How the federal shutdown Is affecting health programs, the health benefits of committing to a Dry January, and more.

1. Federal freeze puts the squeeze on healthcare initiatives

The current government shutdown isn’t directly about healthcare policies but the effects are far-reaching. Public health programs affected by the forced furlough include:

  • Food and Drug Administration’s food safety operations.
  • Indian Health Service tribal health programs and preventive health clinics.
  • Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Health Affairs, which assesses threats from infectious diseases, pandemics and chemical and biological attacks.
  • Environmental Protection Agency, which inspects drinking water and regulates pesticides.

Programs not affected include Obamacare, Medicare and Medicaid; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s public health surveillance; and the National Institutes of Health, which oversees biomedical research.

2. Hospitals to post service prices

A mandate effective on January 1 of this year will empower consumers to make informed healthcare decisions. The ruling from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) requires hospitals to post all the items and services they provide along with their prices.

“CMS encourages hospitals to undertake efforts to engage in consumer-friendly communication of their charges to help patients understand what their potential financial liability might be for services they obtain at the hospital, and to enable patients to compare charges for similar services across hospitals,” the agency said.

Both providers and payers worry about public perception and disparities in payment rates. However, CMS believes price transparency will help create a “patient-centered healthcare system.”

3. Creating user-friendly IT tools

Researchers have developed a four-step model to help tech experts create a seamless, user-centered design in health IT tools, shows a study published in JMIR Human Factors. They recommend:

  1. Analyzing workflows during the early stages of tool development.
  2. Conducting pre- and post-deployment tests.
  3. Collecting feedback in real clinical settings.
  4. Providing support and training to boost tool adoption.

The study said: “This model is a critical step in building a rigorous approach to health IT design that incorporates a multidisciplinary, pragmatic perspective, combined with academic research practices and cutting-edge approaches to digital product development to meet the unique needs of healthcare.”

4. Diabetes app gets an added hypoglycemia feature

Sugar.IQ, a digital diabetes assistant, will use artificial intelligence to predict low-sugar risk in users within one to four hours. The Sugar.IQ feature, called IQcast, supported by Medtronic and IBM Watson can help users make sure they stay within a healthy blood glucose range for longer periods of time.

“Hypoglycemia, or ‘going low,’ is one of the most acute and frightening events that a person living with diabetes can experience,” said Doctor Lisa Latts, IBM Watson Health’s deputy chief health officer. “Fueled by the right data, AI and machine learning can play a powerful role in helping to alleviate the burden of diabetes and the worry of a hypoglycemic event, and we’ve built the new IQcast features with this goal in mind.”

5. Will a “Dry January” improve your health?

Call it a global New Year’s resolution. People around the world are taking a booze break this month, hoping to improve their lives and health. Will it work? It might, according to a study published in BMJ Open. The study says dropping alcohol for a month can:

  • lower blood pressure.
  • improve insulin resistance.
  • decrease weight.
  • reduce blood levels of a protein linked to cancer.
  • reduce alcohol consumption for the rest of the year.

“Being alcohol-free for 31 days shows us that we don’t need alcohol to have fun, to relax, to socialize,” said doctor Richard Piper, chief executive officer of Alcohol Change UK, the movement’s founding organization. “That means that for the rest of the year we are better able to make decisions about our drinking, and to avoid slipping into drinking more than we really want to.”




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