Is Workplace Wellness Worth It?

Employers spend billions of dollars each year on wellness programs in an attempt to keep down rising health costs. But does that investment result in widespread better health? There’s reason to believe it does not, even though wellness programs account for a 6-10 billion dollar industry in this country.

Workplace wellness

Argonne National Laboratory employees participate in the company’s bike share program. Argonne National Laboratory / Creative Commons via Flickr

That said, Harvard Business Review reported in 2010 that Johnson & Johnson realized a return of $2.71 on every dollar spent on wellness.

Some companies offer breaks on health premiums for employees who participate in health risk assessments. Others may require employees to quit smoking or lose weight.

Gallup reports that there is much more to an effective wellness program than simply making it available, and explores ways to make wellness a meaningful value in the workplace.

But Kaiser Health News’ Julie Rovner reports that overall it is unclear whether such programs result in better health.

Dissonance: Music, Creativity and Mental Health

Dissonance 2014 group

“Dissonance: Mental Health and Music” with Adam Levy, Justin Pierre, Astronautilis, Caroline Smith, David Campbell, Sarah Souder Johnson and David Lewis.  Photo: Stacy Schwartz / McNally Smith

Is creativity linked to mental imbalance? How do working artists come to terms with obsession and addiction?

McNally Smith College of Music, 89.3 The Current, and Healthy States recently offered an evening of performance and personal conversation about music and mental health featuring Adam Levy of The Honeydogs, Justin Pierre of Motion City Soundtrack, Andy Bothwell (Astronautalis) and Caroline Smith. Each shares their music and personal story of their path toward mental health and artistic expression.

Hosted by The Current’s David Campbell and Sarah Souder Johnson, Director of Student Life and Counseling at McNally Smith, this event challenged the stigma of mental illness and the misperceptions about the connections between creativity and mental health through inspiring stories of recovery and self-expression.

In the Twin Cities, tune in to 89.3 The Current on Sunday, December 14th, at 10:00pm CT for the event’s broadcast. Check out The Current’s online feature and enjoy the entire evening in video.

David Katz and Prabjhot Singh Transform Public Health

MPR News Presents” continues its series of broadcasts from the Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation’s 2014 Transform symposium. Dr. David Katz, an author, clinician and researcher, reports on new epigenetic findings that lifestyle changes can actually alter the genetic codes that predict health futures. Katz says that  “lifestyle as medicine” can create better outcomes for cancer and other serious illness.

“MPR News Presents” also features Dr. Prabjhot Singh, a physician and co-founder of City Health Works, a Harlem-based clinic that imports African models of care to help people before they get sick. City Health Works bases its approach on a model in Cape Town, South Africa that uses community heath educators to help individuals address chronic health problems.

Healthy States was a media sponsor of the 2014 Transform symposium, held in Rochester, Minnesota.

Blood Donor Policy Change May Allow Gay Donors

Editor’s Note 12/11/14 – The FDA panel’s meeting ended without a vote on the policy that bans gay men from donating blood. Reports say that if the FDA panel had voted, members would have kept the ban in place. Those who want the ban lifted are unhappy with this outcome.

The Food and Drug Administration is considering changing its policy that in effect bans gay men from donating blood. The policy says all men who have had sexual contact with another man in the last 37 years are, in the FDA’s terminology, “deferred” from donating blood, regardless of how they identify themselves. FDA policy also bans intravenous drug abusers, people who have received transplanted animal or tissue donations, sex workers, and those who have recently returned from specific international destinations.

Blood donation

Blood donation. Adam Piotrowski / Creative Commons via Flickr

The FDA policy was initiated decades ago out of fear of contaminating the U.S. blood supply with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Men who have sex with other men have the highest rates of HIV transmission in this country. Advocates for the change object to the policy because it targets sexual orientation rather than the specific risky behavior proven to transmit the virus. They want the FDA to drop the blanket ban on men who have sex with men and instead screen out only those people who engage in risky behaviors.

Many professional health organizations agree with the change. They say allowing some men who have sex with men to donate blood is not likely to increase the risk of contracting AIDS through blood transfusions. And it’s estimated that lifting the restriction has the potential to help 1.8 million people annually.

If the FDA makes a change, it will likely allow men who have sex with men to donate blood only if they have been abstinent for at least one year. The potential change is considered by some as relatively arbitrary and not based in science.

Transforming Health Care: Insights from Lisa Sanders & Eric Dishman

“MPR News Presents” features two standout speakers from the Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation’s 2014 Transform symposium.

Lisa Sanders, M.D., discusses the enduring difficulties facing medical clinicians in arriving at correct diagnoses. Sanders, who assisted in the creation of the hit television drama “House M.D.,” uses her experience to help doctors become better diagnosticians in part by partnering more effectively with their patients. Sanders is also the author of the “Diagnosis” and “Think Like a Doctor” columns featured in The New York Times.

The radio broadcast also features Eric Dishman, founding member of Intel’s Digital Health Group and general manager of the company’s Health and Life Sciences Group. Dishman’s personal story of surviving cancer made him a “superuser” of the complex and intractable health care system.

Public Health Works to Keep Pace with Legalized Marijuana Markets

Medical marijuana is now legal in 23 states and the District of Columbia, and five of those jurisdictions also have legalized recreational use (Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and the District of Columbia). This has raised an urgent need for public health departments to develop regulations and enforcement strategies to monitor the products sold for both purposes. States’ efforts are complicated by the wide variety of marijuana products. The drug is now available as a plant to smoke or vape, as an oil to heat or injest like cough syrup, as a drink, as a pill and in a variety of edible forms.

Legal Sale Of Recreational Marijuana Begins In Colorado

Sam Walsh, a budtender, sets up marijuana products as the 3-D Denver Discrete Dispensary prepares to open for retail sales on January 1, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. Theo Stroomer / Getty Images

This NPR report examines efforts in Colorado to regulate ingredients, processing and preparation of marijuana products. The NPR report suggests Colorado is the state that other states are watching as they legalize their own forms of cannabis. And it’s clear the situation there is a work in progress. This Brookings Institution report from July offers a report card of sorts for the state’s regulatory infrastructure.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) is still figuring out how to handle new marijuana infused foods and drinks. And a recent investigation by a local Colorado television station and USA Today raises serious questions about how well the regulatory apparatus is actually working to protect consumers.

Aside from regulating the products on the market, public health officials are also trying to figure out how to guide consumers regarding dosage to achieve their desired goal — to get high or to manage a health condition. The CDPHE is considering a list of medical marijuana research projects for funding. But federal regulations may stand in the way of this research. The federal government still considers marijuana a drug on par with heroine and LSD, so various agencies must sign off on any experiments. So far, some scientists have had difficulty acquiring the necessary approvals.

Transforming Health Care: Insights from Elisabeth Rosenthal & Mark Bertolini

MPR News Presents, a daily public affairs broadcast of long-form content, offers two presentations on health care reform from the Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation’s 2014 Transform conference.

Elisabeth Rosenthal, the award-winning New York Times reporter behind their “Paying Till It Hurts” series, talks about how consumers are demanding change in the health care cost and billing system.

Mark Bertolini, CEO of Aetna, shares his personal story of struggling with the health care system, and shares his insights about how the health care industry must adapt to two things: 1) the nature of what drives health care costs, and 2) the “impending and very close – much closer than all of us think – retail nature of the health care marketplace which none of us are really quite prepared for, but will happen sooner than we think.”

Here’s video of both presenters from the Transform conference, including Rosenthal’s interview following her talk with moderator John Hockenberry.

Immigrants & Health Care: Separating Politics from Policy

Immigrant health check

An immigrant farm worker gets a heart rate check during a visit to a mobile clinic in Colorado. John Moore / Getty Images

President Obama’s recent executive order extending legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants in this country has become a fulcrum of partisan debate. Advocates for immigrant communities have expressed disappointment that the order does not extend benefits of the Affordable Care Act to people whose status is now protected. The Obama administration has indicated immigrants who demonstrate the ability to pay taxes for at least five years will eventually become eligible, but has maintained throughout the public debate they would not immediately receive benefits.

Analysis by Bloomberg News says this has not prevented conservative critics from suggesting the order will result in millions of illegal immigrants getting medical benefits, even as  immigrant advocates complain about their stakeholders being left out.

For the nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States and the medical providers who serve them, the executive order doesn’t actually change much.

The UCLA Center for Health Policy Research reports that many immigrants access care at “safety net” community clinics and hospital emergency rooms. These clinics receive some federal reimbursement for care through emergency Medicaid and the Medicaid Disproportionate Care Hospital Program.

Politico’s analysis suggests that there may still be an uptick in the number of people in some immigrant communities who buy health insurance. That’s because legal residents who have undocumented relatives may feel more comfortable signing up for benefits.

Controlling Genes with your Thoughts

Remember the 1970’s television show The Bionic Woman? Jaime Sommers used her robotic legs, arm and ear to solve crimes for a U.S. intelligence agency.

At the time it was science fiction, but just last year researchers unveiled the first robotic leg controlled by a person’s brain, a project funded by the U.S. Army’s Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center. Here’s a quick video of the leg at work:

Now, Martin Fussenegger, a scientist of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, has taken that technology in a new direction. He is using electrical signals sent from the brain to control the expression of certain genes that impact pain and chronic disease. If a person has a migraine, the brain transmits an electrical signal which reaches specific genes that, when “turned on,” can end the migraine. Picture Jaime Sommers with the super-human ability to control pain.

Fussenegger’s work was just published in the highly regarded journal Nature Communications. It’s quite technical, so the L.A. Times offers a layman’s version. So far experiments have involved mice and Fussenger says it will likely be 10 years before the technology is ready for human use.

An African Model for American Health Care

NPR’s Joe Palca profiles the work of City Health Works, a Harlem clinic that uses health coaches to get medical care to patients before they become seriously ill. Coaches help make sure patients stay well by visiting them after treatment to help support follow-up care, medication, and diet.

City Health Works is the creation of Manmeet Kaur and her husband Dr. Prabhjot Singh, with help from a variety of philanthropic funders.

Dr. Singh recently gave this overview of their work in Harlem, and the African model of health care delivery that inspired it, in this presentation at the Mayo Clinic’s 2014 Transform symposium in Rochester, Minnesota.