries have varied, showing risk rates from 1% up to 13%. Published in JAMA, Honein, Dawson & Peterson reviewed 442 completed pregnancies who had lab results showing possible Zika infection, and found that 6% of the fetuses and infants had birth defects potentially related to Zika infection, with similar overall results when comparing symptomatic and asymptomatic women. The most common birth defect was microcephaly with brain abnormalities, and a few had various brain abnormalities without microcephaly.   Image: Source   However, there were no reported birth defects among infants or fetuses whose only exposure to Zika virus occurred in the 2nd or 3rd Trimester, but when women presented symptoms and were infected in the first trimester, the risk of birth defects rose to 11%.   The researchers concluded that this evidence strongly...

Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions Using Science

By Laurie Breen   We’re now in the first week of the New Year, so how are those resolutions coming along? These life hacks, based in behavioral research, can help you reach and maintain your goals to succeed in 2017.     Plan Ahead Avoid unhealthy, impulsive decisions by planning ahead whenever possible. Researchers at Harvard Business School found that if consumers ordered their groceries 5 or more days in advance, they tended to spend less and order more healthy foods. Similar effects were found among students who were asked to order their lunches a week in advance versus ordering them at the time of consumption.   Read More: “A behavioral decision theory perspective on hedonic and utilitarian choice”   Image: Source   Keep Good Company The influence of peers on the behavior of individuals has been well documented, but it’s important to find peers who are going to help you succeed – not enable you to fail. Researchers Leslie K. John and Michael I. Norton looked at co-workers who were given treadmill desks, and found that if employees were given access to the usage statistics of their co-workers, they tended to perform only as well as their least successful co-worker.   Similar results were found in a study that looked at savings habits – when employees were given information as to how much their peers were putting away...

Gender Wars in the Hospital

When it comes to medical school, studies have shown that both age and gender have an influence on performance in medical school, with older women having an edge over both men and younger women.   Now a new study has brought the gender war to the hospital ward. Published in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers have shown that patients may be better off when treated by a female physician, raising the age-old debate of man versus woman and sparking discussion as to how gender differences can play out in a clinical setting. Image: Source   Reviewing a large sample of over 1.5 million hospital visits made by Medicare patients (65 and older), researchers examined the rates of readmission and mortality to discover that within 30 days of arriving at the hospital, those treated by a female physician had significantly better outcomes, even when controlled for a broad range of variables, including type of medical condition and severity.   The study has caused a stir with physicians, reporters and commentators all weighing in with various theories to account for the difference in performance. In their paper, Tsugawa et al suggest that female physicians may adhere to clinical guidelines more closely, but others, such as Parks and Redberg, in an accompanying editorial, point to studies which show that female physicians may have longer visits with patients, communicate in a patient-centered manner and...