News in Brief: Week of Jan. 16-20

January 18, 2012 06:00 pm News Staff

This roundup includes the following news briefs:

Robert Graham Center Receives Grant for Research on Primary Care Extension Program

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) recently awarded the AAFP's Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care a $47,000 grant to produce at least three policy papers on a national primary care extension program that is intended to provide programmatic and technical assistance to primary care practices.

The policy papers will explain the importance of a primary care extension program in providing support to primary care practices and will identify current examples of how such a program could work, said Robert Phillips, executive director of the Graham Center.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act called for the creation by AHRQ of the extension program. The Graham Center has agreed to produce at least two one-page documents on the initiative and one larger document for publication in a medical journal, Phillips said.

The AHRQ award also will give the Graham Center an opportunity to collaborate with several leaders in family medicine to explain how the extension program concept could help HHS and AHRQ meet the triple aims of health care established by the federal government: improving the experience of care, improving the health of populations, and reducing per capita costs of health care.

AHRQ Site Working To Improve Doctor-Patient Communication

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality's (AHRQ's) "Questions are the Answer(" campaign is working to help patients better prepare for medical appointments.

According to AHRQ, the focus of the project is to empower patients and physicians to establish or improve effective two-way communication, thereby making health care safer.

Physicians and patients will find the following tools on the campaign's website:

  • a video( featuring patients and clinicians discussing the importance of asking questions and sharing information;
  • a new brochure -- Be More Involved in Your Health Care: Tips for Patients( -- offering helpful suggestions for before, during and after a medical visit; and
  • notepads( designed to help patients prioritize the top three questions they want to ask during their medical appointment.

The Commonwealth Fund Releases Early Findings of Beacon Community Program

A January 2012 issue brief( from The Commonwealth Fund contains an update on progress of the Beacon Community Cooperative Agreement Program(

The program was established with a $235 million grant, authorized by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, to create cooperative agreements with communities to build and strengthen their health care information technology infrastructure and health information exchange capabilities.

Financial support has been awarded to 17 communities across the country to implement strategies -- with an emphasis on health IT -- to enhance care coordination, improve patient and population health, and reduce or restrain health care costs.

NCQA Announces First Organizations to Seek ACO Accreditation

The National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) announced the first six organizations to seek accreditation from the NCQA Accountable Care Organization (ACO) Accreditation program( launched by NCQA in November.

According to an NCQA Jan. 12 news release(, the six aspiring ACO organizations are:

  • the Billings Clinic, Billings, Mont.;
  • Children's Hospital of Philadelphia;
  • Crystal Run Healthcare, Middletown, N.Y.;
  • Essentia Health, Duluth, Minn.;
  • HealthPartners, Minneapolis; and
  • the Kelsey-Seybold Clinic, Houston.

All six organizations have been designated as "early adopters," meaning they have committed to a full NCQA survey to take place between March 1 and Dec. 31 that will assess each organization's ACO capabilities.

EPA Website Offers Information on Radon Risk

According to the Environmental Protection Agency(, indoor radon exposure is the leading cause of lung cancer for nonsmokers in the United States; it is responsible for roughly 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year.

The EPA is asking family physicians to encourage patients to both test for and fix any radon leaks patients might find in their individual homes. The EPA's "A Citizen's Guide to Radon(" includes information on obtaining and using a radon test kit(, as well as guidance on why a level at or over 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) is dangerous, and how to reduce the amount of radon found in a home with such readings.

Survey Documents Prevalence, Frequency of Binge Drinking

About 38 million people in the United States -- one in six people -- consume at least four to five alcoholic drinks in one setting and, thus, are considered binge drinkers, according to survey data( recently released by the CDC and published in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The CDC defines binge drinking as four or more drinks for women in one sitting and five or more drinks for men at a time. According to the agency, the overall prevalence of binge drinking in 2010 was 17.1 percent, about 2 percent higher than the 2009 reported rate.

The data found that among binge drinkers, the frequency of binge drinking was 4.4 episodes per month, and the intensity was 7.9 drinks during one occasion. Young adults between the ages of 18 to 24 years had the highest rates of binge drinking prevalence, 28.2 percent, and the highest rate of intensity, 9.3 drinks. But frequency among binge drinkers was highest among drinkers 65 and older, 5.5 episodes a month, according to the data.

Excessive alcohol use accounts for estimated 80,000 deaths in the United States each year, and binge drinking is responsible for more than half of those deaths, according to the CDC.