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Countering Anti-Vaccination Beliefs May Be About Fear, Not Science

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How do you get skeptical parents to vaccinate their kids? Show them how scary getting the measles actually is. 

Thanks to larger numbers of parents ignoring scientific data in favor of paranoia over vaccine safety, preventable diseases like whooping cough and measles are making a major comeback in Europe and the U.S. But a new study in the journal PNAS finds that educating parents about the safety of vaccinations isn’t the answer. Scaring them about the risks of the diseases the vaccines can prevent is. 

More than 300 parents were randomly assigned to three groups in the study. One group read materials that challenged anti-vaccination views, like the idea that vaccines cause autism (a link disproved by a host of scientific studies), while another focused on the risks associated with disease like measles, mumps, and rubella, reading accounts of a mother with a measles-infected child and looking at pictures of children who were infected. A third read about another subject entirely, serving as the control. 

The people who read about the dangers of diseases like measles, mumps, and rubella and their associated complications were most likely to change their minds about the importance of vaccination, more so than the people who read about the safety of vaccines. Even the most skeptical participants were likely to be swayed by seeing pictures like an infant with rubella. 

"People who fear vaccines ultimately do care about the safety of their children, so our manipulation focuses on the safety of their children," study author Zachary Horne explains in a press statement

It makes sense. These days—thanks to vaccines—parents are more likely to have experiences with a child with autism than with the measles, so they may be more worried about their child getting autism from a vaccine (again, not a thing) than their child getting the measles from not being vaccinated. Reminding them that the measles is not like getting a bad cold may be the first step in directing their attention away from the minimal risks of vaccination toward the major risk of deadly disease. 

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A New Law Could Require Hospitals to Post Their Standard Prices Online
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Try shopping around for affordable hospital care like you would for a car or a house, and you'll surely hit a wall. Hospital bills are a huge expense in America, but the prices for specific services are often obscure until patients check out. Now, PBS reports that Medicare may soon require hospitals to post their standard prices and share medical records online.

Hospitals are already required to disclose their prices to the public, but actually tracking down a number can suck up more time and effort than customers have to invest. While making a video for Vox, it took reporter Johnny Harris two weeks and 30 phone calls to get an estimate for how much his wife's delivery of their child would cost. Under the new rules, such prices would be made clearly available on the internet so that third-party app developers could access them.

The change wouldn't automatically make shopping for hospitals as easy as comparing airfare prices. Patients would still be responsible for getting in touch with their health insurance provider to see how much of a hospital's listed price is covered and how much of it falls on them. Even then, the numbers patients get will likely be more of an estimate than a hard figure.

In addition to making pricing more transparent to customers, the proposed rule aims to make personal medical records more accessible as well. The hospitals that make the effort to present this information clearly, possibly by organizing bills from multiple providers into a single app, would receive benefits from Medicare.

The U.S. has some of the most expensive healthcare in the world: In 2016, Americans collectively spent $3.4 trillion on medical costs. For many people, high medical bills are unavoidable, but if the proposed rule goes into effect (most likely in 2019), it could at least make them less of a surprise.

[h/t PBS]

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Feeling Anxious? Just a Few Minutes of Meditation Might Help
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Some say mindfulness meditation can cure anything. It might make you more compassionate. It can fix your procrastination habit. It could ward off germs and improve health. And it may boost your mental health and reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and pain.

New research suggests that for people with anxiety, mindfulness meditation programs could be beneficial after just one session. According to Michigan Technological University physiologist John Durocher, who presented his work during the annual Experimental Biology meeting in San Diego, California on April 23, meditation may be able to reduce the toll anxiety takes on the heart in just one session.

As part of the study, Durocher and his colleagues asked 14 adults with mild to moderate anxiety to participate in an hour-long guided meditation session that encouraged them to focus on their breathing and awareness of their thoughts.

The week before the meditation session, the researchers had measured the participants' cardiovascular health (through data like heart rate and the blood pressure in the aorta). They evaluated those same markers immediately after the session ended, and again an hour later. They also asked the participants how anxious they felt afterward.

Other studies have looked at the benefits of mindfulness after extended periods, but this one suggests that the effects are immediate. The participants showed significant reduction in anxiety after the single session, an effect that lasted up to a week afterward. The session also reduced stress on their arteries. Mindfulness meditation "could help to reduce stress on organs like the brain and kidneys and help prevent conditions such as high blood pressure," Durocher said in a press statement, helping protect the heart against the negative effects of chronic anxiety.

But other researchers have had a more cautious outlook on mindfulness research in general, and especially on studies as small as this one. In a 2017 article in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science, a group of 15 different experts warned that mindfulness studies aren't always trustworthy. "Misinformation and poor methodology associated with past studies of mindfulness may lead public consumers to be harmed, misled, and disappointed," they wrote.

But one of the reasons that mindfulness can be so easy to hype is that it is such a low-investment, low-risk treatment. Much like dentists still recommend flossing even though there are few studies demonstrating its effectiveness against gum disease, it’s easy to tell people to meditate. It might work, but if it doesn't, it probably won't hurt you. (It should be said that in rare cases, some people do report having very negative experiences with meditation.) Even if studies have yet to show that it can definitively cure whatever ails you, sitting down and clearing your head for a few minutes probably won't hurt.

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