Plan members struggle to understand Medicare communications, flu activity ramps up, and more.

1. Measles outbreak takes over Washington state

Health officials have diagnosed over 30 people in the Northwest with measles including 21 children under the age of 10. Washington Governor Jay Inslee announced a state of emergency, saying the epidemic is an “extreme public-health risk that may quickly spread to other counties.”

Health officials call the Northwest an “anti-vaccination hot spot.” Vaccination rates in Clark County, Washington, have always been lower than average, setting up the area for a measles crisis.

“The bottom line is, there’s no surprise we’re seeing this right now,” said Alan Melnick, a Clark County health official. “If we don’t get our immunization rates up, we’re going to see more of it in the future.

2. Elderly adults unable to read health documents

Medicare and Medicare Advantage information is not meeting federal guidelines for plain language, according to a report from VisibleThread, a readability software program. Per the Plain Writing Act of 2010, healthcare communications should be written at a 6th-grade reading level or below. VisibleThread found close to 90 percent of documents were between a 6.2 and 10.6-grade reading level. That means around 10.6 million elderly adults cannot read their Medicare and Medicare Advantage documents.

Out of 30 payers, six kept their readability score at or below the selected range. They include: Aetna, AARP, Amerigroup, Emblem Health, Health Markets and Kaiser Permanente.

3. Undiagnosed hepatitis in cancer patients

Many cancer patients are living with hepatitis B, hepatitis C or HIV, according to a SWOG Cancer Research study. Most of these patients are not aware they have these additional conditions until life-threatening complications arise during their cancer treatment.

“While our results don’t suggest that universal HIV screening is necessary for cancer patients, they do provide new evidence to inform a discussion in the oncology community about whether we should require hepatitis screenings,” said Dr. Scott Ramsey, a SWOG investigator.

Treatment might be different for patients with cancer if their oncologist is aware the patient has hepatitis B, C or HIV. Many treatments affect immune systems differently and screening for these conditions may alter the course of their treatment.

“Testing cancer patients for these diseases could catch a lot of undiagnosed cases and help modify their cancer care to improve outcomes,” said Joseph Unger, a SWOG biostatistician.

4. Schools close due to flu activity

The flu continues to wreak havoc across the country. Just look at the numbers:

  • 4 million flu illnesses
  • 4 million medical visits
  • 36,000 flu hospitalizations

Those are the latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC collected the flu report data from October 1, 2018, through January 19, 2019.

Officials in 12 states shut down schools for one or more days due to the flu, according to an unofficial CNN report. Flu-related school closings are not recorded by any government agency. New York City along with 18 states have seen increased flu activity in the past week. Flu illnesses will remain elevated for the next few weeks.

5. NYU Langone gears up to innovate patient experience

Two officials at NYU Langone plan to implement a digital patient experience from scratch.

“When we started thinking about the patient digital experience, we were creating the user journey or the patient journey,” said Caitlin Cronk, NYU Langone’s associate director of digital planning and strategy. “We thought about it from their perspective. While we were looking at that patient journey, we also did research in other industries. We gathered a lot of different ideas from industries that are consumer and customer focused.”

Cronk plans to brainstorm ideas with her colleague Nader Mherabi, the chief information officer at NYU Langone Health, at this year’s HIMSS19 health conference. Their main focus will be telemedicine and patient access as well as obstetrics, radiology and post-procedural space.

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