Philadelphia brings home unsatisfactory health report card

City officials in Philadelphia have a clearer picture of what's ailing the local populace, thanks to a recent visit from Mehmet Oz, MD, and his television show's production crew.

At the conclusion of "Dr. Oz's 15-Minute Physical" -- held at Temple University's School of Medicine on May 19 -- Oz presented a health "report card" to Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and Health Commissioner Donald Schwarz, MD.

[See also: Dr. Oz examines Philadelphia's health.]

The results, gathered from on-site screenings (cholesterol and blood sugar levels, blood pressure, body mass index, waist size and neck circumference) of close to 300 patients, highlighted particular problems in the areas of hypertension and obesity. Data scientists from Practice Fusion, which provided its EHR for paperless compilation of patient information during the event, reported that 43 percent of participants were hypertensive with an average waist size of 41 inches.

Eight-five percent of patients were female, with an average age of 47 years.

Oz reviewed the day's findings at a briefing following the patient exams. "We're looking for the chronic illnesses that rip the gut out of the healthcare economy," he commented. "We're mortgaging our nation's future by not dealing with these numbers. That's why it's good policy and good politics to pay attention to these things."

Tests identified 43 percent of examined patients as being clinically obese, with another 29 percent classified as overweight. "That puts [Philadelphia] above the national average," said Oz. "Weight causes a lot of issues with the biochemistry of the body."

Tests also showed strong indicators of diabetes in 9 percent of patients, with another 40 percent characterized as pre-diabetic. "That's a fairly high number, and it's where we think our country will be in coming years. To me, it raises concerns," said Oz.

"If you put the picture together," Oz continued, "people are not eating well. And because they're not eating well, they're gaining weight. And because they're gaining weight, they're poisoning their liver, giving rise to lousy LDL cholesterol. They're blocking insulin from working, so they're getting diabetes. And they're squeezing their kidneys, which regulates blood pressure and causes hypertension."

Practice Fusion's overall patient database of tens of thousands of patients nationwide registers Philadelphia's hypertension rate at 38 percent, more than double New York's 16 percent, and significantly higher than cities such as Los Angeles (23 percent) and Houston (31 percent).

Nutter accepted the health report card on behalf of the city he governs. Before doing so, he confided with physicians and medical students in the audience that he aspired to be a doctor when he entered University of Pennsylvania. "I wanted to be one of you – "but Chemistry 3 changed my life…and I think the world's a safer place," he joked.

Turning serious, Nutter acknowledged that two-thirds of Philadelphia's adults and 40 percent of its children are overweight. "Health is critically important to the city…There are world issues, there are national issues, and then there are local issues," Nutter continued. "We can do something about these five health indicators" measured during the 15-minute physical.

"We can win this fight," Nutter emphasized. "We'll do it through education, we'll do it through information, and we'll do it by continuing to raise the profile on these kinds of issues and having this kind of activity."

Oz credited Mike Cirgiliano, MD, an internist at University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and medical contributor to Fox 29 News in Philadelphia, with saving a life earlier in the day during the patient-screening process. Testing indicated a hemoglobin level two-thirds lower than normal for a female patient, who was subsequently admitted to Temple's emergency department. Doctors there discovered the patient had a bleeding uterus. She received four blood transfusions and treatment for dehydration.

"These events are about hope; they're not meant to scare people," Oz explained, "They're designed to give people the power to show up in their own lives."

As a call to action, Oz said his show plans to return to Philadelphia in October to run a large free clinic, through which patients would be matched up with medical homes. "We'll take a lot of people from the city's overburdened clinics and help them find places to receive a better quality of care, to change their lives for the better, and allow a ripple effect to take over the city of Philadelphia," Oz concluded.

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