The Weekly Dose
September 17, 2020
Welcome to The Weekly Dose! Each week, we will review one scientific article, summarizing the research and providing key takeaways. Our goal in this endeavor is to make science understandable and accessible to all.
Is it possible that individuals who required emergent care or hospitalization during the extensive COVID-19 lockdown period opted not to seek treatment for fear of contracting the virus? A research letter published in JAMA suggests this is probably so. The study analyzed data from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), comparing hospital admissions for conditions requiring acute care before and during the predominant lockdown period of 2020. Study participants included a cohort of military veterans, primarily (94%) male, who averaged 66 years of age and were enrolled in VA care from 2010 to 2018.  

When the researchers compared admissions in weeks 11-16 of 2020 to those in weeks 5-10, they found an overall reduction of 41.9%, from 77,624 to 45,155. Among the startling reductions were admissions for stroke (−51.9%), heart attack (−40.3%), and appendicitis (−56.7%), all of which require immediate treatment. To test whether these observed declines could be unrelated to COVID-19--an unlikely possibility, but a check that scientists perform to establish “robustness” of their findings--the investigators compared admissions for the same time periods (i.e., weeks 11-16 and 5-10) in 2019. As they did not uncover similar 2019 admissions -declines, the authors concluded that the 2020 changes were related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Key Takeaways: 

  • It is likely that VA patients who required timely treatment for serious health conditions did not receive such care during the period of the pandemic in which US residents avoided leaving their homes.
  • This reduction in health seeking among military veterans is probably an expression of their concern for contracting COVID-19 at healthcare facilities. More research is nonetheless necessary to determine the exact causes of changes in admission rates.
  • The longer-term clinical and public-health consequences of untreated acute illness are not yet known, however, scientists are concerned that such consequences are considerable.
Who is VSC?

Vital Statistics Consulting (VSC) is a healthcare consultancy that specializes in the evaluation of policies and programs and provides independent, rigorous, innovative analysis to support data-driven recommendations that improve healthcare quality and organizational efficiency.
What's New at VSC?
Our podcast, Unbiased Science, is live on Stitcher, Spotify, Apple, Amazon, and most other major podcast platforms! We have recorded a “teaser” which describes how we’ll approach each episode. Our first episode will tackle the question, “How will the COVID-19 vaccine work if preliminary evidence shows that the antibodies people develop after getting sick only last a few months?” We’ll present the latest and greatest research on this topic and draw an evidence-based conclusion. Between episodes, we post lots of scientific content (and it’s not all COVID-related), so be sure to follow us on social media (@unbiasedscipod)!

Our CEO, Dr. Jessica Steier, recently moderated a COVID Voices Panel for the Diversity Alliance for Science (Da4S). The event presents the perspectives of frontline providers on the pandemic. One of the participants was Dr. Andrea Love, VSC Immunology Consultant. There will also be a live Q&A. This panel is part of a larger 2-day virtual conference presented by Da4S. If you’re interested in attending, you may register using this link. Use code DA4S1 for a 50% discount! Registration ends on 9/18.
Employee Spotlight

Each week, The Weekly Dose will introduce readers to one of our team members.

This week, VSC Business Development Specialist, Ramon Llamas, MPH, is in the “spotlight.” We have asked him three questions, the answers to which reveal some of his professional and personal inspiration for working in the field of health science.   

Which people and/or events influenced your decision to work in this field?

This is a random, and funny story. I was on my way back from studying abroad in Siena, Italy (living la dolce vita) and wasn’t able to register for the courses I needed for my major (pre-med bio), so I filled my quarter schedule with electives, and “Introduction to Public Health” was one of them. Dr. Zuzanna Bic taught the class and her teaching style was the complete opposite from what I experienced in my college career to that point - with empathy and a mutual learning environment. The stark contrast to the competitive, memorize-and-regurgitate model in the pre-med biology world aligned with my values of collaboration and shared mission.

After that course, a couple classmates and I founded the Public Health Association at UC Irvine, and I’ve been doing some form of assessing needs and filling gaps ever since.

What was the answer you gave people as a child when asked what you want to be when you grow up? 

I don’t think I had a consistent answer. I didn’t really know that entrepreneurship was a path growing up. I knew about “business” as this abstract concept, but had no idea how much creativity, grit, EQ, and so many other skills were needed to succeed.

My mom and grandmother built up small businesses and it wasn’t really on my radar until 2014, when I participated in a 54-hour startup weekend event. From then on, I was hooked on combining my public health knowledge with the innovation world.

What advice would you give yourself 3 years ago? 3 years from now? 

In the past: trust your instincts. The reason why no one can relate to what you’re describing is because the way you’re thinking is outside of the perspective of individuals working in institutions. Stay the course.

In the future: there’s a great quote by MLK that I came across recently, which I’ll add to. “If I cannot do great things, I can do many small things great.”

My version: if I cannot do great things now, I can do many small things great and slowly build up to that great thing.
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