Woman sitting at desk experiencing back pain.

Can Lawyers Help Fix Back Pain (No, Not By Suing)?

By Jack Becker

A Pain in the Back

Back pain is a real pain in the back. Comprehensive data is tough to collect, but an estimated 60-80% of people will have to deal with back pain at some point in their life. Lower back pain, in particular, is the leading cause of global disability.

This issue has serious impacts beyond individual pain and suffering. According to a 2018 report by the Bone and Joint Initiative, Americans lost 264 million work days in a single year due to back pain. The report also claims that in 2014, the direct and indirect costs of musculoskeletal disorders were a staggering 5.76% of U.S. GDP, totaling hundreds of billions of dollars. While more conservative estimates put the costs closer to $125 billion, the impact is significant.

There are clear incentives for business or government actors to intervene, but where can they start? One option is to let lawyers lead the way.

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Close up view of graduation hat on dollar banknotes. Tuition fees concept.

Becoming a Bioethicist is Expensive. That’s a Problem.

By Leah Pierson

The financial barriers associated with becoming a bioethicist make the field less accessible, undermining the quality and relevance of bioethics research.

Because the boundaries of the field are poorly defined, credentials often serve as a gatekeeping mechanism. For instance, the recent creation of the Healthcare Ethics Consultant-Certified (HEC-C) program, which “identifies and assesses a national standard for the professional practice of clinical healthcare ethics consulting” is a good idea in theory. But the cost of the exam starts at $495. There is no fee assistance. Given that 99 percent of those who have taken the exam have passed, the exam seems to largely serve as a financial barrier to becoming an ethics consultant.

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Vegetables super heroes, vector broccoli, squash and avocado, cauliflower and beetroot. Eggplant, chili pepper and pumpkin, spinach, carrot and tomato with cucumber, garlic and radish cartoon veggies.

Fiber: The Hero American Nutrition Deserves

By Jack Becker

Metropolis has Superman. Gotham has Batman. Could America’s nutrition hero be fiber?

Since nutrition can be complicated, consumers need rules of thumb to make more informed decisions without comprehensive nutrition education.

We already have these for what not to eat: the villains of American diets — too much added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium. But we need to be equally clear in identifying a hero. Enter fiber.

Foods that are high in fiber are often nutrient-dense and healthy. So, if someone is struggling to figure out whether a food is healthy, fiber content could be a useful shortcut.

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Finger pressing Apple Maps button on the Apple CarPlay main screen in modern car dashboard.

Addressing Distracted Driving: The Problem is Bigger than Texting

By Jack Becker

Distracted driving is deadly.

In 2019, 8.7% of all motor vehicle traffic fatalities involved a distracted driver, totaling 3,142 fatalities. And hundreds of thousands more are injured due to distracted drivers each year.

So, what are the solutions? Anti-drunk driving initiatives may provide some valuable insights.

The share of motor vehicle fatalities involving alcohol impairment has declined from 41% in 1985 to 28% in 2019.

Much of this decrease is attributable to laws and law enforcement. When the FY 2001 Transportation Appropriations bill included a provision setting the national impaired driving standard at .08 BAC, it was touted as saving an estimated 500 lives per year. Every state has some form of drunk driving law, and 38 states have open container laws, and these laws seem to impact fatalities.

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Work-life balance. flat design style minimal vector illustration.

Shortening Medical Training Would Help Trainees Balance Family and Career

By Leah Pierson

In my junior year of college, my pre-medical advisor instructed me to take time off after graduating and before applying to medical school.

I was caught off guard.

At 21, it had already occurred to me that completing four years of medical school, at least three years of residency, several more years of fellowship, and a PhD, would impact my ability to start a family.

I was wary of letting my training expand even further, but this worry felt so vague and distant that I feared expressing it would signal a lack of commitment to my career.

I now see that this worry was well-founded: the length of medical training unnecessarily compromises trainees’ ability to balance their careers with starting families.

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Petrie-Flom Center student fellows 2021-2022.

Petrie-Flom Welcomes 2021-2022 Student Fellows

(Clockwise from top left: Matt Bauer, Jack Becker, Bailey Kennedy, Cathy Zhang, Leah Pierson, Kaitlynn Milvert)

We are so excited to welcome a new group of Student Fellows to the Petrie-Flom Center family. These six students are a fantastic cohort of health law policy, biotechnology, and bioethics scholars who join us from across Harvard.

They each will undertake a year-long research project with mentorship from Center faculty and affiliates, and also will blog here at Bill of Health regularly. Keep an eye out for their bylines!

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Petrie-Flom Center logo.

Petrie-Flom Student Fellowship Now Accepting Applications

What do a MacArthur Genius award winner, several health law professors at top schools, executive directors of leading health law centers, an associate chief counsel of the FDA, and partners and associates at top health care law firms all have in common? The Petrie-Flom Center Student Fellowship!

The Petrie-Flom Center Student Fellowship is a competitive one-year program designed to support Harvard graduate students interested in pursuing independent scholarly projects related to health law policy, biotechnology, and bioethics.

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Washington, USA- January13, 2020: FDA Sign outside their headquarters in Washington. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA or USFDA) is a federal agency of the USA.

A New Step for the FDA in Regulating Digital Health Products

By Vrushab Gowda

On September 22, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced the establishment of a new initiative to regulate digital health products – the Digital Health Center of Excellence (DHCoE).

In some ways, the announcement does not come as a surprise; FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn’s predecessor, Scott Gottlieb, outlined the DHCoE in a press release two years ago. What does remain to be seen is whether DHCoE represents a true paradigm shift in FDA’s approach to regulating digital health products.

According to Hahn, the DHCoE aims to (1) build partnerships, (2) share knowledge across FDA and with stakeholders, and (3) innovate regulatory approaches. It will be led by the current Director of CDRH’s Division of Digital Health, Bakul Patel.

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a stethoscope tied around a dollar bill, with a bottle of pills nearby

Can We Expect Legislation on Surprise Medical Billing? I’d Be Surprised

By Abe Sutton

Surprise medical billing has emerged as a top political priority amid a torrent of complaints about expensive balance billing.

Despite leaders such as President Trump, former Vice President Biden, and members of the 116th Congress pledging to address surprise medical billing, federal legislation is unlikely, due to powerful health associations’ divergent interests. To shake legislation loose, the President would need to publicly take a side and expend political capital on a creative solution.

In this piece, I walk through why federal legislative action has been stymied to date, and what it would take to get surprise medical billing legislation over the line.

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