Jill Faulkner-Bogdan

How The Other “Apple” May Be Good for Your Health

It seems like the iPad is everywhere these days- from airports to schools to businesses to waiting rooms and this just in- they may be coming soon to a hospital bed side near you.

A University of Chicago study found that the use of the ubiquitous and ever popular Apple tablet may help residents work more efficiently as they learn how to become doctors. In late 2010, the University of Chicago gave iPads to all 115 of their internal medicine residents. The iPads allowed the residents to access patients’ electronic health records along with medical journals and research while also providing them with the convenience of being able to contact other hospital departments regarding continuing patient care almost instantaneously. The iPads could even be used to show patients their own x-rays or tests results.

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The lead author of study, Dr. Bhakti Patel, said that medicine in this era has become “very data driven” but, “A lot of people are feeling that they can’t spend a lot of time at the bedside because they are kind of shackled to the computer.” Armed with iPads though, four out of five residents said they worked more efficiently and 68% said they avoided the usual delays that can be pain staking for patients, doctors, and hospitals alike. The study showed that residents ordered the same amount of tests both before and after they were given the iPads, but more tests were placed within two hours of a patient’s hospital admission when the residents were using iPads.

Other specialties at the University of Chicago, and other teaching hospitals, have contacted Patel about implementing the use of the iPad in training. Yan Xiao, from the Baylor Healthcare system, said “There is a lot of interest in using the iPad, not only by residents, but by nurses and others.”

The study, highlighted by Reuters, hit the presses just days before the much anticipated March 16th iPad release. At the time of press, iPad pre-orders were setting records and analysts were predicting Apple to sell 65.6 million iPads this year.

Wii Fit Not Putting the Fit in Fitness

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REUTERS/Phil McCarten

Contrary to Nintendo’s effort, video games won’t make your kids healthier, or at least that is what a recent study has shown.  Nintendo’s Wii video game system and its corresponding games have been marketed to children and parents alike as a way to get kids off the couch and exercising as the United States battles an obesity epidemic, plaguing adults and children alike.  In 2008, more than 1/3 of children and adolescents were overweight or obese and the Center for Disease Control estimates that childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past thirty years.

To get a clearer picture of how, or if,  the Wii system actually influenced the amount of exercise its child users get, the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas gave Wii consoles and games to 78 overweight children between the ages of 9 and 12 and then tracked their physical activity. Half of the children were given a choice of an active game like, Dance Dance Revolution, and the other half were given a choice of sedentary games like Super Mario. At the mid-point of the study, the children were offered a second game from the same category as the first-active or inactive.  Accelerometers were used to track the children’s physical activity levels for 13 weeks.  After the thirteen weeks of tracking, researchers found that the children playing active games got an average of 25 to 28 minutes of moderate or vigorous physical activity each day while children playing inactive games got an average of 26 to 29 minutes of moderate or vigorous physical activity each day, essentially disproving the theory that the Wii and its active games facilitate exercise.  According to the original Reuters article, Nintendo was unavailable for comment.

While this study may very well prove the old adage, “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”, exercise scientist, Jacob Barkley, told Reuters Health, “Maybe the Wii isn’t going to increase physical activity a whole heck of a lot, but it might increase caloric expenditure a bit more than a traditional sedentary video game, and if you do that on a daily basis that could have a cumulative effect that might be beneficial.”

Tech Giants Attempt to Stamp Out SOPA

It is hard, maybe even impossible, to imagine a world without free knowledge in this so called internet age, but that is exactly what Wikipedia asked people to do yesterday. The English Language Wikipedia, along with several other websites, including Reddit.com and BoingBoing.net, went completely dark for a 24 hour period in protest of the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). The proposed bill takes aim at overseas sites, like The Pirate Bay, that allow the continued piracy of music, movies, and more. SOPA would ban U.S. search engines, advertising networks, and other providers from servicing overseas sites that facilitate illegal file sharing in turn, making it illegal for U.S. companies to advertise on or fund  the sites and making it difficult for U.S. internet users to find the sites.

The proposed bill was initially expected to be quietly approved by the house with powerful support from entertainment companies, publishers, pharmaceutical companies, and labor unions but technology giants like Google, Craigslist, Wikipedia, Facebook, and Twitter have stepped in to say not so fast. In addition to the restrictions above, SOPA, as it is written now, leaves site operators responsible for what users post and “facilitating” the publishing of copyright materials would make the site itself a violator of the act. A formal complaint letter from Facebook to lawmakers read; “We support the bills stated goals. Unfortunately, the bill as drafted would expose law abiding U.S. Internet and technology companies to new, uncertain liabilities”.  At a conference in December, Google public policy director Bob Boorstin said, “YouTube would just go dark immediately, it couldn’t function.”

While not all those in opposition were brave enough to go completely dark like Wikipedia, Reddit, and BoingBoing, technology giants across the board have increased their efforts lobbying against the bill. If you checked yesterday, you would have found a black censor bar covering the Google logo, blacked out photos on Yahoo’s Flickr, and a message on Craigslist demanding that “corporate paymasters” keep their “clammy hands” off the internet.

 

Facebook Has Gone Vehicular

Facebook, recently named by Google as the world’s most visited website, boasting over 540 unique visitors each month, has over 800 million users worldwide.  Take a look around you and at any given moment at any given location someone is likely surfing the social network-from the bedroom to the board room to the delivery room and by the spring 2012, Mercedes is hoping consumers will add their 2013 SL-Class Mercedes to the long list of places they can peruse Facebook.

Mercedes-Benz USA will unveil the 2013 SL Class Mercedes and this noteworthy feature at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week.  Facebook will be accessible as part of Mercedes new mbrace 2 telematics system that includes a high resolution color screen near the dashboard and a high speed internet connection.  The version of Facebook accessible through the system will offer a limited and special set of features; pre-written postings can be published by turning a knob, drivers can access a list of friends that are nearby or restaurants in the vicinity that are “liked” by their Facebook friends, and destinations plugged into the vehicles GPS can be automatically published to the driver’s Facebook page.

With the recent focus on the dangers of texting and driving and distracted driving, the public’s response to this new feature remains to be seen.  Corporations like AT&T and All State Insurance have spoken out against texting and driving with various add campaigns and Oprah Winfrey adopted the No Phone Zone Pledge as one of her final causes in months preceding her retirement.  Robert Polican, Mercedes’ Product Manager for Telematics Services said that this new service will be no more distracting than standard GPS systems and radios and any Facebook features that require drivers to enter text are disabled while the car is in moving.

What do you think about this new innovation?

U.S. Unemployment Drops, Job Market Grows

A government report, released last Thursday, boasted a 3 ½ year low for new U.S. unemployment claims, surpassing economist’s and analysts’ expectations according to reuters.com. New claims for state funded unemployment benefits dropped by 19,000 to a total of 366,000; far below the analysts’ predictions of 390,000.  The Labor Department also posted an increase in hiring and job creation for the past four months. In November alone, Non- farm payrolls increased 120,000 and the manufacturing sector, arguably the hardest hit by the recession, showed an additional 2000 employees on the payroll.

But the outlook remains cautiously optimistic; the drop in unemployment claims simply brings the US closer to the 350,000 mark indicative of a strong labor market and while jobs are being added overall, some sectors still suffer- government employment dropped by 20,000 last month, similarly construction payrolls fell by 12000 and 15000 jobs were lost.  Not to mention, holiday spending forecasts that indicate growth but warn of dipping profit margins from deep, possibly too deep, discounts, a global economic slowdown coupled with the impending recession in the euro zone and the threat of 2012 federal spending cuts that could affect payroll tax cuts and unemployment benefits.

Paul Ballew, the chief economist at Nationwide Insurance said; “The recovery is picking up some momentum. We still have a very long way to go, but this is very consistent with a recovery that has shown a little bit more resilience in the second half of the year.” And Ryan Sweet, of Moody’s Analystics echoes the same sentiment, “We still have a long way to go.”

Ann Arbor Office Raises Over 16K for United Way

The United Way serves 45 countries and territories around the world through their network of almost 1800 community based chapters.

Over the course of one week in November, the Ann Arbor Thomson Reuters office raised just over $16,000 for the United Way of Washtenaw County with their annual United Way fundraiser.

Over $11,000 was donated through the United Way’s secure online pledge page and an additional $5000 was collected throughout the week during various fundraising activities. A “Team Spirit Pocket Change War” encouraged employees on each floor to empty their pockets in donation to the United Way, but also in support of their favorite local sports team.  Employees could opt to shop or drop at the second annual “Second Chance Sale” where second hand goods were donated for purchase, with all proceeds from the sale going to the fundraiser. And a pizza lunch fundraiser gave many a much need break from TV dinners and PB & J, while the 1.8 mile Fun Run gave participants a chance to enjoy a walk around the office campus, as well as Michigan’s first snow of the season. To cap off the fundraiser, staff were given a chance to wear jeans on two separate occasions for a small donation.

The $16,046 raised during Ann Arbor’s fundraising event will help the United Way of Washtenaw County as they strive to help those in need this holiday season and all year long.

A Strong Weekend Doesn’t Gaurantee A Strong Season

Black Friday shoppers cross 34th Street outside Macy's in Herald Square in New York, November 25, 2011.

REUTERS/Andrew Burton

The perfect combination of bargain hungry shoppers, extended store hours, and warmer, drier than usual weather helped garner a record number of shoppers this Thanksgiving weekend.  A record breaking 226 million shoppers kicked off their holiday shopping this Thanksgiving weekend. An crowds flocked to retailers all over the nation; a reported 9000 people waited outside Macy’s in Herald Square in New York City (despite occupy wall street protestors), while the Mall of America held about 15000 shoppers at one point, and 300 people waited outside of a New Jersey Toys R Us almost an hour after the store opened on Black Friday. And an estimated 50 million shoppers, 35% jump from last year, skipped the lines and shopped online.

Amongst the 226 million shoppers all over the United States, retailers enjoyed another record breaking total; early reports have Thanksgiving weekend sales at $52.4 billion. Investors and analysts have named Best Buy Co Inc, Wal-Mart Inc, Macy’s Inc, Amazon.com, Target, and Apple as the winners of the Thanksgiving weekend spending frenzy. And already, stocks are reflecting the Thanksgiving weekend merchant victories. Monday morning, Reuters.com reported a rise in shares for some of the weekend’s biggest winners; Best Buy Co Inc., Macy’s Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

But despite the promising, and perhaps somewhat surprising, jump start to the holiday shopping season, the outlook remains one of tempered optimism.  A Thomson Reuters press release, published just two days prior to Black Friday, warned of the cooling effect that may be brought on by the government’s failure to extend payroll tax cuts and unemployment benefits. And even with an overall increase in consumer confidence, according to the Survey of Consumers, only 22% of households expect their finances to improve in the coming months and with the majority of households expecting their finances to worsen.  Many  finance analysts warn of an impending lull or worse yet, a “sharp and quick falloff” in spending, much like in 2008 and 2009, when big numbers over Thanksgiving weekend simply weren’t enough to keep total holiday spending from overall decline. Despite predicting a strong season overall, Craig Johnson, of Custom Growth Partners, was quoted in a Reuters.com article, saying this; “One swallow does not a holiday season make. After the deepest recession in decades, the solid Black Friday weekend is welcome news, but we’re only in the second quarter of a long playoff game.”

An Overwieght US Workforce Costs Employers

A recent Thomson Reuters press release identified an overweight and obese workforce as having the largest impact on employer health care spending. The Thomson Reuters Workforce Wellness Index takes into account each year how body mass index, blood pressure, cholesterol, blood glucose, tobacco use and alcohol use influence employer healthcare spending.  Unhealthy behaviors among the US workforce cost employers a total of $623 each year, costs linked to obesity account for nearly 70% of that expenditure. Medical costs associated with obesity were reported as costing employers $425 per employee annually in 2010.

But despite the ever present goal to reduce health care costs for employers and employees alike, statistical data from over the years indicates that pant sizes won’t be the only thing going up if we continue on our current trajectory. A graph included in the CDC obesity trend report shows a steady increase in the obesity population since the late 1980’s. In 2007, the CDC reported that 34% of the American population over the age of 20 suffered from obesity. Respectively, Mississippi, South Carolina, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Michigan top the list of the most obese states in 2010, all weighing in with over 30% of the total state population suffering from some form of obesity. Raymond Fabius, chief medical officer of Thomson Reuters, is quoted in the press release, “Obesity continues to be a prevailing problem, one that will continue to plague employers and insurers alike until we find a way to stem this epidemic.”

In a feeble attempt to stop the progress of what is widely considered an obesity epidemic, the government has set a national goal to lower the percentage of obese individuals in each state to under 15%.  As of 2010, even the state with the lowest obesity percentage, Colorado, missed the mark by 6%.

It appears that cutting health care costs may be as simple as shedding a few pounds…

Best Holiday Season Since 2004? Depends on who you ask…

United States Consumer confidence enjoyed a slight increase in the month of October despite the record low confidence in economic policies. A Thomson Reuters press release summarized a recent survey of consumers completed by Thomson Reuters and the University of Michigan. The press release reported results of “widespread distrust of the President and congress” in regards to their ability to make decisions and enact policies that will improve the U.S. consumers overall financial situation. Seventy percent of survey respondents expected idle finances in the year ahead and only 20% expected their finances to improve within the next year.

“The upcoming debates about spending cuts and tax hikes surrounding budget resolution will increase uncertainty and cause consumers to become even more prudent spenders” according to Richard Curtin, the chief economist for the Survey of Consumers.

But will idle finances, economic uncertainty, and “prudent” spending rain on all of the national retailers holiday parade? Maybe not.

Despite the unfavorable projection of the press release, a Reuters article published on November 1st, anticipated increased sales to be reported for the month of October.  And perhaps, ironically, Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners had this to say, “The consumer is out there spending. Consumers are financially healthier now than they have been in years.” Johnson also went on to predict that 2011 would be the best holiday season since 2004.

An update published on November 3rd, reported actual sales that were slightly lower than the earlier projections, but still indicated steady spending by consumers and a hopeful holiday season.

Employers Cut Coverage as Healthcare Costs Climb

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. announced a cut in health insurance benefits on Friday, October 21st, according to by Reuters’ journalist, Jessica Wohl. Wal-Mart will be joining the ranks of Wells Fargo & Co. and General Electric, who have also announced upcoming cuts to their employee health care benefits in 2012.

A Walmart Neighborhood Market sign is seen outside a newly opened store in Chicago September 21, 2011.     REUTERS/Jim Young

REUTERS/Jim Young

As the United States largest private employer, Wal-Mart employs 1.4 million people in the United States and insures more than 1 million employees and their families. The benefit reduction as laid out in the original article on Reuters.com, will only affect new, part time employees (working less than 24 hours per week) and workers that admittedly use tobacco. Part time employees (working less than 24 hours per week) will no longer be eligible for corporate insurance benefits with Wal-Mart and tobacco users will be looking at higher costs (basic plans will cost tobacco users $25 per pay period while non-tobacco users would pay only $15 per pay period).

In light of a separate article published by Reuters from Entrepenaurer.com, corporate insurance hikes should come as no surprise. In late September, Reuters chronicled the results of an annual healthcare survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research and Education Trust. According to the survey, the average annual premium for family coverage sponsored by an employer rose 9% from 2010 to 2011 and individual plans of a similar nature rose by 8% from 2010 to 2011. Over the course of the last ten years, there has been a 134% increase in the cost of health care premiums.

In a statement from Wal-Mart spokesman Greg Rossiter, he looks to the United States government to ease the burden of increasing healthcare costs, “Our country needs to find a way to reduce the cost of healthcare, particularly in this economy.” However, according to some small business owners, some of the new health care laws are actually creating the dramatic increases in healthcare costs. According to the study by the Kaiser Foundation and the Health Research and Education Trust, 1.5 percentage points of the 9% increase in healthcare premiums can be retraced to elements of health care laws.

While it remains to be seen how many other businesses or corporations may or may not be cutting healthcare benefits in 2012, a survey conducted by Mercer projects only 5.4% increase in health benefits costs for 2012.