FYI from the NHLBI Index
September 2001: Vol. 2, Issue 2
Message from the Director
This "back to school" season, the NHLBI is providing several opportunities for you to learn how to
improve your health. For example, September is National Cholesterol Education Month. The theme this year
is "Know Your Cholesterol Numbers - Know Your Risk." It highlights two main points of the new cholesterol guidelines in the Third Report
of the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) Expert Panel on Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment
of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults (Adult Treatment Panel III, or ATP III): the importance of
having your cholesterol measured and knowing your risk of developing heart disease. Many Americans are
at high risk of heart attacks because of a combination of cholesterol and other factors; they could
benefit from lowering their cholesterol levels even though they don't have
especially "high cholesterol." The ATP III Guidelines emphasize the importance of developing
personalized risk reduction strategies by setting and attaining
target cholesterol levels based on overall heart attack risk.
However, if you or any of your loved ones have the misfortune of experiencing a heart attack,
it is crucial that medical care be sought immediately. New medicines can prevent or limit damage
from a heart attack, but they are most effective if given within an hour of the onset of symptoms.
On National 911 Day, held on September 11, our National Heart Attack Alert Program will launch an
aggressive outreach program. Part of the effort will be to educate physicians about the importance
of talking with patients about the signs of a heart attack and what to do (call 911) if they think
they are experiencing one. But you don't have to wait until your next doctor's appointment to learn
about heart attack symptoms. The National Heart Attack Alert Program also is launching a new Web page
through the NHLBI's Web site where you can learn how to "Act in Time to Heart Attack Signs."
Claude Lenfant, M.D.
Stem Cells: Scientific Progress and Future Directions
On August 9, President Bush announced that Federal dollars may be used to fund important
basic research on human embryonic stem cells. Dr. Ruth Kirschstein, Acting Director of NIH,
expressed the NIH community's enthusiastic support of the President's decision, and stated
"The approach he has outlined is sound, and we understand the President's clear desire to move
forward with care. Using the more than 60
existing cell lines from around the world, many more researchers will now be able to explore the potential of human embryonic stem cells, in addition
to the extensive work already sponsored by NIH using human adult stem cells. We believe this combined research has high potential both for opening new doors in basic scientific understanding and for
discovery of new treatments for some of our most devastating diseases."
To help you understand what is known, and what is not known, about stem cells, the
NIH has prepared a comprehensive, yet comprehensible, report.
In addition to a
glossary and descriptions of different types of stem cells, the report
contains examples of how stem cell research may benefit patients with specific
diseases, including conditions affecting the blood or cardiovascular systems.
Other chapters describe how stem cells could be used to deliver gene therapies and the safety issues
that need to be considered before stem cell-based therapies are developed.
New Rules to Protect Patients' Privacy
Each time a patient sees a doctor, is admitted to a hospital, goes to a pharmacist, or sends a claim
to a health plan, a record is made of their confidential health information. When Congress enacted
the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), which included provisions
encouraging electronic transactions and communications, new safeguards were required to protect
the security and confidentiality of that information. In response, the U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services (DHHS), of which the NIH is a part, recently established
"Standards for Privacy of Individually Identifiable Health Information"
(also known as the HIPAA Privacy Rule).
Most health plans, health care clearinghouses, and health care providers have until
April 14, 2003, to comply with the rule. Then, patients will have significant new rights to understand and
control how their health information is used. For example:
The DHHS Office for Civil Rights
will enforce the rule and violators will be subject to civil and criminal penalties.
- Providers and health plans will be required to give patients a clear written explanation
of how information may be used.
- Patients will be able to obtain copies of their records, and to request amendments.
- People will have the right to file a formal complaint about violations of the provisions of
this rule or the policies and procedures of the covered entity.
With few exceptions, such as law enforcement needs, an individual's health
information may only be used for health purposes. As required by the HIPAA law
itself, stronger state laws (like those covering mental health and AIDS information) will
continue to apply.
Please send us your feedback, comments, and questions by using the appropriate link on the page, Contact the NHLBI.
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