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Among the people and programs coming in for prominent media coverage during recent months was a Dartmouth study on smoking in the movies. From a report on BBC Brasil to a story by Agence France-Presse, from a page-one item in USA Today to a feature in the London Daily Mail, the study made the news worldwide. Wrote Associated Press: "Smoking clouds the silver screen about as much as it did more than a decade ago, when tobacco companies agreed to stop paying filmmakers to feature their brands, a new study shows." And, explained the Los Angeles Times, "The Dartmouth team found that 87% of popular movies contain tobacco use. . . . 'We adults don't really notice how much smoking goes on in movies, unless we're looking for it,' says Dr. James Sargent, the pediatrician who led the study. . . . 'But kids are like sponges; they pick up all this stuff.'"

"The nationwide shortage of flu vaccine," charges of "profiteering" by drug companies, and what the federal government can do about it were the subject of a story in the Detroit News. "'There is no one person in charge [of distribution],' said Dr. John Modlin, a Dartmouth Medical School professor who heads a Centers for Disease Control committee on vaccines. 'I'm not sure the government has any constitutional right to step into private commerce like this.' Modlin knows of one hospital that paid $3.50 per dose for its first batch of the vaccine, only to be told that the next batch would cost $13.50 per dose. . . . Modlin said he's received calls from across the country complaining about inequitable distribution."

The New York Times's Gina Kolata recently explored several efforts to improve patients' interactions with their doctors. The ideas range from new scheduling methods, to group visits for patients with the same condition, to the use of phone calls in lieu of office visits. "Based on the early results," she wrote, "some medical groups across the nation are starting to incorporate the innovations. . . . 'This isn't rocket science,' said Dr. John Wasson, a Dartmouth doctor who invented one of the new methods. . . . He developed a study to see whether telephone calls from a doctor might substitute for some office visits. . . . Two years later, the patients who received the calls had 19% fewer office visits, used 14% less medication, and had fewer admissions to the hospital and shorter stays when they were admitted. Their medical costs were about 28% less."

Redbook magazine recently had some advice for women who have an abnormal Pap test result if their doctors recommend cryosurgery—they'll "probably tell you it's routine, tolerable, and quick," noted the item. "But 'most doctors don't adequately inform their patients about the uncomfortable and lengthy healing process,' says ob-gyn Diane Harper, M.D., of Dartmouth Medical School." She went on to explain exactly what women can expect following cryosurgery.

The syndicated column "Parent to Parent" turned to a DMS expert for advice on helping children adjust to a move. "Stuart Copans, M.D., a child psychiatrist on the faculty of Dartmouth Medical School, has worked with many children and adolescents for whom moving was a significant stressor. When children move, they lose a whole range of supports—the physical environment they are used to and the friends they have had in their old community, Copans says. It's crucial for parents to listen carefully to their child to diagnose accurately the sources of [the] difficulty."

The Boston Globe wrote recently about new technologies aimed at making the supply of donated blood safer. "'Despite reductions in the risk of pathogen transmission by blood transfusion, there remains a residual risk of disease transmission from known and as-yet-undiscovered pathogens,' said Dr. James AuBuchon, a professor and acting chair of pathology at Dartmouth."

The Los Angeles Times conducted a recent checkup on the annual checkup. "The fact is," the article said, "many of us change doctors or health plans so often that the regular physical exam gets lost in the shuffle." Yet, it went on, "in a 1997 study, researchers at Dartmouth Medical School surveyed 2,775 adults and found that those who got regular physicals were much more likely than those who didn't to have had preventive tests such as mammograms and checks for colon cancer. 'It's not terribly surprising to see that result,' says Carol Sox, the study's lead author, 'but it does suggest the value in seeing a doctor regularly.'"

The director of DHMC's Spine Center was asked to comment on a study about the effectiveness of back belts. Reported the Los Angeles Times: "Those ubiquitous back belts—however effective they may look—do nothing to prevent back injuries, according to a study of more than 9,000 Wal- Mart workers. . . . 'It's not really surprising to me that [back belts] didn't make a difference,' said Dr. James Weinstein a professor of surgery at Dartmouth Medical School. 'The pressure makes you feel better—that's why we do it. But that probably doesn't prevent you getting injured.'"

Self magazine wrote about a recent rise in the use of natural family planning (NFP): "More women than ever are trying to prevent pregnancy by tracking their monthly cycle," the magazine wrote. "Once the sole province of Catholics . . . NFP is gaining popularity beyond religious circles. . . . Cecilia Stuopis, M.D., an ob-gyn at the Dartmouth- Hitchcock Clinic in Nashua, N.H., has noticed a similar secular trend in her practice: 'The women who ask me about NFP are usually also the ones who want to know about herbs,' she says."

Doctors' illegible handwriting has been the subject of cartoons for years, but a recent Associated Press story reported that the matter is no joke, noting: "More than 1 million serious medication errors occur every year in U.S. hospitals, according to research released last week by Dr. John Birkmeyer, a Dartmouth Medical School faculty member. Some of them involve indecipherable prescriptions or decimal point mistakes in dosages."

How to "keep kids warm, safe in winter" was the topic of a recent New York Times story. When children are playing outside in winter, the article noted, "parents shouldn't assume that because they're feeling warm and toasty that their kids are also, says Dr. Charles Cappetta, a general pediatrician at the Dartmouth- Hitchcock Clinic in Nashua, N.H." The article also listed early signs of frostbite, including "numbness, clumsiness, decreased alertness, and being flushed, Cappetta says."

Medicare recently decided to "begin paying for an expensive test called positron emission tomography (PET) for use in the diagnosis of nearly half the cases of cancer each year in America's elderly," reported the Washington Post. The "decision was a compromise between two extreme positions: giving doctors a blank check to use PET, or approving it only for the handful of uses in which its benefit has been proved." The compromise came in for praise from a DMS expert. "'I think the folks [at Medicare] tried very hard to do this in the most scientifically sound way, under very pressing time circumstances . . . I think they did well,' said Dr. Harold Sox, chair of medicine at Dartmouth."

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