World Immunization Week

Since 2012, the last week of April has been World Immunization Week. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 1 in 5 children are missing routine immunizations. With nearly 20% of the world’s population at risk for diseases such as measles, whooping cough, and other preventable diseases, there are close to 1.5 million deaths annually that could be averted. As part of World Immunization Week, we at NeedyMeds want to spread awareness on the importance of vaccinations and the resources available for those in need.

 

In a previous blog post, we shared a graph that compared the morbidity of illnesses from the years before the vaccine was developed to the year 2000. All the applicable diseases—smallpox, diphtheria, measles, mumps, whooping cough, polio, rubella, tetanus, and influenza type b—decreased in morbidity in the United States by 95-100%.

 

file6251297827697Vaccinations help keep diseases such as polio and measles in check. Fifteen years ago, measles was declared eradicated in the United States by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since that time there have more than 120 cases of measles, including an outbreak last year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that with vaccines they will save 732,000 American lives and prevent 21 million hospital visits for Americans born in the last 20 years.

 

According to Marvin M. Lipman, MD, Consumer Reports’ chief medical advisor, “Each year, at least 30,000 people die from complications related to vaccine-preventable diseases.” The onset of immunity and its duration varies from vaccine to vaccine. There are vaccines that are good for ten years, five years, and even vaccines that need to be renewed yearly. Dr. Lipman states, “Getting the right shots doesn’t guarantee that you won’t get sick, but it will significantly improve your odds.”

 

It is worth noting that hardly any medicine can be considered 100% effective; for example, the measles vaccine is 93-97% effective with one or two doses, respectively. This means that three to seven out of 100 vaccinated people will still get measles if exposed to the virus. Measles is so highly infectious that 90% of unvaccinated people who come close to an infected person will contract the virus. With this knowledge, being unvaccinated for infectious diseases is not only putting oneself in danger of serious illness, but also the community at large.

 

For those in need of assistance, our database of free, low-cost, and sliding-scale clinics has information on nearly 3000 clinics that offer immunization services. Search your zip code to find medical clinics near you that may offer free or low-cost immunizations. Pharmaceutical companies also offer Patient Assistance Programs (PAPs) such as Vaccine Patient Assistance Program and the GSK Vaccine Access Program for uninsured adults.

No News is Good News—Or is It?

by Richard Sagall, MD

This essay first appeared in Pediatrics for Parents (www.pedsforparents.com) Volume 30, issue 7-8

 

file9331281774984The doctor saw you or your child and ordered some tests. It may have been a blood panel, a check on urine, or perhaps an X-ray. As you leave the office the doctor says, “I’m sure all will be normal, but I want to be sure. I will call you if there are any problems. Remember, no news is good news!”

 

You leave optimistic everything will turn out fine. Then, a few days later you begin to wonder if all the tests came out normal. You haven’t heard from the doctor, but then remember she said she would call if there were a problem.

 

The real issue is that the “no news is good news” approach is all wrong. It leaves the patient dangling and is open to all sorts of errors and opportunities for miscommunication. Let’s look at what no news could really mean.

 

1. The specimen never made it to the lab. You know the blood was drawn or the urine was collected, but you don’t know if the specimen was actually sent to the lab. Maybe the specimen was mislabeled or lost. And you never hear about the results.

 

2. The lab never did the test. Labs are pretty automated, but mistakes do happen. Specimens get mixed up and errors occur. And you never hear about the results.

 

3. The doctor never receives the results. No one realizes the results never arrive. And you never hear about the results.

 

4. The report is received by the doctor and gets misfiled. Even with electronic medical records, there’s still a lot of paper in doctors’ offices. The report ends up in the wrong record or wrong pile. And you never hear about the results.

 

5. The results are abnormal, but no one notices it. No one notices the results are not normal. And you never hear about the results.

 

6. The results are abnormal, but you are never notified. Staff in medical offices are busy. They may intend to call you, but never do. And you never hear about the results.

 

None of these events are common, but all can and do occur. In each case you never are notified, so you hope and assume that your results are normal. These possible failures of communication are why you should always request a copy of the results. If the test was important enough to do, then it’s important that you take the final responsibility to make sure the results are properly reviewed and you receive the results, whether they are normal or not.

 

But there’s another reason you should have a copy of your test results. Families are more mobile than ever now, and it’s rare to have the same doctor or use the same practice over a lifetime (or even a few years). If you move from one town to another, or from one state to another, you need your medical records and test results for your new medical practice. That’s why it’s best you have a copy of all your medical records.

 

The next time your doctor says “no news is good news” – speak up and say that’s not true. Insist on hearing from your doctor no matter the results and ask the practice to send you a copy. The information is yours and you have a right to it.

 

Rich Sagall MDRichard J. Sagall, MD, is the president and co-founder of NeedyMeds. He spent 25 years practicing family and occupational medicine. He now devotes his time to NeedyMeds and Pediatrics for Parents(www.pedsforparents.com), a children’s health newsletter.

Introducing HealthWeb Navigator

This blog originally appeared on HealthWeb Navigator, a new site by NeedyMeds.  It has reviews of health-related websites to help you find the best, most medically reliable information. You can see the beta version of HealthWeb Navigator at www.healthwebnav.org.

 

post-thumbWhat is HealthWeb Navigator and How Does It Work?

 

HealthWeb Navigator (HWN) directs you to health care websites that provide up-to-date and clear information. HWN resembles a guidebook that recommends the best places to visit on the Web.

 

Our staff constantly searches the Internet to find health care websites that appear useful to consumers. Our external review panel then evaluates any promising websites. These unpaid volunteers have backgrounds in health care, business, education, consumerism and patient advocacy.

 

Each website is scored by several reviewers on content, readability, usability and design. Based on this evaluation, the website is assigned a final rating of one to five stars.

Websites listed in HWN are constantly evaluated for content and maintenance of quality. Our search for new websites is a continuous process. Promising websites are reviewed quarterly.

The websites are listed under Topics that represent major categories of health information. Each topic has Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) to provide background.

The Search function uses keywords to find topics; subtopics; or the names and/or descriptions of websites listed on HWN. Each listed website has a brief description, a grade with reviewer comments and a hyperlink to the website content.

 

HWN is a free, non-profit service funded by grants, donations and significant effort from volunteers. Our goal is to help consumers become more informed about health care. However, we have no responsibility for any website’s content, including medical advice. You should discuss any medical issues with your health care provider.

We welcome your feedback and inquiries. For general issues and comments, please contact us at info@healthwebnav.org. If you have questions about website content, or find any errors, contact webmaster@healthwebnav.org. Our team will do its best to address the problem.

 

Please note that HealthWeb Navigator is currently in beta and it may change for its full launch. Notify the email addresses above if you encounter any bugs or other issues while using the site, and feel free to take the survey linked at the top of the HealthWeb Navigator home page to give further input on the site.

Patient Assistance Programs (PAPs)

NeedyMeds was started in 1997 when a family physician and a medical social worker realized there were dozens of pharmaceutical patient assistance programs available, providing medications to those in need at low- or no cost, but no centralized resource for the information.  We became that resource, using the relatively new Internet as the perfect medium for the constantly changing information.  Despite growing significantly since our inception, we still have an expanding database of Patient Assistance Programs (PAPs) to help those unable to cover the costs of prescriptions.

 

pillbottlecashPatient assistance programs are typically run by pharmaceutical companies to help uninsured and underinsured patients get their medication for free or low-cost. There are no regulations or laws dictating that pharmaceutical companies must provide PAPs, so the eligibility requirements often vary from program to program. Most require personal information (full name, address, date of birth, social security number), information from your doctor, and a valid prescription.  Some PAPs require information on insurance status or household income.  When using NeedyMeds, you can find the program’s requirements listed on the program information page as well as the downloadable application for the PAP if available.

 

Patient assistance program information remains one of the primary resources we offer at NeedyMeds, with almost 22,000 callers from our toll-free helpline being referred to a PAP for their medication in 2015 alone. We list PAPs on our website by both Brand Name and Generic drugs, and we currently list over 3900 medications with at least one program offering them for low- or no-cost.

 

Every day at NeedyMeds, we are working on our listings of patient assistance programs, contacting the programs directly to update information and get the latest application forms.  To help patients and advocates stay abreast of the latest changes and new programs, we developed Patient Assistance Program Update Service (PAPUS)—a daily or weekly email notifying users of the changes made to PAPs.

 

Applying to patient assistance programs can be very time consuming, particularly for advocates and healthcare professionals with many patients applying to multiple programs. We offer a piece of software for agencies, doctor’s offices, and social welfare organizations that simplifies this process. PAPTracker takes patient and doctor information and, using our database of patient assistance programs, creates completed PAP applications ready to be sent to the programs. We offer a 30-day free trial of the software, as well as a grant program to use the software at a reduced cost (PAPTracker is not for individuals).

 

NeedyMeds exists to help those struggling with the high costs of medicine and medical care.  You can search your medication in the Drug Search on the NeedyMeds website, or call our toll-free helpline (800-503-6897) for more assistance finding a program that can help.

LGBT Health Awareness Week

Since 2003, the last week of March has been LGBT Health Awareness Week.  We have gone over some of the barriers to healthcare for some of the transgender community in a previous blog post, but it remains important to bring awareness to the unique healthcare needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and the health disparities that continue to beleaguer the lives of so many Americans.

 

rainbowcaduceusA report by the Institute of Medicine found that fear of discrimination causes many LGBT people to avoid seeking out medical care.  This compromises an entire community as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals who are at increased risk for several health threats when compared to heterosexual or cisgender peer groups: Gay men are at higher risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections; lesbians are less likely to get cancer screenings; transgender individuals are among the least likely to have health insurance.  Even as youths, LGBT people are at higher risk of violence, depression, substance abuse, homelessness, and other suicide-related behaviors.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has helped over 10 million Americans gain insurance.  The ACA also prohibited health insurance marketplaces from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.  Last year’s Supreme Court ruling of Obergefell v. Hodges recognizing marriage between gay and lesbian couples throughout the nation led to more married couples to access their spouse’s health insurance, but also had the effect of cutting some domestic-partner benefits to unmarried couples offered by employers.

 

Despite steps taken, the LGBT community still ranks among the most underserved populations in terms of healthcare. Homophobia and stigma can negatively impact one’s ability to receive suitable care.  Over 27% of transgender people in the US report being denied health care.  Mental health is a major concern for LGBT individuals often dealing with physical or emotional abuse, body dysmorphia, depression, or feeling unsafe at school or work, and there are still areas of the United States where finding sympathetic and appropriate help can be prohibitively difficult.

 

For those who have experienced discrimination, the National Center for Transgender Equality has information on steps that can be taken to notify the US Department of Health and Human Services.  This information is important for any member of the LGBT community who have been discriminated against in their search for healthcare.  If you are looking for a LGBT-friendly medical center, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has an interactive map with locations of over 1500 healthcare facilities. The HRC also has information on finding insurance for transgender-related healthcare, which can be a challenge for many transgender people even after the ACA.

To further help those in need, NeedyMeds has a growing list of programs in our Diagnosis-Based Assistance database for transgender/gender non-conforming people that offer various forms of assistance such as financial aid or legal services. NeedyMeds’ unique crowdfunding platform HEALfundr is also available for individuals trying to raise funds for their transition and other members of the LGBT community to receive appropriate healthcare. For young people looking towards a higher education, we have information on an academic scholarship supporting LGBT youth.  If you know any programs assisting LGBT individuals that we don’t have listed on our site, please leave a comment and let us know about it.

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