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Am Fam Physician. 2003;68(6):1003-1004

AAFP Launches Initiative to Strengthen Patients' Voices in Congress

The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) has placed an increased emphasis on advocacy in Washington, D.C. One aspect of this emphasis includes a new program that will provide family physicians with information to pass on to their patients that will encourage them to contact members of Congress on various health issues. “Our patients want a voice in their health care,” said AAFP President James Martin, M.D., San Antonio. “They want to speak up for better health care, and we have an opportunity to help them.” The first legislative issue being targeted by this program is the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule. Physicians can access background information and talking points on this issue to use when speaking with patients ( A two-page flyer explaining the issue also is available for printing and placing in the waiting room for patients to read ( The flyer encourages patients to go online to the AAFP's Speak Out page ( to view a sample letter to Congress.

New Guide Available Online to Help Physicians Counsel Older Drivers

The American Medical Association (AMA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently released a new comprehensive guide to assist physicians in keeping their older patients driving safely. The 226-page guide, “Physician's Guide to Assessing and Counseling Older Drivers,” includes an office-based assessment of functional abilities related to driving; a reference table of medical conditions and medications that may impair driving, and driving safety recommendations specific to each one; recommendations for counseling patients on retiring from driving; a state-by-state list of driver license requirements; educational handouts for patients and concerned family members; and a discussion of the legal and ethical issues on the management of unsafe drivers. According to the NHTSA, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of injury-related deaths in persons 65 to 74 years of age. Based on estimated annual travel, the fatality rate for drivers who are at least 85 years of age is nine times higher than the rate for drivers who are 25 to 69 years of age. Groups contributing to the project include the AARP, the Epilepsy Foundation, the National Stroke Association, the AAFP, the Federal Highway Administration, and the American Geriatrics Society. The guide is available online

Fact Sheet Outlines Health Issues for Patients to Address with Physicians

“Five Steps to Safer Health Care,” a patient fact sheet that was designed to reduce medical errors by encouraging patients to take an active role in the health care they receive, is now available. This resource, developed by the Department of Health and Human Services in partnership with the AMA and the American Hospital Association, suggests questions for patients to ask their health care professionals about treatment and follow-up. It also reminds patients to maintain a list of all the medications (prescription and over-the-counter) they are taking, to inform their health care professional of any drug allergies they may have, to read the medication label, and to ask about side effects and what to avoid while taking a medication. It also recommends that patients get the results of any test or procedure, talk to their physician about which hospital is best for their health needs, and make sure they understand exactly what will happen during surgery. This fact sheet is available online

Percentage of U.S. Children Who Receive Immunizations Is Increasing

According to results of a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of children in the United States receiving immunizations reached an all-time high in 2002, especially in the coverage rates for varicella and pnuemococcal conjugate vaccines. National vaccination coverage with varicella vaccine increased from 76.3 percent in 2001 to 80.6 percent in 2002. Coverage remained steady for all other vaccines in 2002 compared with 2001. The CDC reported that because of nationwide immunization efforts, the number of most vaccine-preventable diseases has been reduced by more than 99 percent since the implementation of immunization programs. The full results of this study can be found on the National Immunizations Survey (NIS) 2002 data Web site The AAFP recommendations on immunizations are available online

Report Shows Spending for Prescribed Medications Has Risen Sharply

Data from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality's (AHRQ) Medical Expenditure Panel Survey show that expenses for outpatient prescribed medications increased from $72.3 billion in 1997 to $103 billion in 2000. Results from the survey include the following: outpatient prescription medications accounted for a greater proportion of total medical expenses, increasing from approximately 13 percent of total expenses in 1997 to more than 16 percent in 2000; the average out-of-pocket expenses for people at least 65 years of age were more than three times higher than for people under 65 years of age every year from 1997 to 2000; the average number of prescriptions for persons at least 65 years of age was more than twice the average number of prescriptions for persons under 65 years of age in each year from 1997 to 2000; and between 1997 and 2000, the average expense for people at least 65 years of age with any prescription medication expense increased by 35 percent, from $819 to $1,102. The survey, “Statistical Brief 21: Trends in Outpatient Prescription Drug Utilization and Expenditures: 1997–2000,” is available on the AHRQ's Web site

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