A Dying Town

The tagline for this story is: “Here in a corner of Missouri and across America, the lack of a college education has become a public-health crisis.”

1. This is a long-ish story. 2. This is not a happy story. Damned depressing, in fact. I share it because it’s about Kennett, Missouri, the small town where I grew up in the 50s and 60s and to which I returned as an adult in the 70s.

Kennett was a swell (yes, we used words like ‘swell’ back then) place to grow up. The good example of small town America in the mid-twentieth century. It was fraying around the edges by the time Barb and I left in the early 80s and these days I hardly recognize it on my infrequent trips back.

This story (from the Chronicle of Higher Education) paints a bleak picture of Kennett and thousands (?) of little towns like it across the country. The focus of the piece seems to be the link between education and health.

“People with less education are twice as likely, for instance, to die of lung cancer or COPD. Heart attacks and strokes are far more common for those without much schooling — one study found that heart-attack rates for middle-aged adults who hadn’t finished high school were double those with a college degree.”

Lots of well-documented factoids like this and while they’re hardly surprising, the author does a nice job of putting human faces on the data.

But for one fateful phone call back in ’84, I might still be living in Kennett, MO. Some of my lifelong friends still do. So this is a “what might have been” story for me in some ways.

Telemedicine

“A partnership between New York-Presbyterian (hospital) and Walgreens is pushing telemedicine further into the mainstream. NYP announced Monday that its physicians will be accessible remotely for non-life-threatening illnesses through Walgreens’ online portal and self-service kiosks at select Walgreen-owned Duane Reade locations in New York. The partnership is an expansion of NYP’s OnDemand platform for telehealth and mHealth services, which was launched in 2016. For $99 per session, patients can visit secure, private kiosks to be examined by doctors via video chat. The kiosks are also fitted with connected devices for examinations, including blood pressure cuffs, forehead thermometers, and dermatoscopes. Doctors can also send prescriptions to the patient’s preferred pharmacy.”

I’m a supporter of this tech trend. My docs for the last 7 or 8 years have been part of the University of Missouri Health Care system and at least half of my interaction has been on a secure online system (that includes all my records, lab reports, physician notes, etc). It’s been great. I still see my doc when necessary. I’ve been dealing with allergy and sinus issues for months and almost all of that has been online. No idea how much time that has saved me (travel, waiting room, etc) but more importantly, my physician.

The smart phone and teen mental health

From an article by Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University, and author of a book on psychological changes across generations (Generation Me) and apparently has just published another (iGen).

“Around 2012, something started going wrong in the lives of teens. In just the five years between 2010 and 2015, the number of US teens who felt useless and joyless — classic symptoms of depression — surged 33 percent in large national surveys. Teen suicide attempts increased 23 percent. Even more troubling, the number of 13- to 18-year-olds who committed suicide jumped 31 percent.”

“In a new paper published in Clinical Psychological Science, my colleagues and I found that the increases in depression, suicide attempts and suicide appeared among teens from every background — more privileged and less privileged, across all races and ethnicities and in every region of the country. All told, our analysis found that the generation of teens I call ‘iGen’ — those born after 1995 — is much more likely to experience mental health issues than their millennial predecessors.”

“What happened so that so many more teens, in such a short period of time, would feel depressed, attempt suicide and commit suicide? After scouring several large surveys of teens for clues, I found that all of the possibilities traced back to a major change in teens’ lives: the sudden ascendance of the smartphone. All signs point to the screen.”

Humana scam

I have a supplemental (to Medicare) insurance policy for prescriptions with Humana. This morning I received a call from a rep letting me know I could “save some money without making any changes to my policy.” All I had to do was say “yes.” I was driving at the time but she gave me a number I could call. I was a few minutes into this second call when it became clear I would be getting my prescriptions from the Humana online pharmacy. I said no thanks. It was a sneaky, back-door move all the way. All they had to say — up front — was I could save X dollars a month by buy my drugs from them. But that would have been way too honest.

If someone calls you on the phone and tells you they can save you some money… they’re trying to fuck you.

907 Humana Health Insurance Consumer Reviews and Complaints

“Simply hold your phone to your neck for a minute or two”

In an experiment, the technique was found to be as accurate as a 45-minute echocardiography scan, which currently requires a trained technician operating an expensive ultrasound machine. The smartphone technique measures how much the carotid artery displaces the skin of the neck as blood pumps through it.

To test the app, clinical trials were conducted with 72 volunteers between the ages of 20 and 92 at an outpatient magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) facility. MRI is the gold standard in measuring LVEF but is seldom used clinically due to its high cost and limited availability. The measurements made by smartphone had a margin of error of ±19.1 percent compared with those done in an MRI. By way of comparison, the margin of error for echocardiography is around ±20.0 percent.

Full story

Meditation: 365 Days

According to the app I use to track my meditation practice, today was the 365th consecutive day of sitting. Cool. One year with zero misses. Which means absolutely nothing other than I’ve been consistent in my practice. I started keeping track on November 30, 2014 and ran up a string of 371 days before missing a day (pneumonia). The next run — 271 days — ended while I was out of town attending my 50th high school reunion. Which might be the worst excuse imaginable. And now I’m less than a week away from beating that 371 string. Two days without meditating in the past 1,007 days.

The only day that counts, of course, is today. The app and keeping my streak alive give me a little extra incentive to sit every day but I don’t need much incentive these days. The time I spend in meditation is almost always the best part of my day.

Next milestone? 500 days.

Meditation can ‘reverse’ DNA reactions

“Lead investigator Ivana Buric from the Brain, Belief and Behaviour Lab in Coventry University’s Centre for Psychology, Behaviour and Achievement said: “Millions of people around the world already enjoy the health benefits of mind-body interventions like yoga or meditation, but what they perhaps don’t realise is that these benefits begin at a molecular level and can change the way our genetic code goes about its business.

The research, published today in the journal Frontiers in Immunology, reviews over a decade of studies analysing how the behaviour of our genes is affected by different MBIs including mindfulness and yoga. […] When examined together, the 18 studies — featuring 846 participants over 11 years — reveal a pattern in the molecular changes which happen to the body as a result of MBIs, and how those changes benefit our mental and physical health.

Neuralink and the Brain’s Magical Future

When I share something here, I try to include a paragraph or two to give the reader a sense of what the piece is about and some feel for what I thought was interesting/important. It’s difficult to know what to excerpt with this… I don’t even know what to call it… “explainer” by Tim Urban. At 38,000 words it is the longest thing I’ve ever read on the Internet (not counting books). He explains the brain. Where it’s been and where it might be going. That I was able to read such a long piece is a testament to a) the subject matter and b) his writing style. I said I wasn’t going to include any excerpts but here’s a couple:

“Die Progress Unit (DPU) – How many years one would need to go into the future that the ensuing shock from the level of progress would kill you.”

“Putting our technology into our brains isn’t about whether it’s good or bad to become cyborgs. It’s that we are cyborgs and we will continue to be cyborgs—so it probably makes sense to upgrade ourselves from primitive, low-bandwidth cyborgs to modern, high-bandwidth cyborgs.”

Second opinion nets different diagnosis 88% of time

“A new study finds that nearly 9 in 10 people who go for a second opinion after seeing a doctor are likely to leave with a refined or new diagnosis from what they were first told. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic examined 286 patient records of individuals who had decided to consult a second opinion, hoping to determine whether being referred to a second specialist impacted one’s likelihood of receiving an accurate diagnosis.”

“Among those with updated diagnoses, 66% received a refined or redefined diagnosis, while 21% were diagnosed with something completely different than what their first physician concluded.”

The study was published in the Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice.