MD News

Serving the Bay Area Medical Community

Microchips that “see” like eyes

Posted by Alex Gault on April 2, 2006

Kwabena Boahen, associate professor in Stanford University’s department of bioengineering, leads a research group that is trying to mimic the functions of the brain’s complex neural system using silicon chips. He hopes his research will lead to neuromorphic processors, small computers that could replace damaged neural tissue or silicon retinas that restore vision.

“What we’re trying to do now is to build chips with something like 100,000 neurons on them and then build a multiple-chip network that gets up to about 1 million neurons,” Boahen said. “With a network of that size, you can model what the different cortical areas are doing and how they are talking to each other.”

“If you lost your hearing or had a stroke and had some neural tissue that needed to be replaced, and if we could build something that uses as little power as the brain does and uses as little space as that neural tissue does, then we could replace it,” he said.

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Local Hospitals Create Home-like Environments

Posted by Alex Gault on March 28, 2006

In response to growing evidence that healing is linked to home-like environments, Bay Area medical centers are wooing patients with a host of new amenities.

Kaiser Permanente's $750 million medical center in Santa Clara is one of the more dramatic illustrations of this trend, with sheer glass walls, carpeted floors and a variety of creature comforts aimed at soothing patients.

"There are some studies that show that environments with lots of light are probably more conducive to healing," says Physician-in-chief Dr. Bernadette Loftus . "I think we are organizing our facility to recognize the new standards of Americans." Those new standards also include convenience and expediency, she says. Kaiser has responded by adding wireless "hot spots" in many areas of its campus that allow visitors to log on to the Internet, while patients can be admitted to the hospital through a bedside registration service.

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UCSF To hold “Mini Medical School” for the Public

Posted by Alex Gault on March 20, 2006

Beginning in May, UCSF professors will give a series of classes to the general public, under the banner Bringing Science to Life: The Promise of Modern Medicine. The lectures are designed to give the layman a window onto what goes on in university classrooms and research labs.

Scheduled lectures include:

Risky Business: Reporting on Research in the Lay Press | Lisa Bero, professor, Department of Clinical Pharmacy, School of Pharmacy, and Institute for Health Policy Studies.

Embryonic Stem Cells and Their Potential for Treating Diabetes | Michael German, professor, Hormone Research Institute; clinical director, UCSF Diabetes Center.

Telomeres and Telomerase and Their Implications for Cancer and Aging | Elizabeth Blackburn, Morris Herzstein Professor of Biology and Physiology, Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics.

What Does a Drunken Fruit Fly Tell Us About Addiction? | Ulrike Heberlein, professor of anatomy, Wheeler Center for the Neurobiology of Addiction.

The Developing Embryo and Implications for Disease | Didier Stainier, professor, Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics; Member, Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Genomics and Infectious Diseases: Hunting the Causes of SARS, Malaria and Prostate Cancer | Joe DeRisi, associate professor of biochemistry and biophysics; Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator at UCSF; MacArthur Award fellow.

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Gladstone Institutes: Best Place for Postdocs to Work

Posted by Alex Gault on March 15, 2006

Life sciences journal The Scientist ranks San Francisco-based J. David Gladstone Institutes as the best place to do postdoctoral studies, jumping from 12th place in 2005.

The Institutes’ recent move across the street from UCSF’s Mission Bay campus has strengthened their affiliation with the university, where postdocs and faculty hold joint appointments.

Primary research efforts at the Institutes focus on 3 clinical problems: cardiovascular disease, AIDS, and neurodegenerative disorders. Each institute is organized around research units consisting of scientists, postdoctoral researchers, research associates, and students. 

Posted in R & D, Technology, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Mission Bay Life Science Campus

Posted by Alex Gault on March 10, 2006

Alexandria Real Estate Equities has just secured the first tenant for the 2.1 million square foot Mission Bay life science campus the firm plans to complete by 2013.

Sirna Therapeutics is moving its headquarters to 1700 Owens St., the first building Alexandria is constructing. The 155,000-square-foot building is expected to be completed later this year, and Sirna will occupy nearly 40,000 square feet. Sirna focuses on developing therapeutics for a wide range of diseases using RNA interference technology.

Alexandria plans to sign up a life science cluster of tenants within the building — including venture capital firms with a focus on biotechnology, other R&D-focused companies, and academic research programs. The complex abuts two important nonprofit research centers: the David Gladstone Institute and the California Institute for Quantitative Biomedical Research.

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Electronic Records Transform Healthcare

Posted by Alex Gault on March 5, 2006

Electronic health records and health-information technology are poised to transform healthcare, forecasts Jo Ellen H. Ross, CEO of San Francisco-based consulting firm Lumetra. Specifically:

Pay for Performance. Effective treatment and preventative care will be measured, and doctors will be rewarded for achieving patient satisfaction and making effective use of computer technology. Local IT firms Cisco Systems, Intel and Oracle all offer financial incentives to doctors who adopt health-information technology as a means to deliver safer and higher quality care.

Health Information Technology. The same type of IT that allows us to bank online, check inventory, track the delivery of shipped packages and file taxes electronically is often absent in health-care delivery. Our paper-dominated medical record system is highly vulnerable — not to mention expensive and time-consuming to maintain.

Health-care Information Exchanges. The California Regional Health Information Organization (CalRHIO) — a nonprofit collaborative of California health-care providers, payers, government and consumer organizations — is leading the effort in California to build a highly secure network that can electronically move data when and where patients and their doctors need it.

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Outlawing Private Health Insurance in California

Posted by Alex Gault on March 3, 2006

Proposed state legislation calling for the establishment of a state-run single payer system for health care is still under consideration. If enacted, private health insurance would be abolished in California. The legislation is modeling on the Canadian system of socialized medicine which, until a recent court ruling in the province Quebec, made all private health care illegal.

Posted in Insurance, Leaders, Patients | 2 Comments »

Doctor Guides Google Charity

Posted by Alex Gault on February 25, 2006

Google has tapped Dr. Larry Brilliant, a man with deep roots both in technology and altruism, to serve as executive director Google.org, the company’s philanthropic arm, which has an initial war chest of $1 billion.

Dr. Brilliant’s résumé shows that he spent as much time in nonprofit public health services as he has directing technology companies in Silicon Valley, where he currently resides. He spent a decade in India in the 1970s heading an effort to arrest the spread of smallpox in that country. In 1978 he founded Seva Foundation, an organization committed to the sharing of Western technology and skills with the developing world.  

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HSAs for Small Business Owners

Posted by Alex Gault on February 20, 2006

Bay Area small businesses are constantly challenged to provide affordable healthcare insurance to employees (as are employees often for themselves). Some are considering Health Savings Accounts (HSAs). Here’s a useful outline of HSA benefits:

1. You can cover your insurance deductible and other medical expenses with funds from the HSA.

2. If funds remain in the account at the end of a year, the balance rolls forward to the following years.

3. At 65, you can use the money for any purpose with no penalties though the withdrawals will be subject to income tax.

4. Contribution limit in 2006 is $2,700 for an individual and $5,450 for a family.

5. You pay for medical expenses either with money from the account or your own pocket.

6. After the deductible is met, your health plan kicks in. Your share of the expenses depends on the plan you have. Some have 100% coverage; some have 80/20 coverage. Again, you choose whether to pay your share from your HSA or from your pocket.

7. You can use your HSA to pay for medical expenses that are not covered by your medical insurance plane. Some of these expenses won’t count toward meeting your deductible, but the tax advantages still apply.

8. There is a catch up provision for people age 55 and older. In 2006, it is $700.

9. There is a proration requirement. If you start the HSA in April, you only get
to put in 8 months worth or 2/3rds the total amount of the HSA deposit and the catch up contribution.

For more information, download this file (pdf) from the Department of Treasury.

Posted in Insurance, Patients | 1 Comment »

Local Surgeon Wins Award for Doing Surgery For Free

Posted by Alex Gault on February 15, 2006

The American Medical Association has granted the 2006 Pride in the Profession Award to William Schecter for his work providing free low-risk outpatient operations to the uninsured in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Schecter is a professor of clinical surgery at UCSF, and co-founder of Operation Access, a nonprofit organization that provides donated ambulatory surgery care to uninsured low-income patients.  

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Paperwork Goobles Up California Health Insurance

Posted by Alex Gault on February 8, 2006

A new study by James H. Kahn of the Institute for Health Policy Studies at UCSF reveals that billing and insurance paperwork consume at least one out of every five dollars of private insurance health spending in California. 

According to Dr. Kahn, “Over the last decade, administrative costs have accounted for 25% of health care spending. Little has been known, however, about the portion attributable to billing and insurance-related functions.” 

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California MDs Now Must Be Certified as Culturally Competent

Posted by Alex Gault on January 26, 2006

New legislation requires physicians licensed in California to incorporate cultural competency and linguistics into their continuing medical education. The bill goes into effect on July 1, 2006.

Go to the UCSF Office of Continuing Medical Education for more information.

Posted in Education | 8 Comments »

San Francisco: The Healthiest City in America

Posted by Alex Gault on January 10, 2006

San Francisco is the healthiest city in America, according to Men’s Health magazine.

The city scored big-time grades in prostate cancer (4th), diabetes (9th) and heart disease (15th). Only San Jose had more people hitting the gym. Although San Franciscans drink more red wine than citizens of any other city, they eat the least sugar.

San Francisco’s low cancer rates can be explained by the widespread use of screening diagnostics which detect early signs of cancer. “A lot of people here, especially young people, are well informed about health issues. That makes them more likely to get screened early,” says Maxwell Meng, a urologist at the UCSF.

San Francisco is a world leader in food variety, says Eliseo Perez-Stable, a professor of medicine at UCSF. The city is home to more than 20 vegetarian restaurants and 30-plus health-food stores. It has a dozen year-round farmer’s markets selling organic produce.

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The Medical Spa Buzz

Posted by Alex Gault on December 22, 2005

Healthcare industry experts, medical ethicists and traditional cosmetic surgeons are all watching the fastest growing trend in the spa industry. There are now an estimated 1,250 medical spas in cities across the nation, offering treatments ranging from the common massage to ultrasound facials and Botox injections. Family practitioners, eye doctors, and gynecologists are augmenting their practices with spa services or starting new medical spas.

On San Francisco’s Union Street, two medical spas — SKN Medical Spa and the Union Street Medspa — offer a variety of cosmetic and anti-aging skin treatments. SKN Medical Spa founder Dr. Robert Colvin, formerly an emergency room specialist, says he finds his new enterprise more satisfying because he can more easily see results. His business offers Botox, laser skin rejuvenation, hair removal and skin peels. He performs all the treatments himself, spending far more time with patients than he did in the ER.

California requires that medical spas be owned by doctors. Cosmeticians may not hire doctors to run the spas or share profits with them, but can rent out space to doctors who perform treatments themselves and charge their own fees.

Posted in Commercial, Leaders, Patients | 2 Comments »

Health Search Engine Launches

Posted by Alex Gault on December 15, 2005

San Francisco based Healthline has launched the first search engine which focuses exclusively on the health care domain.

The Healthline search engine interprets everyday words used by searchers and matches them with medical terminology so that users can burrow down to the information they need. It draws upon a database of more than 800,000 medical terms and synonyms. Already, the engine has indexed 62,000 health web sites (40 million pages) and partnered with the leading proprietary medical databases. 

Posted in Commercial, Technology | 1 Comment »

Study Concludes Pay-for-Performance Works

Posted by Alex Gault on December 5, 2005

Doctors will provide higher quality care when given financial incentives to do so, concludes a 3 year study of 7 pay-for-performance (P4P) programs.

P4P programs have been gaining traction lately. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has launched 7 programs in hospitals, chronic care management and outpatient physician services — the “largest experiment in the country” for assessing P4P, said Suzanne Delbanco, CEO of the Leapfrog Group, a consortium of health care purchasers that provided technical assistance to the programs.

The study suggests that incentives need to be at least $5,000 per physician or perhaps as high as 10 percent of a physician’s income to make a difference.

Blue Cross of California is implementing a P4P project in San Francisco and plans to expand it statewide.

Funds for the projects came from the RWJF (Robert Wood Johnson Foundation), the CHCF (California HealthCare Foundation) and the Commonwealth Fund.

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