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Archive for the ‘Industry trends’ Category

Flu Season is upon us…

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

The corporate flu vaccination season is winding down – fortunately, a relatively uneventful year with vaccine in plentiful supply, no recalls or distribution hiccups and a good match between the strains and the low level of flu that is circulating.  Early reports indicate that fewer employees received flu shots in the workplace this year – for  varying reasons.  In some cases, there are fewer employees.  In other cases, the cost of flu shots were prohibitive.  And finally, some employers turned to alternative sources for flu shots like local pharmacies and encouraged employees to see their shots (through their health plans) through those  retailers.  Participation in those programs was up significantly (roughly double last year’s numbers) but it will take several months to analyze data and determine if employees made that extra effort to go elsewhere for a flu shot.  Work site flu shots are easy and quick which often encourages those who might not otherwise get one to get in line on the way to lunch or the next meeting.

The widespread introduction of “flu cards” this season – the occupational health equivalent of a gift card for a flu shot – has been well received; despite the higher costs associated with them. Where flu vouchers in the past had redemption rates hovering as low as 10%, redemption rates on flu cards are averaging 30% or higher. We’ll definitely be seeing those programs grow in coming flu vaccination seasons.

So far, the flu season itself has been mild.  There is low level flu activity nationwide.  Upcoming holiday travel will provide a convenient vehicle for transmission and we’re sure to see higher flu activity in the coming weeks.

New Laboratory Test for Norovirus

Friday, March 11th, 2011

In one of the first advances in research on Norovirus in some time, the US Food and Drug Administration (FAD) announced approval of  a first test for the quick identification of norovirus.  The test, called Ridascreen Norovirus 3rd Generation EIA assay will be used when there appears to be a clear avenue for transmission (when a number of people are sick who became symptomatic at the same time and had a common food source).  This test allows for early identification which can lead to early intervention.  Current tests are often only performed as state labs and can take several days for results.  The test was designed by Biopharm of Darmstadt, Germany.

In the past, some food service providers and health departments have delayed taking prompt norovirus action pending laboratory confirmation.  This new test should speed up that process and allow for more rapid response to confirmed outbreaks.

The new test is slightly less specific than the older versions- it simply confirms the presence of norovirus and does so by comparing it to about 600 known noro samples trying to find a match.  PCR confirmation which identifies specific strains can  (and should) always be done as a second or follow up  step.

This new test if sure to be a valuable tool in the on-going Norovirus battle – which appears to be in peak season now.

For more information; visit:

What to expect this flu shot season (2010/ 2011)

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

Clearly, the 2009/2010 flu season was an unusual one.  The sudden appearance of H1N1, the lack of a vaccine, the decision to manufacture a vaccine and then its’ delayed arrival, all lead to a flu vaccination season like no other.  What’s on the horizon for the 2010/2011 flu vaccination season?  It may be early to say but we know the following:

1.  H1N1 is one of the three strains to be included in the seasonal flu vaccine.

2.  Vaccine prices have gone up.

3.  Nursing costs have also increased.

The WHO delivered the strains to the manufacturers on time but it is too soon to know how well the strains are growing.  We’ll get early reports from the manufacturers in about two weeks at the CDC/ AMA National Flu Vaccination Summit.

Last year, we saw the highest uptake of seasonal flu vaccine in history with nearly 40% of the US population getting their seasonal flu shots.  Let’s see if we can’t build on that this year.

Women and Medical Surveillance Programs: New challenges as the female workforce grows

Sunday, October 25th, 2009

Employees who participated in medical surveillance programs up until recently were overwhelmingly male.  That has changed in recent years and nearly every employer now has both male and female employees who are required to participate in annual medical surveillance requirements.  Yet, here has been no  medical surveillance program design, testing requirements or interpretation of findings based on gender.  Well, that may be changing very soon…

Recently, Corporate Wellness identified a pattern of abnormal laboratory findings in female employees who completed serum cholinesterase screens as baseline tests for a new environmental consulting client. They have more female employees than many others in the industry.  While the laboratory normal range for this test is 1900 to 3800 units per milliliter (U/mL), more than half of the female employees we tested this year had significantly lower results – some hovering around the 1000 U/mL mark even after retesting.  Normally,  we’d recommend limited potential for exposure and retest for 75% of normal and removal from all assignments that might include exposures for findings that are 60% of normal or below.

Together with Dr. Randy Young who heads clinical operations for LabCorp, we took a closer look.  We found that although there is currently only a single normal range for both males and females, normal findings for females, and especially females using estrogen based birth control, are more likely to be in the 1000 to 1800 units range – well below the published “normals” of 1800- to 3800 units.

LabCorp examined its own results, for our clients’ employees and their entire patient population and found that our observations appear to be correct.  And they will be publishing a new set of “normals” for both serum and rbc cholinesterase that are gender based.

For the moment, we are sending letters to all female employees whose laboratory results are below 1800 units, explaining where we are in the process of helping set new gender based normals but also offering retest if they’d like it.

We suspect that this may be the first of many things we learn as a result of the changing workforce.

The Big Question: What to expect this flu shot season

Friday, June 5th, 2009

Needless to say, while many flu experts were not surprised by the emergence of a flu pandemic, a majority of the rest of us were.  Yes, we’d been hearing we were overdue for one. We’d been advised to draft pandemic plans. Byt there was not real sense of urgency.  There is now!
There are several aspects of this situation that are surprising, even to the flu experts.

Obama’s Aggressive Agenda for Healthcare Reform

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Word has is that President Obama wants a vote on his health care reform plan before Congress recesses for summer.  It is an aggressive timeline …

Our health care reform gold star of the week goes to Congressman John Hall who proposes that Congress itself participate in whatever health care plan is passed .  Congressman Hall subscribes to the theory – if it’s good enough for you., it’s good enough for us  Hat’s off to him for this proactive approach for staving off critics of the yet to be fully designed plan.

Our health care reform black mark of the week goes to Richard Scott; founder of Columbia/HC who has formed the group Conservatives for Patients Right and raised nearly $20 million to fight President Obama’s plan.  Keep in mind that Mr. Scott is the same man who was ousted from the company he founded after the FBI raided five Columbia Hospitals and three executives were indicted for systemic Medicare fraud.  Seems that he’s the wrong guy to be telling us we’re wrong in trying to fix this mess he helped create.

The bottom line is that fixing health care is key to righting the economy.  They are inextricably intertwined.  We cannot move forward without some kind of health care reform.  Obama’s plan may not be perfect, might not even be close, but at least it is a start.  And you have to start somewhere.

New Crisis Looming: COBRA Declinations Abound

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

It seems that there is a new health care crisis looming -one we may not have seen coming.  The average monthly COBRA bill for a family is almost $1500.  And the newly unemployed simply can’t afford it.  Sometimes, the monthly unemployment insurance is less than that. Only a very small percentage of those affected by layoffs are accepting COBRA.  And that means that we have a whole new uninsured population.  

Doctors are reporting fewer office visits.  Dentists who never had available appointment slots do now.  Pharmacists are reporting an increase in unfilled prescriptions and refills not being  picked up.

At this point, this is fairly anectodal but the short and long term impact on the health care system is likely to be severe. We haven’t seen where this is going but it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere good.

Google Flu Trends – Truly Extraodinary!

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

For years now, the CDC tracks the spread of influenza each year beginning in early October.  They receive reports from emergency rooms, hospitals and doctors nationally and publish that data on their website – generally about two weeks after the fact.

But here comes Google with Google Flu Trends and a totally new way to find out what is happening out there in real time.  Who is sick enough today to be googling flu remedies?  Who is wondering how long their ailing spouse is going to be home?

Google Flutrends tracks computer users web searches for words related to flu – influenza, flu, fever, flu remedies, etc.  And it appears that Google is accurately trending the spread of flu two weeks ahead of the CDC.  All we can say is Wow!

Of course, there are already naysayers.  Google insists it is tracking and using anonymous aggregated data to conduct its trending analysis.  The folks at EPIC , the Electronic Privacy Information Center,  filed a Freedom of Information Act request asking federal officials to disclose how much user search data the company has recently transmitted to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, as part of Google Flu Trends.

But the implications for predicting a flu pandemic and being able to take precautionary action at an earlier point are signficant.  And its potential tracking other infectious diseases and other types of illness is incredibly exciting.

Google does it again…

Finally – US DOL Issues Revised FMLA Regulations

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

It’s here and it’s 750 pages long.  It was originally published in February, 2008.  And on November 17th, the Department DOL Logoof Labor finally published its revised regulations to guide employers as we navigate FMLA.

Employers had identified many areas that required clarification  since the FMLA was enacted. And the new regulations do address many of them.  For instance, most of us see a potential of abuse of intermittent leave and  we also find gray areas that prevent asking medical questions regarding FMLA that are allowed under the ADA.

But, and it’s a big but, according to Frank Alvarez of Jackson Lewis, ” Many employers do not have the resources to master complex FMLA rules.  Most are cutting staff and slashing training budgets.  At the same time, they can’t afford to ignore this issue.  FMLA is a major compliance obligation, and in the midst of today’s economic uncertainty, attendance and productivity can be keys to a company’s survival.”


Hidden Costs of Medical Surveillance

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

Recently, we were asked ” Just what are the hidden costs of managing medical surveillance programs that you sometimes talk about?”  That may sound like a simple question but it really leads to a series of much more difficult questions.

 When was the last time that one of your new hires had his start date delayed because his medical clearance had not been received?

Did the delayed start cost you billable hours?

Did the delayed start cost you additional overtime or additional payments for contract personnel?

When was the last time one of your field personnel had to return to a clinic a second time or even a third time because some portion of the annual medical requirement had been omitted?

How many errors are there on the bills you review?

The cost of an asbestos exam isn’t simply what the clinic charges you for that exam.  Did they do the correct exam, with only the necessary components, in a single visit with minimal waiting time and report it  and bill it accurately in a timely fashion?