Tag Archives: Mental Health

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Study review: Depressed physicians more likely to commit medical errors

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A physician who is depressed is more likely to commit medical errors: This is the primary finding from a review of studies — 11 prior studies that included more than 21,000 physicians —published in JAMA Network Open.

Per the findings, physicians with a positive screening for depression were very likely to report medical errors. Further examination found that the association between depressive symptoms in physicians and medical errors is bidirectional.

The studies suggest that, in the United States, as many as 98,000 to 251,000 hospitalized patients die each year because a preventable adverse event. Medical errors are considered a significant source of morbidity and account for billions of dollars in financial losses to healthcare systems every year.

Additionally, studies of physicians point to the potential individual and work environments as possible sources of interventions to prevent the development of depressive symptoms among these professionals. “Research on the efficacy of interventions to reduce depressive symptoms in physicians has shown positive results,” the report’s authors said.

“Given that depression is preventable and treatable, a reliable estimate of the degree to which physicians with a positive screening for depression are at higher risk for medical errors would be useful,” the review authors noted. “Such an estimate would inform public health decision-making on strategies to improve patient safety and physician well-being.”

Nine studies (82%) took place in the United States, one (9%) in Japan, and one (9%) in South Korea. Eight studies (73%) included only training physicians (interns and residents), and three (27%) recruited physicians from any career level. Seven studies recruited physicians from multiple specialties, whereas four recruited physicians from a single specialty. Among these four studies, one focused on pediatric residents, one on anesthesiology residents, and two on internal medicine residents.

All the studies involved self-reported medical errors and were not necessarily verifiable.

Based on the results, the study’s authors urged healthcare institutions to remove barriers that may keep doctors suffering from depression from obtaining help.

For physicians, the combination of long hours, often grueling medical procedures and lives on the line, can create an enormous amount of stress. That can take a toll on mental health, and many doctors say they suffer from depression. A Medscape survey from last year indicated 71% of doctors are suffering from some form of burnout, depression, or both.

Up to 400 doctors in the U.S. kill themselves every year, according to a study on that topic. Given that depression can dull mental acuity, that puts clinicians at risk for committing medical errors.

Studies that include physicians from different countries could answer whether cultural and socioeconomic aspects play a role in the associations between depressive symptoms and errors, researchers said. Likewise, there is a need for more research into the degree to which interventions for reducing physician depressive symptoms could mitigate medical errors and improve physician well-being and patient care, they added.

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Holiday stress: The secret cost of the season

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year, but apparently, it’s also the most stressful. Some of that stress is related to holiday expenses, but it’s also a result of trying to make everything perfect.

Roughly half of the respondents in recent survey by Yelp say holidays are the single most stressful time of the year. Here’s why:

  • Hosting a party or dinner: 51%
  • Friends or family staying over: 45%
  • Traveling to see family or friends: 45%
  • Taking a vacation: 24%

Whether hosting a dinner, a party, or having guests spend the night, respondents are anxious because they don’t have time to clean in advance, worried that they don’t have enough time to prepare everything, concerned about preparing the actual holiday meals, and not looking forward to cleaning up later.

However, hosts aren’t the only people anxious during the holiday season. Guests are also stressed out — they’ll be in busy airports or on crowded roads with millions of other Americans. Also, staying in someone else’s home can mean a lack of privacy and giving up the freedom to set their own schedule.

Bringing in the pros

“The stress of being the consummate host or hostess during the holidays can make it hard to get into the holiday spirit,” says Yelp trend expert Tara Lewis. “Whether catering or home cleaning, consider what projects you can outsource to a professional this season, giving the gift of a stress-free holiday season to you and your loved ones.”

According to the respondents:

  • 28% would like to use a home cleaner
  • 16% would like to use a caterer or private chef
  • 12% would like to use a holiday decorator
  • 10% would like to use another pro (handyman, chimney cleaning, etc.)

The money factor

Another part of holiday stress is based on how much money respondents are spending this time of the year. While most of them plan to spend an average of $972 on holiday-related costs, the average person who overspends will miss this mark by $489. Other interesting data from the survey:

  • 25% will overspend by more than $500
  • 46% will overspend on gifts for family and friends
  • 19% will overspend on food and drinks for home
  • 14% will overspend on food and drinks when eating out

Over a third of respondents say they eat out more during the holidays than the rest of the year, and over half stress over the fact that it will cost more to eat out. Among people who travel during the holiday season, a quarter of them say they stress out over the cost of eating out.

However, some people are resisting the urge to get in financial straits. A full 40% of respondents plan to have a smaller celebration to save money, and 22% are thinking about skipping a holiday celebration.

Tips for surviving the holidays

Lewis provides the following tips to make the holidays less stressful.

Set a realistic budget: “We saw that over half of those surveyed say they have a budget for the holiday season, but just one-fifth ‘always’ stick to it.” She recommends being realistic about your spending or else your budget won’t help you.

“Make sure to budget for things outside of gifts, like dining out more often, a new outfit or beauty items for all of your holiday get-togethers.”

Lean on friends and family: When hosting,consider asking each of your guests to bring one item. “Start an email thread and ask if people can volunteer to bring something easy, like soda, champagne, or a dessert.”

She says most people would love to chip in, and this can help you remove items from your to-do list. “You might even find that people appreciate that you’re asking for a little help instead of pretending to be superwoman or superman.”

Make a list of everything on your plate: “Staying organized is key during the holiday season, and all it takes is 15 minutes to make a list of everything that’s stressing you out.”

She says that taking a step back allows you to decide what’s critical and what’s not. “Taking a few minutes to reflect will help you be more intentional about where your precious time and energy is going.”

Check the $$ before dining out: “It’s easy to overspend on dinners with family and friends, so take the extra time to make sure you’re going to a restaurant in your budget.”

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Historic prison commutation in Oklahoma calls for new approach after release

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Policy reform dissolves old institutional consolidations while reaffirming socioeconomic divisions; or at least that’s the cynical view.

Criminal justice reforms provide the best example of this fact. Prison reform and decarceration efforts currently focus on eliminating cash bail; decriminalizing drug charges to misdemeanor/expungement levels; and improving prisoner programs like education, job training, and healthcare.

Decarceration locates a new residential class in a bipartisan release experiment requiring cooperating sectors — or what educators term the “wraparound” approach. While the term usually applies to youth crisis intervention teams — counselors, teachers, social workers, parents, and clergy — it captures sector cooperation from criminal justice, education, and social/medical services required for successful decarceration efforts, too.

Fitting is that the wraparound approach connects to school-to-prison pipeline issues. If for no other reason besides pragmatism, it avoids the prisoner recidivism overpopulating the system, and the engineering of another incarcerated generation.

Conservative and liberal states alike are involved in bipartisan decarceration because the problems present serious local budgetary and moral challenges. As reform becomes more popular, a legislative approach like optional post-release wraparound services avoids pitfalls requiring more legislation to fix it.

This is a good demand coming from direct action elements in local organizations and coalitions; it reveals commitments to long-term solutions.

Early November saw deep-red Oklahoma release 462 people serving sentences for non-violent and drug offenses in the largest commutation in U.S. history.

This is a case study, if you will. These former inmates are now working residents, sharing demands with people in the working class: fair wages; the right to unionize; affordable housing/healthcare/child care; quality public education/scholarships; and continuity of safety-net services, among others.

There are competing visions of reform that render post-release obstacles part of a fledgling “rehabilitation state-industrial complex” of sorts. Mandatory drug testing, ankle monitoring, job training, probation and parole services, and court-ordered counseling are offered to former inmates in a cost-prohibitive price web determined by government/contractor arrangements.

The growing monetization of rehab and release is best illustrated by Arizona’s infamous Tent City becoming “an intensive multi-agency substance-abuse program” that subcontracts with the state. The incarceration era may be ending, but the rehab/regulation era is just beginning: monetized.

Money is tight as housing and income struggles lead some people to recidivism. San Francisco provides a stark example here, but more spacious Oklahoma City faces similar challenges. A 2019 Oklahoma City Homeless Alliance report links former incarceration to housing: 3 in 4 homeless Oklahoma City residents have been incarcerated.

It takes 85 weekly minimum wage hours to rent a two-bedroom apartment there. Who can afford that work load?

Oklahoma’s prison overcrowding crisis caused conflict, riots, and strike, resulting in a 2016 voter referendum leading to HB 1269, which commuted the sentences of those 462 people. Also, a new executive director for the Pardon and Parole Board and its board members began addressing 2,600 back requests for sentence commutation.

Mass sentence commutation is a legal admission of unjust incarceration practices — establishing institutional harm against inmates. However, post-release punishment continues as inmate debt. Newly released Oklahoma inmates with felony convictions can owe upwards of $5,000, according to The Marshall Project.

HB 1269 continues the punishment by allowing hefty post-release fines and restitution fees, just when people need payment relief the most.

Job and housing applicants face discrimination if they have criminal records. HB 1269 may have streamlined expungement. However, law enforcement can still access records, which means prior convictions can be used as evidence in new cases. Is that really expungement? And doesn’t mass commutation suggest that the prior conviction was harsh, therefore illegitimate?

Expungement fees remain hundreds of dollars post-HB 1269, which the state could reduce as part of its initiative.

The Appeal reports enhancement continues to complicate Oklahoma sentencing reforms. We look to education circles to provide alternatives to these ongoing post-release obstacles.

Oklahoma became known as the U.S.’s largest per capita prison population, but the 2018 teachers strike, for example, revealed the state’s political diversity. Whether it’s striking prisoners or striking professionals, teachers’ unions are incubating wraparound service approaches that inform decarceration.

In 2018, the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) joined other red wave states in a strike and to address low teachers’ salaries. The OEA faces an uphill budget battle after a 20% student spending decline from 2008-2013.

The new Chicago Teachers’ Union (CTU) contract inadvertently addresses released inmates’ needs like affordable housing. The CTU persisted that housing is an educators’ issue, even negotiating staff coordinators for homeless students: a wraparound approach.

Prison and education reforms overlap as the school to prison pipeline causes even red state residents to call for change. But why reinvent wheels? Sentence commutation suggests harm and undue hardship caused by failed policies, so wraparound support is needed.

Fair labor and housing remain the spokes that spin policy wheels away from chronic reinvention, as locales unite different wraparound populations together instead of cynically dividing them.

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Bringing mindfulness into the classroom

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Imagine arriving home from work each day and being confronted with tasks to complete as soon as you walk through the door. As adults, we typically have a little bit of time to “decompress” after a long day.

On our commute home from work we may turn on some calming music or turn off all music and enjoy a few minutes of silence. Upon arriving home, we take a few minutes to get the mail, change our clothes, and take a few deep breaths before starting dinner or taking our own kids where they need to go.

Now more than ever, in a society where we are expected to be executing one task while simultaneously thinking of the next one, we as adults need time to be mindful.

Children are rarely afforded these mindful opportunities, and that needs to change. They often sit on a loud bus, enter their classroom, and are expected to get right to their morning work.

Time is a precious commodity, especially in a school that has budgeted every amount of available instructional time for various academic tasks. Crazy thought: What if, instead of giving children work to do as soon as they enter the room in the morning, they are offered choices to help regulate themselves while being mindful?

What if they were offered centers where they could be mindful? One station may have mandala coloring pages, and another may have a laptop or TV set up with an energizing yoga routine. Another station may offer children the opportunity to engage in sensory stimulation like modeling clay or putty.

What if they could have the choice to sit at their desk and write or draw in a journal with writing prompts about things they are grateful for, sometimes referred to as a gratitude journal. When done with mindfulness, these activities are a great way to help children regulate their emotions and be ready to learn.

Mindfulness in the classroom is quickly gaining momentum as an instructional strategy as more and more research points to its benefits to a child’s social emotional development, helping children reduce their anxiety with new ways to handle their feelings and emotions in academic and behavioral situations.

Earlier this year, the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Grace Tatter reported that the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University (CEPR), MIT, and Transforming Education released a study that shows how mindfulness education in the classroom can reduce students’ sense of stress and lengthen attention spans.

The study tracked two groups of sixth graders: One group participated in an eight-week mindfulness program four times each week, the other group did not. Students in the mindfulness group were taught anxiety-reducing techniques such as focusing on a rock for a minute, then discussing when their mind wandered and refocused on the rock.

Tatter reported, “after the eight weeks, the mindfulness group reported being less stressed than they had been before the mindfulness education, and better able to practice self-control.”

Amazingly, the student responses were validated with brain scans that showed that the part of their brains that control emotion, known as their amygdalas, had a decrease in response to pictures of fearful faces after the mindfulness work. Tatter noted that this suggests that “their brains were less sensitive to negative stimuli, or, in other words, that they were less prone to get stressed out and lose focus.”

The other group that did not engage in mindfulness did not see the same benefits during their brain scan tests.

It comes as no surprise that mindfulness in the classroom has become a growing trend in schools from coast to coast. In this 2017 MultiBriefs article, Brian offered tips on how to embed mindfulness into school programming. He wrote, “Students and adults of all ages can benefit from some explicit training and exposure to mindfulness as a way to reduce toxic stress and improve the health and well being of the body, mind and soul.”

Mindfulness does not have to take a lot of time out of a school day. Teachers often report that their biggest struggle is fitting everything into the limited amount of time they have in a school day.

Instead of thinking of mindfulness as “something else to be added” to a busy schedule, teachers should think about the things they already do to help students get ready to learn and then do them in a mindful way.

Teachers should note that mindfulness is something that needs to be taught and practiced daily. They should practice mindfulness with their class not only to model the behaviors for their students but also to experience the benefits for themselves.

Mindfulness is a practice that should be embedded throughout the day — ideally three to four times. Each time only needs to take one to two minutes.

For example, teachers could have students listen to a quick guided meditation before an exam or after lunch or recess. When mindful activities become a regular practice, the benefits will be felt almost immediately by all.

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5 ways to help your patients achieve better rehab outcomes

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The rehabilitation process can be both physically and emotionally challenging for virtually any patient. You may need to frequently revisit your facility’s inpatient approaches and work in tandem with outpatient rehab teams.

What are some fresh and effective ways to make the rehab process easier on your patients and increase the odds of terrific outcomes? Let research be your guide. Incorporate the following tips to perfect your process:

Identify patients most likely to experience rehab interruption.

Research by Addie Middleton via the American Journal of Physical Meditation and Rehabilitation found that patients who have experienced stroke, brain injury and spinal cord injury and who suffer a setback during rehab almost always must return to an acute care hospital.

Instruct your affiliated physical therapists to specifically monitor these patients closely for new symptoms or signs of distress from the very first session. Early intervention can help resolve complications and allow rehab progress to continue once these patients’ new issues are addressed.

Use virtual rehab technology.

A new study from Kaiser Permanente, led by author Tadashi Funahashi, found that discharged cardiac patients can achieve better rehab outcomes using wearable devices. Also, giving virtual coaching is a great way to reinforce key info regarding diet, exercise, condition education and counseling for emotional stress.

Work with your IT team to make these technologies a priority for your patients, and make sure the technology you use is easy to navigate.

Start rehab in the ICU whenever possible.

Research from Johns Hopkins led by Robert K. Lord found that the upfront costs of in-hospital rehab for critical patients are outweighed by the savings accrued later for patients. The sooner rehab begins, the stronger these patients become in the long run.

Even patients on life support can benefit from some rehab if it’s safe and medically feasible. Consult with your critical care teams to identify when beginning rehab is appropriate and monitor your ICU patients’ rehab progress scrupulously.

Coordinate quickly.

Cut the stress of a move directly from the hospital to rehab for your patients by setting up a transfer plan as quickly as possible. Also, double-check details to make sure the facility accepting your patient is completely up-to-speed on his/her status, needs and limitations.

Constantly give your patients information.

Ask your nurses to keep an ongoing dialogue with your patients who are doing in-hospital rehab or those who will start rehab on discharge.

What are they concerned about? What questions do they have? Keep your patients completely in the loop about what’s to come during these next stages in their progress. They’ll be more comfortable and do better the more they know.

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Zugunruhe and companion animal behavior

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Prior to migration, animals that migrate experience multiple physiological and behavioral changes. Ethologists adopted the German word zugunruhe, which means “migratory restlessness” to describe this phenomenon.

Aside from dog and cat owners who head south in the winter with their pets and back north in the summer, we seldom think of migration as a factor in companion animal behavior. When most of us think of migration, we think of birds and monarch butterflies making their semi-annual flights.

However, many species migrate. Although some migrations are long, others may be relatively short.

The seasonal migrations of deer between lower and higher elevations is a familiar example of the latter. But periods of restlessness and anxiety may precede these shorter migrations, too.

Food preferences may shift; animals may eat more or different foods, or cache food in their burrows. And even though some practitioners and many companion animal owners may be unfamiliar with the terminology, many have experienced the direct or indirect effects of zugunruhe.

Recall that establishing the physical and mental territory is a top animal priority. During these periods of transition, both of these are unstable. Animals who functioned in a more solitary or semi-solitary manner in the warmer weather may group together for warmth and protection from predators as the weather becomes colder and food supplies more limited.

While all this occurs, it’s also increasingly likely that at least some of this activity will occur on pet owners’ property or on the trails or in the parks where they take their dogs for exercise. Ironically, some of these wild animals may adapt to areas populated by people and their pets much faster than people and pets may adapt to the presence wildlife.

Called human-induced rapid evolution change (HIREC), this population of wildlife inhabiting and even thriving in human habitats has grown so rapidly it warrants its own specialty, urban ecology. It also resulted in a recent PBS series called “Wild Metropolis.” Thus, while their owners may see their treks with their dogs on their land or in nearby parks as fun and relaxing, these may be anything but for the family pets.

Establishing and protecting the physical and mental territory also is a critical animal priority for even the most sheltered house pets. Consequently, restlessness and behavioral changes in wildlife can and does alter companion canine and feline behavior.

Often the first sign of this is the veterinarians’ or clients’ awareness that the behavioral problem is seasonal. Because changes in behavior cause changes in physiology and vice versa, some of these animals may experience physical as well as behavioral issues.

For example, the Browns’ cat marks with urine in addition to being plagued by urinary tract problems year-round. However, the history reveals that these are being aggravated by the chronic stress generated by other cats in the household, the owners’ failure to keep the litter boxes clean, and the multiple cat-related arguments that routinely occur between those people.

Compare that cat to the Greens’ cat who only falls of the litterbox wagon in the spring and fall when the free-roaming wild animal and feral cat community become more restless. As the Greens’ cat ages and more wildlife and feral cats populate their area, the cat shrinks the in-house territory she’s willing to protect.

After one traumatic face-to-face experience with a fox on the opposite side of the sliding glass door, she stops marking that door as well as the other exterior doors in the house. Instead, she only marks the Greens’ bed where she sleeps with them.

In multiple cat or dog households, the animals may adhere to a social structure in which one animal assumes the bulk of the territorial protective duties. Seasonal increases in wildlife restlessness also may lead to an increase in aggression between the highest-ranking animal and (usually) most subordinate one the household.

Typically, this occurs when the protector animal can’t or doesn’t want to target a perceived threat (e.g., a wild or feral animal in the yard). Rather than do that, the more fit animal will go after the weaker one.

Sometimes referred to as the bystander effect, targeting another safer or available target enables the protector to quickly dissipate the cascade of stress hormones summoned to take on the threat. Presumably, this spares that animal the negative effects associated with the gradual waning of those hormones over time. Wild animal studies indicate that different levels of stress hormones as a function of rank also protects the animal “underdogs” when this occurs.

In this situation, though, an elegant mechanism that prevents serious injury in wild animals may wreak havoc in companion animal households if any people present don’t understand what’s going on and why.

Perhaps all they see is their macho Bruiser snarling and charging their timid little Babycakes. Their minds are so full of images of all the horrible things Bruiser might do to their baby, they can’t see what actually is — or isn’t — happening.

Their baby has read their bully’s signals and positioned herself between the legs of a chair in a corner where he can’t get to her. Meanwhile he carries on until he’s spent and goes away… Unless, of course, the owners start screaming and yelling and turn this beneficial ritualistic display into a far more serious one.

This brings us to another aspect of zugunruhe as it plays out in human-animal interactions: the real possibility that its effects occur in humans as well as wild and domestic animals. Using a stable physical and mental territory as the standard, consider all of the seasonal transitions companion animal owners may make with or without their pets.

Think of those teachers who may spend their summers at home relaxing with their human-companion animal families who start to gear up for a return to the classroom every year. Or, the seasonal restlessness and anxiety we begin feeling as the holidays approach. In both cases, these adult human feelings may pale beside that of any youngsters in the household. No doubt the family dogs and cats are aware of and influenced by these, too.

Think of zugunruhe as the emotional soundtrack playing in the background as wild and domestic animals experience seasonal transitions of one kind of another. These transitions and any anxiety that goes with them may take many forms in human-companion animal households.

If and how these seasonal physiological and behavioral changes influence an animal’s behavior depends on the quality of the bond the animal shares with any people in the household as well as what’s going on in nature.

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Payers, providers win latest battle in ongoing hospital pricing war

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It appears that hospital price transparency proponents have lost a recent battle. Trump administration officials are kicking a political can down the road after push back from hospitals and insurers, who would have had to make previously undisclosed rates public.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) said it has some 1,400 comments for a proposed rule about the revealing of rates, and the coming rule regarding the topic will include responses to these concerns.

So, who wins here? Payers and providers, apparently. Consumers? Not so much. They remain out in the cold regarding the details included in prices and how those prices ultimately may affect them and their wallets.

Healthcare insiders have long argued against transparency so they wouldn’t be forced to reveal their negotiated rates with anyone outside their systems. These opponents of the regulation said competition could be at stake and that transparent pricing actually could be a harm to patients.

Some legal elites remain skeptical that CMS has the authority to mandate that hospitals disclose pricing information that makes up contracts with insurance plans. Insurance lobbyists say price transparency will lead to higher prices across the board.

Hypothetically, after seeing rates in a region, the lowest-paid hospital would demand higher prices, essentially creating a floor for pricing. “The hospital lobby has said it would fuel anti-competitive behavior among payers and threaten access to care,” Healthcare Dive reports.

A recent study claims that patients are taking steps to diagnose the price of their procedures through some old-fashioned internet research.

A survey from TransUnion Healthcare included responses from 2,500 patients that visited a hospital, clinic, or doctor’s office within the past six months. It found that 75% of patients attempt to research the cost of medical procedures online, consulting health systems and health insurance websites to gain insights into their out-of-pocket financial responsibility before heading to the doctor.

Based on these figures, it’s hard to understand how more transparency is a problem for patients, who seem actively engaged in wanting to know more about the costs of their procedures.

According to the survey, the opposite seems true. Sixty-two percent of patients said knowing their out-of-pocket costs influences whether or not they can access healthcare. Forty-nine percent reported having a precise estimate of financial responsibility impacts whether they visit a specific provider.

If this is true, the survey strongly suggests that more pricing transparency in healthcare would hurt providers and payers more than patients.

Trump’s proposal first was offered in July. The first proposed rule from CMS called for hospitals to disclose “payer-specific” negotiated rates for at least 300 “shoppable services.”

For those lobbying arms that hope this move is a long-term victory, it’s likely not. Signs suggest that as younger generations require healthcare services, they’re going to want pricing information to support their decision-making.

Younger generations are more likely to use the internet to understand their out-of-pocket financial responsibility. Eighty-five percent and 84% of Gen Z and millennial patients, respectively, said they research their cost burden before visiting the doctor. Between 60% and 65% said those out-of-pocket costs can sway whether they visit the doctor or hospital, Patient Engagement HIT reports.

Another important point on the subject: As patient financial responsibility grows, more patients are responsible for between $500 and $1,000 in out-of-pocket costs, rising from 34% to 59%. It would be no surprise if consumers pushed to know how much money they are required to front for their health services.

“Only half of patients said they could access clear price transparency information, meaning only half of the patients know how much they will owe before accessing healthcare,” the study notes. Short-sightedness on price transparency is likely a failure to prepare for more consumerism, and further push back from those ultimately paying the bill.

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Mindfulness: A potential lifeboat for middle school students?

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Daniel was feeling anxious before an exam at school, but he paused and used the three breaths technique to get centered and settle his nerves before starting. When he got his test results, he seemed surprised — he’d expected a D or C but got a B — simply from being more grounded and calmer, shares Daniel’s instructor, mindfulness and emotional intelligence coach Janet Fouts.

Perhaps you’ve seen similar results but need hard data to justify incorporating mindfulness into your curriculum. Or maybe you want to initiate a new program at your school.

Whatever the reason, if you’re looking to justify the effectiveness of mindfulness, here’s great news.

New evidence from two recent studies strengthens the argument in favor of mindfulness practice for young people. While earlier research has shown that mindfulness training has a positive effect on the adult brain, its impact on young developing brains was unknown — until now.

The studies based out of MIT, Harvard and Yale reveal a positive relationship between mindfulness and mental health, academic achievement and attendance for middle school-aged students.

Study links mindfulness and school success

On top of the natural physical and neurological changes happening in their bodies, pre-adolescents and teens often experience undue academic and social pressure in middle school. Enhancing mindfulness may help support students during these challenging years according to a study published in Mind, Brain and Education by Harvard, Yale and University of California researchers this June.

The study of over 2,300 urban students in fifth through eighth grade showed that those with a higher level of mindfulness were also more successful in school. The researchers measured the students’ mindfulness using the short‐form Mindful Attention Awareness Scale and paired the results with their academic records.

Independent of demographic characteristics, the relationship between mindfulness and academic success was similar.

“Greater mindfulness correlated significantly with better academic achievement as measured by grade point average and standardized tests of mathematics and literacy, greater improvement in academic performance from the prior school year, better attendance, and fewer suspensions,” reported lead author Camila Caballero from Yale University.

“This association strengthens the rationale to explore whether mindfulness‐based interventions can enhance academic outcomes by leveraging the malleability of mindfulness.”

Coding or mindfulness?

The other study, published in Behavioral Neuroscience this August, was the first to explore the impact of mindfulness training on stress and plasticity in the developing brain.

Eight weeks of either mindfulness or coding training was randomly assigned to 40 middle-school children. Before and after the trainings, researchers asked students to view photos depicting fearful, happy and neutral facial expressions then report how stressed they felt. An MRI scan was also used to test response in area of each student’s amygdala, a region of the brain involved in experiencing emotions.

During the first viewing all participants showed greater stress and right amygdala activation when viewing the angry face as compared to the others. However, after the eight-week training, the group engaged in mindfulness showed lower anxiety than the other group.

The researchers also point out that the changes in perceived stress and neuroplasticity happened while the children were in non-meditative states, indicating that the benefits of mindfulness training extend beyond the active meditative state.

“This study provides initial evidence that mindfulness training in children reduces stress and promotes functional brain changes and that such training can be integrated into the school curriculum for entire classes,” they report.

Incorporating mindfulness into school curriculum

Mindfulness isn’t one size fits all. In the classroom children may respond differently depending on their personal circumstances.

Connecting with the breath, for example, may not have the desired effect of calming and focusing for every child, explains mindfulness educator Joree Rose, MFC, in her book, “Mindfulness: It’s Elementary,” a collection of activity-based lessons. Students already experiencing high levels of anxiety may actually become more anxious.

Being prepared with awareness of how students may react and alternative activities will make successfully engaging everyone in your classroom more likely.

Fortunately, numerous resources are available for educators. The training used in the above MIT study was implemented by Calmer Choice, according to a recent Mindful Magazine article. Mindful also has its own community for educators.

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More advice from a learning-disabled individual

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For the past year, you have read about my experiences living with learning disabilities. I have shared moments of being bullied and harassed in school, and being discriminated against and rejected by family members, prospective employers and society as a whole because of my condition.

I have described my feelings of anger and bitterness over the mistreatment, but I honestly felt so much worse than that.

The horrible bullying and harassment I received in junior high led to me picking my skin, mostly my nails.

I didn’t trust anyone. I’m sure I missed out on great opportunities and relationships because I was so afraid of getting hurt.

I wrapped myself in this invisible bubble for years to protect myself from experiencing any more pain… not fully realizing that I was only making it worse.

I should have gotten help, but my anxiety prevented me from doing so. Obviously, that was a clear sign that I needed it!

I took my negativity out on those who genuinely cared and loved me. After each outburst and apology, I would be so scared that they wouldn’t be there anymore. They stuck by me, though… knowing that I was battling a very tough fight with my past.

I must have spent nearly 30 years reading all sorts of self-help books, some more than once. I was just so desperate to be free from all my pain! Yet, with the end of one book and the promise of taking the advice I read to heart, I would forget about what I had just read and go back down the same destructive path.

It wasn’t until the death of my maternal grandmother in 2011 that I finally realized how badly I needed help. I found a very good book on recovering from depression at a local library that was very beneficial in getting me started down the path to healing. Once again, I reread all of the other self-help books with the stone-cold hard promise to take the advice seriously.

It’s been a long process. I have had to re-read a few more self-help books but I can sincerely say that I am well on my way to complete recovery. I say that humbly, of course.

I have come to understand that I am going to experience all sorts of discrimination because of my being learning disabled.

I am not going to be hired for a 9-to-5 job because potential employers will consider me too much of a liability. Yes, I know I am protected by the Americans With Disabilities Act, but it isn’t a fight I really want to get into.

I have accepted that the only way to make money on a regular basis, is to become self-employed. As luck would have it, I am doing my dream job: I am working with dogs and I am pursuing a career as a writer.

What is saddest of all is that several family members have rejected me. That really stung, but I have wonderful, supportive parents who have always encouraged me to pursue my dreams.

To end this article, I wish to tell my fellow learning-disabled individuals:

Do not make the same mistakes I made. Don’t give away your power to anyone especially to your naysayers.

You are just as special as the next person. You deserve to be here.Live your life on your own terms.

Listen to advice and constructive criticism but in the end…make up your own mind.

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Do we need smartphones in the classroom?

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At an age where kids are completely digitally immersed, some Michigan schools have banned cellphones in the classroom, raising a lot of eyebrows in the process. In these districts, students are barred from carrying or using cellphones in class, in hallways, or even at lunch.

Violators’ phones will be confiscated, and students may even face suspension from school if they fail to follow an imposed phone check-in contract.

It is a generational debate. Parents everywhere consider cellphones a considerable distraction for students. Students cannot live without them, and at these schools in Michigan, they are chafing at the loss of their phones.

Research shows that excessive exposure to cellphones has a negative effect on school-aged children. Pew Research states that 95% of teens use cellphones, and 45% are hooked to theirs for more than nine hours a day.

A University of San Diego study stated that excessive use of cellphones is a chief cause of teenage depression or anxiety. It very likely leads to a physiological addiction with each digital notification. As early as 2015, the London School of Economics concluded that banning cellphones led to a 6 to 14% improvement in national exam performance.

A Michigan school district that stood by the ban is not just citing improved learning but also says that it will help turn things around for an antisocial generation. Students have to put away their phones and talk to each other face to face.

Real-time conversations are a lost art for this generation, and as a result, they miss out on things that make conversations meaningful. Many districts feel that the cellphone ban will lead to happier, healthier relationships.

The Michigan schools are not alone in placing such stringent rules on cellphone usage in school. California has announced a statewide cellphone restriction at all charter and public schools. Internationally, some regions in France, Canada, and Australia have imposed a mobile phone ban in schools, too.

But detractors feel that banning cellphones is not the answer when children today are so attached to theirs. They think that the districts should try and use them a powerful educational tool instead.

Every generation has something that is the bane of parents or teachers. For us, now, it’s cellphones. However, if students are encouraged to explore them as educational tools, things could be better.

Those who do not support the ban propose that teachers and administrators understand the relationship students have with technology today and adapt accordingly. Teachers must be prepared to embrace emerging technologies.

By doing so, they will foster more in-depth learning through methods. Instead of banning cellphones, they should devise ways to incorporate into their lessons as the latest digital tools.

The rapid pace of evolving technologies requires a shift in mindset, and teachers have to encourage digital teaching and learning by weaving technology into a classroom in ways that deepen learning. This will go a long way to improve student involvement in the learning process, while a ban may do just the opposite.

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