2012 was a year of big news for doctors, with major stories on everything from medications to Medicare, screening tests to studies on soda. Medscape from WebMD, a professional website for doctors and healthcare professionals, tracked the most-clicked articles to create The Year in Medicine 2012. Here's a sample of those news stories that were most popular with doctors.
Supreme Court Upholds Healthcare Reform
Like everyone else, doctors and healthcare professionals were glued to the news on June 28, when the Supreme Court found that the Affordable Healthcare Act was constitutional. Basically, the court said that while the government can't make people buy health insurance, it can tax them if they don't. The ruling means more Americans will have health insurance.
Sandy Shuts Down Hospitals
At least 6 hospitals in New York and New Jersey had to evacuate during Superstorm Sandy. Many others operated on emergency power. Dramatic images of nurses carrying tiny babies down flights of stairs and patients being ferried out on gurneys filled the news. By all reports, all patients at the hospitals stayed safe during evacuations. The storm, however, claimed more than 100 lives in the U.S.
Fungal Meningitis Outbreak Spreads
About 13,000 people got steroid pain shots contaminated with fungus that came from the New England Compounding Center. Of those, 490 developed fungal meningitis and 34 died (as of Nov. 19). Doctors and healthcare professionals were warned to immediately stop using any products the company had made. Most people who got sick had symptoms one to four weeks after getting the shot, but the CDC isn't sure how long people should be on the alert.
2 New Weight Loss Drugs Approved
The FDA gave the OK to Belviq (lorcaserin) and Qsymia (phentermine-topiramate) – the first new weight loss pills in 13 years. Both drugs carry risks, but the agency considered the nation's ever-growing waistline to be an even greater threat. How much do they help? In studies, Belviq helped people lose about 5% of their body weight, and Qsymia nearly 10%. A third drug may be approved soon.
Soda Raises Chance of Heart Disease
Men who drink just one can of sugary soda each day have a 20% greater chance of developing heart disease. Researchers say three things are at work: Sugar-sweetened drinks make you put on weight. Blood tests also showed they lowered good HDL cholesterol and raised triglycerides, a kind of fat in the blood. And people who drank soda had more markers of inflammation show up on their blood tests. All these things increase your chance of heart disease.
Screening Guidelines Change
One change made headlines, when the US Preventive Services Task Force said healthy men should not get routine PSA tests to screen for prostate cancer. Many doctors disagree, especially when it comes to men at high risk. The other change was less controversial. The American College of Physicians said doctors should screen all people 50 and over for colorectal cancer, and some people should be tested earlier.
Do You Need That Test?
Doctors from 9 top medical societies identified 45 common tests we may not always need. They range from bone density tests in women under 65 at low risk of osteoporosis to MRIs for simple low back pain. The "Choosing Wisely" campaign encourages doctors and patients to ask whether these tests are really necessary. They are expensive and sometimes may even harm a person's health -- think of unneeded radiation exposure during imaging tests.
New Drug Warnings
Among the warnings from the FDA were these about 2 drugs, one a common medicine to lower cholesterol and one a drug to relieve serious pain.
Cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins can raise blood sugar levels.
Fentanyl – a painkiller – patches can be deadly if not used or stored right. Kids are especially vulnerable to accidental exposure. The FDA urged doctors to talk to patients about exactly how to store, use, and get rid of the patches.
New Drugs and Devices for RA and HIV
Big news for people with RA: A drug to treat moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis was approved. Named Xeljanz (tofacitinib), it targets a different part of the immune system than other RA drugs. It's for those who haven't responded to methotrexate, the standard treatment.
There were two major developments in the HIV area. Truvada (tenofovir disoproxil fumarate/emtricitabine) is the first drug that can help prevent people at high risk from getting infected with the virus. The FDA also approved the first at-home, over-the-counter test for HIV.
Where Is Your Health Information Stored?
After a retired doctor's laptop was stolen, with unencrypted health information on more than 3,500 patients, a Boston hospital agreed to pay the government $1.5 million to settle "potential violations" of privacy. The hospital didn't admit any wrongdoing, but the settlement shows a huge financial consequence of losing such sensitive data.
US Doctors Suffer More Burnout
Doctors in the US are more burned out than other workers, according to a national survey of more than 7,000 physicians. More tales from the survey:
46% had at least one symptom of burnout
38% had high levels of emotional exhaustion
12% had low sense of personal accomplishment
4 More Years for "Obamacare"
Voters re-elected President Barack Obama, giving him 4 more years to implement the Affordable Healthcare Act (ACA) in spite of opposition by Congressional Republicans. Policy experts and medical leaders hope the president and Congress can work together as the healthcare landscape is transformed over the next few years.
Other Stories in the News
Doctors worry about reimbursement
Small group practices may close
Medicare raises for primary care doctors, cuts for specialists
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.