Friday, February 13, 2004

Medicine's cutting edge at home in small places

Health watch

By Tim Bonfield
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A striking thing about the explosive growth of medical technology is how small big medicine can be.

Plenty of high-tech activity goes on in the research towers and hospital complexes on "Pill Hill," where tens of thousands work at the University of Cincinnati, seven acute-care hospitals and dozens of health services.

But big things also go on at much smaller places.

In Norwood, the region's busiest fertility clinic sports a lab where technicians can suck a single cell from a developing embryo and a plain white freezer chest that stores hundreds of frozen human embryos in glass straws about the size of coffee-stirrers.

Yet the work of the Center for Reproductive Health goes on in a general-purpose office building, where the clinic shares an elevator with real estate developers and financial services.

In West Chester, a ground floor office that could have been built in any suburban office park houses the Precision Radiotherapy Center. The cancer-zapping stereotactic radiosurgery done there involves million-dollar hardware once found only in big hospitals.

In Newport, the 22-year-old Wood Hudson Cancer Research Laboratory does more than $1.3 million worth of studies a year from a small red-brick building on Isabella Street.

And if you drive through Newtown, don't blink or you might miss Meridian Bioscience Inc. From its cluster of three buildings along Main Street, the company makes rapid-test kits for food poisoning, stomach ulcers, herpes and many other conditions that are shipped to more than 60 countries.

Even in the big research centers, the smallness of health technology can be surprising.

In Corryville, UC's Genomics and Microarray Laboratory has powerful devices that can analyze thousands of genes at a time to track down the causes of disease. Yet much of the lab's equipment sits on table tops.

TREATMENTS HELP: Providing mental health services to workers really can improve productivity and reduce absenteeism, according to a recent study.

California-based PacifiCare Behavioral Health tracked more than 19,000 people who received outpatient mental health treatment from 1999 through 2002, who reported feeling stressed and unproductive at work.

After three weeks of treatment, the percentage of people who were officially considered "work-impaired" dropped from 31 percent to 18 percent, according to a report published last year in Employee Benefit Plan Review.

Despite this and other reports of the bottom-line value of combating depression in the workplace, many employers are cutting back on mental health benefits as the overall costs of health coverage continue to rise.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Good Samaritan Hospital has 448 beds. That's nearly 30 percent fewer than it had in 1927.


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