Every two weeks, we gather some of the most interesting and intriguing studies from health researchers around the world. Here are the latest:
Fitbits are constant companions for those tracking their daily steps or nightly sleep. But the wristband fitness-monitoring devices also can help in medicine, assisting doctors in assessing how well patients are recovering after surgery.
In a study of 32 patients undergoing bone marrow transplants to treat leukemia and other cancers, a team at the University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center found that Fitbits may be able to do a more precise job of tracking mobility and symptoms, compared with traditional methods of assessment.
The researchers said the Fitbit readings could be especially helpful for patients who may not be able to self-report their symptoms on questionnaires because of language barriers, cognitive abilities or health status.
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The study also indicated that a decrease in average daily steps was associated with more pain, fatigue, nausea and other symptoms.
“We found that changes in daily steps are highly correlated with pain and fatigue,” said Antonia Bennett, a research assistant professor in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. “These wearables provide a way to monitor how patients are doing, and they provide continuous data with very little patient burden.”
The patients’ Fitbit readings were monitored for eight weeks, during a monthlong hospitalization for the bone marrow transplant and for four weeks after being discharged.
With more studies, the UNC researchers said they hope to see Fitbit-style activity trackers become more common as “patient-centered” assessment tools.
New technique eases brain surgery for epilepsy
For kids with epilepsy, invasive brain surgery has been a longstanding technique to stop uncontrollable seizures. Traditionally, the surgery involves making a large incision into the skull, often resulting in pain, risk of infection, significant blood loss and lengthy hospital stays.
Now, brain surgeons at Children’s Hospital of Michigan said they have dramatically improved the process, by using a lighted scope that requires only a 1-inch incision, according to a story published online in the Journal of Neurosurgery Pediatrics. “Our method of attaching an instrument to the endoscope is a paradigm shift in minimally invasive brain surgery,” Dr. Sandeep Sood, a specialist in childhood epilepsy surgeries, said in a statement.
The technique is being called a major breakthrough in corpus callosotomy, a surgery that cuts the nerve transmitting seizure messages between the two halves of the brain. By using an endoscope and a tiny incision, doctors reported faster healing time, less pain and a shorter hospital stay for young epilepsy patients.
Depression in young docs: Grueling residencies to blame?
More than 25 percent of young doctors have signs of depression, according to a new study, which says the grueling years of medical residencies may be partly to blame.
That’s bad news for the young doctors but also for the patients they care for, the study said, since depressed doctors are more likely to make mistakes or give poor care.
The research, done by a team that includes a University of Michigan Medical School psychiatrist who specializes in physician mental health, looked at 54 studies of more than 17,500 doctors-in-training over five decades to draw its conclusions. It was published in December in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The study specifically looked at the first years out of medical school, internships and residencies, which are noted for “long hours, intensive on-the-job learning, low rank within a medical team, and a high level of responsibility for minute-to-minute patient care.”
The study’s authors said the prevalence of depression – 28.8 percent – was surprising, given efforts in recent years to reform medical residencies in order to improve the mental health of young doctors.
“We hope (the findings) will focus attention on factors that may negatively affect the mental health of young doctors” and identify strategies to prevent and treat their depression, said the study’s lead author, Dr. Douglas Mata of Harvard University. The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health and the the U.S. Department of State Fulbright Scholarship.