seal  Purdue News

December 10, 2003

Purdue University experts that can talk about a variety of health and medical issues.


1. Medical technology has ills of its own

2. Weighing benefits of costly medical technology to save lives

3. Expert talks about role of health appraisals

4. Working out at work healthy for employees, companies

5. More than restrictive smoking policies needed to end habit


Medical technology has ills of its own

Great technological advances are being made in medicine, but simultaneously patients' most basic personal needs are not being met, says a Purdue University expert on the history of medicine.

"The major issue in postmodern medicine is the growing gap between technology and healing," says Keith Dickson, professor of foreign languages and literatures and an expert in ancient Greek literature and medicine. "Hundreds, even thousands of years ago, doctors didn't cure disease, they cured sick people because the human element was more central. Now in modern medicine, there is a growing debate that the sick person has been lost."

Dickson attributes the decentralization of the patient to physicians' technology dependence. For example, doctors may rely more on imaging or scan results than listening to what their patients have to say about how they are feeling.

"The advances in medicine are tremendous, but we need to see physicians reestablish a central relationship with their patients," Dickson says. "Today's technology-driven physicians can learn something from the founders of medicine."

CONTACT: Dickson, (765) 496-3253,


Weighing benefits of costly medical technology to save lives

Just as patients have access to state-of-the-art scans and tests, one day their medical information will be handled with the latest in technology. Implementing such massive changes, however, will exact a financial and structural toll on the health care system, says a Purdue University sociologist.

"Cost is a big issue," says James Anderson, who has studied health organization for more than 20 years. "Physicians are not convinced that these technological changes will be cost-effective. Physicians, just like anyone in business, need to weigh the cost of implementation over savings. Even though investing in software for electronic medical records or electronically ordering prescription drugs is a large up-front investment, we are starting to see how these changes can result in more income and productivity as well as lower personnel costs. These changes also can save lives by reducing medical errors."

For example, if patients' medical records are electronic, any health care provider has access to their medical histories, which include information about chronic diseases and medication allergies. With this knowledge a physician is less likely to misdiagnose or prescribe wrong medications.

Anderson says medical errors are one of the top 10 reasons people die in this country. According to the Institutes of Medicine, about 90,000 people die from medical errors every year.

The universal implementation of such technology into the nation's decentralized health care system also will change the role of support personnel and organizations' daily operations.

"If these changes take place, they will ultimately reshape health care as we know it," Anderson says.

CONTACT: Anderson, (765) 494-4703,


Expert talks about role of health risk appraisals

With such chronic and disabling diseases as obesity, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease on the rise, now may be the best time to reevaluate the role health risk appraisals play in health care, says a Purdue University health promotion expert.

Gerald Hyner, professor of health and kinesiology, says it's not unusual for companies to use health appraisals, which estimate an individual's health status based on their answers to a questionnaire and sometimes basic physical screenings. The appraisal focuses on behaviors related to an individual's medical history, physical activity, weight issues, alcohol consumption and seat belt usage.

"Medical costs will only continue to rise as the incidence of chronic diseases increase," Hyner says. "A company can use a health appraisal to identify employees' health concerns and introduce prevention programs. For example, if there are a lot of smokers, then the company knows to consider cessation programs."

After the client information is calculated, a report is generated that identifies health risks. Clients also need to be aware that just like the opinions of different doctors, health risk appraisals produce a variety of results because each company uses different equations to estimate the risks of an individual or group.

"If individuals, corporations and society continue to ignore prevention programs and just pay to treat preventable diseases or injuries, then health-care costs will continue to spiral out of control, and more patients will be unable to purchase quality health care," Hyner says.

Hyner studies how health risk appraisals can be used to influence users' behaviors. He also can talk about privacy issues related to submitting personal health information on the Internet, or even in a handwritten appraisal.

CONTACT: Hyner, (765) 494-3151,


Working out at work healthy for employees, companies

A Purdue University professor says if America wants to shape up, then the nation's employers need to step up.

"As a start, we need to see small businesses approach on-site wellness with a can-do attitude, and larger corporations need to reduce their skepticism and resistance," says Roger Seehafer, a health and kinesiology professor who works with companies to implement programs such as exercise and fitness, nutrition, weight management, smoking cessation and stress management.

Numerous studies show that promoting wellness and disease prevention in work settings is effective in many ways, including increasing employee wellness and providing companies a return on their investment. Seehafer, a member of the Purdue Center on Aging and the Life Course and the Living Well After 50 Coalition, says it's now more critical than ever for companies to take an active role in wellness as health care costs are expected to increase 12 percent to 14 percent next year.

"And the increase will do more harm to smaller companies," he says. "If there is a major medical problem with one employee, it has a greater fiscal impact on smaller companies."

Why focus on smaller worksites? About 80 percent of the American work force is employed at a company with 500 or fewer employees, Seehafer says. And about 55 percent of that population works for a company with fewer than 100 people.

Seehafer can talk about how smaller companies can find low-cost, efficient ways to incorporate wellness programs that are affordable, well designed and staffed by knowledgeable and qualified personnel. Seehafer also can address what elements make for a successful worksite wellness program at a larger company.

CONTACT: Seehafer, (765) 494-3159,


More than restrictive smoking policies needed to end habit

A Purdue University health promotion expert says it's not enough for companies, universities or cities to implement smoking policies; they also should provide assistance to help smokers kick the habit.

"As these entities move to create restrictive smoking policies, all should provide opportunities for smoking cessation," says Regina Galer-Unti, a professor of health and kinesiology who is working on advocacy training initiatives for tobacco prevention and cessation in Indiana. "The biggest roadblock for smoking cessation is that we don't offer enough opportunities for individuals to quit. It isn't enough, or effective, to tell people to quit. We must offer a variety of ways for people to stop. For example, insurance plans should all offer smoking cessation programs and should not balk at paying for this more than once because of the benefit of long-term savings."

At the same time people are helping others to stop smoking, it's crucial to keep youth from starting to smoke, Galer-Unti says.

"We need to eliminate the glamour of smoking in Hollywood, remove smoking from bars and restaurants, and thwart the attempts of the tobacco companies to gain access to our college students through promotional events in bars and to our children through video arcades," Galer-Unti says. "We immunize our children and protect them from fire, then sit by while the tobacco companies work to addict them to tobacco."

Galer-Unti says medical costs due to smoking are estimated at $50 billion a year. She also can talk about the struggle individuals face when they try to end the physiologically and psychologically addicting habit.

CONTACT: Galer-Unti, (765) 496-3330,