Elder-care researchers: Critics using invalid arguments to oppose statewide Question 1 – Paul Osterman

MIT Sloan Prof. Paul Osterman

MIT Sloan Prof. Paul Osterman

From Portland Press Herald

Everybody knows that the population of older adults is set to explode as the baby boomers age. Everybody knows that overwhelmingly, the elderly want to remain in their homes even as they need help with daily living.

But what people may not know is that many older adults in Maine will not be able to achieve this unless something changes. What could change for the better is a favorable vote on Question 1. And contrary to the lies that critics are spreading, Question 1 would be good for the economy, as well as Maine families.

As experts who have spent decades researching the economics of caregiving and the effectiveness of social policy, it has been infuriating to see opponents of Question 1 try to dupe Mainers with unsound arguments and scare tactics. The argument for Question 1 is clear: Older Mainers currently do not have the freedom of choice to stay at home as long as they want to, for two reasons.

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These 5 “productive” habits are doing your brain more harm than good – Tara Swart

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Tara Swart

From Fast Company

It’s probably no surprise to you that exercise, nutrition, and caffeine can have a significant impact on your brain health. You’ve probably read many articles giving you advice on how they can help your mind. You might even have adopted a habit or two.

But while certain practices seem productive in theory, they’re more likely to hamper your brain function rather than boost it. Here are 5 of those common habits, and what you can do instead:

URBAN JOGGING OR CITY CYCLING

Whenever I see joggers on city pavements, I want to stop them and tell them to stay away from the roadside and head to the gym. This is because although cardiovascular exercise is a great way to boost alertness, mood, and learning, inhaling polluted air means you may cancel out much of the benefit. Particulate matter from car exhaust is terrible for the brain–it can lead to neuroinflammation and cognitive decline.

When you inhale polluted air, it reduces levels of BDNF in the brain. BDNF is a protein that enhances brain plasticity–which improves cognition and memory performance. One study looked at BDNF levels among cyclists who rode in heavy traffic and found that the exercise led to no increase in BDNF at all.

The best alternative for urban dwellers is to head to an indoor gym–but if you don’t want to give up your outdoor run, download an air-quality app and check your route before a ride or a run. There are lots to choose from, including Air Matters, Air Visual App, and Breezometer. You can also just avoid major roads altogether, and jog on woodland trails or in park interiors instead, away from traffic and fumes.

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Hospitals hit back on drug pricing, but will they knock out the problem? – Ernst Berndt

From The Conversation

MIT Sloan Professor Ernst Berndt

MIT Sloan Professor Ernst Berndt

Drug manufacturing and pricing vaulted into the news several years ago when a privately held company raised the price of a drug used for infections from US$13.50 to $750 for one pill.

After an outcry from hospitals, the company later relented, dropping its price by a small margin. Still, this single dramatic increase shed light on the once obscure arena of older generic drugs that continue to be in short supply and whose prices occasionally skyrocket.

Frustrated with these shortages and alarmed by the potential for price gouging, a coalition of hospitals has recently struck back. Four not-for-profit, religiously affiliated hospital systems and the U.S. Veterans’ Administration announced their intent to form a company that would manufacture generic drugs, thereby helping to mitigate or eliminate shortages and prevent future massive price spikes for rarely used generic drugs.

I’m an economist who has studied the health care industry, including the U.S. generic industry, and I see a few regulatory and business hurdles to this approach.

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Defending hospitals against life-threatening cyberattacks – Mohammad S. Jalali

Mohammad Jalali, MIT Sloan Research Scientist

From The Conversation

Like any large company, a modern hospital has hundreds – even thousands – of workers using countless computers, smartphones and other electronic devices that are vulnerable to security breaches, data thefts and ransomware attacks. But hospitals are unlike other companies in two important ways. They keep medical records, which are among the most sensitive data about people. And many hospital electronics help keep patients alive, monitoring vital signs, administering medications, and even breathing and pumping blood for those in the most dire conditions.

A 2013 data breach at the University of Washington Medicine medical group compromised about 90,000 patients’ records and resulted in a US$750,000 fine from federal regulators. In 2015, the UCLA Health system, which includes a number of hospitals, revealed that attackers accessed a part of its network that handled information for 4.5 million patients. Cyberattacks can interrupt medical devices, close emergency rooms and cancel surgeries. The WannaCry attack, for instance, disrupted a third of the UK’s National Health Service organizations, resulting in canceled appointments and operations. These sorts of problems are a growing threat in the health care industry.

Protecting hospitals’ computer networks is crucial to preserving patient privacy – and even life itself. Yet recent research shows that the health care industry lags behind other industries in securing its data.

I’m a systems scientist at MIT Sloan School of Management, interested in understanding complex socio-technical systems such as cybersecurity in health care. A former student, Jessica Kaiser, and I interviewed hospital officials in charge of cybersecurity and industry experts, to identify how hospitals manage cybersecurity issues. We found that despite widespread concern about lack of funding for cybersecurity, two surprising factors more directly determine whether a hospital is well protected against a cyberattack: the number and varied range of electronic devices in use and how employees’ roles line up with cybersecurity efforts. Read More »

We found ways to shorten the turnaround time for diagnosing babies with HIV – Jónas Oddur Jónasson

MIT Sloan Asst. Prof. Jónas Oddur Jónasson

From The Conversation

They say timing is everything. And in sub-Saharan Africa, where roughly a third of untreated HIV infected babies die before they reach the age of one, a timely diagnosis is everything.

According to the latest UNAIDS data, 150, 000 children are infected with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa, annually. Due to the high number of children dying, diagnosing babies with HIV as early as possible is critical.

Public health officials have been grappling with this for many years. How can they reduce the time it takes to get newborns’ blood samples to the diagnostic lab and the test results back? This matters because it determines how soon babies can start medical treatment. The average turnaround time in sub-Saharan Africa often range from one to three months.

In general, shorter turnaround times can be achieved by improving the clinic-to-lab supply chain. This can happen through increasing the number of vehicles equipped to transport samples, hiring enough drivers, training enough medical personnel, buying the right type of diagnostic equipment, and improving communication systems.

African countries like Malawi and Nigeria have done this, with impressive results. Read More »