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Recent Newspaper & Online Columns by Kate Scannell MD

Fourth-grade class gives its prescriptions to doctors for better health care

Ms. Lainey Alderman and some members of her fourth grade class at John Swett Elementary School in Martinez.

By Dr. Kate Scannell, Syndicated columnist
First Published in Print: 05/28/2011

LAST WEEK, I visited Lainey Aldermen's fourth grade class at John Swett Elementary School in Martinez with two related goals in mind. The first was to demonstrate how writing could be fun and exciting, how it could lead to adventures and experiences in bigger worlds that existed "off the page." My second objective was to gain a better understanding of what young people think about doctors and health care -- their important perspectives are virtually absent from mainstream polls and surveys.

My overarching plan was to merge both goals by teaching the students how to write a structured essay, and asking them to focus it on their experiences with doctors or hospitals. I told them I would include their opinions in this newspaper column, hoping to provide them a concrete experience of witnessing their words being carried beyond the classroom into a larger public conversation.

And, of course, I learned many amazing things during my visit.  Read More 

Sleep deprivation is a wake-up call in the air and on the ground

By Dr. Kate Scannell, Syndicated Columnist
First Published in Print: 05/15/2011

FOR WEEKS, we've been reading about air traffic controllers falling asleep on the job. In one case, an airborne ambulance transporting a sick patient had to circle a Nevada airport for 16 minutes while the controller snoozed. In March, two jetliners inbound for Reagan National Airport were forced to land without clearance while the air controller slept.

In response to such disturbing incidents, the office of fatigue risk management at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has been collaborating with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association to identify and remedy conditions fostering controller fatigue. While not an expert at such matters, I have a (grounded) hunch these agencies will discover that 99.3 percent of human beings who sit alone within a tower, staring out for hours at a yawning night sky, working irregularly staggered shifts -- will tend to feel a little sleepy.

So far, the FAA has recommended a minimum nine-hour break between controller shifts, and at least one additional buddy present on overnight shifts at 27 airports that had previously maintained only one controller.

On the runway of public opinion about aviation safety, concerns about pilot fatigue immediately preceded our current focus on air traffic controllers. An ABC News investigative report in February claimed that "despite denials from the airline industry, large numbers of pilots report to duty every day after getting only a few hours of what fatigue experts call 'destructive sleep' in crowded crew lounges and so-called 'crash pads'." More than two dozen accidents and 250 fatalities in the U.S. had been linked to pilot fatigue in the past 20 years.

Public anxiety associated with air traffic controller or pilot fatigue is soaring high, partly fueled by post-9/11 insecurities regarding flying in general. But the reality is that fatigue-related safety hazards loom even larger on the ground. Whether referring to ourselves or to others within our daily lives, being sleepless IN Seattle might be riskier overall than being sleepless over it.  Read More 

The Ryan plan for Medicare -- One giant wrecking ball

Dr. Kate Scannell, Syndicated Columnist
First Published in Print: 04/30/2011

AS A physician specializing for years in geriatric medicine, I was delighted to learn about Republican Rep. Paul Ryan's plan to dismantle Medicare and replace it with good old-fashioned, coupon-clipping, private-marketplace opportunities for elderly and disabled people seeking health insurance.

It was a brilliant idea. We all know how fun it is to comparison shop for health insurance policies in the first place. But also incorporating the prospect of applying coupons or "vouchers" to insurance purchases -- well, it sounded like a shopper's paradise for the Medicare crowd.

Besides, as a matter of principle, shouldn't the elderly and disabled be freed -- yes, freed! -- from Medicare to pursue opportunities to shop for private insurance, just like more able-bodied, freedom-loving Americans? As a matter of personal liberty, shouldn't they be allowed as many mind-boggling consumer "options" for policies?
Sure, the disabled and elderly may collectively suffer more physical, mental, financial and social limitations in multiple arenas of life -- but the Ryan plan offers them a rare taste of unfettered freedom in the private insurance marketplace.

OK, wait -- I can't satirize the Ryan plan anymore. What it threatens to do to Medicare is entirely too serious and disturbing. Read More