Tests & Treatments

Information and new research about advances in discovering and treating diseases and conditions.

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Resistance to Translating Prescription Drug Labels

(Getty Images)

Right now, drug labels appear only in English in California, yet 44 percent of Californians speak a language other than English at home. (Getty Images)

Every Saturday morning, a steady stream of Chinese and Vietnamese patients line up at the Paul Hom Asian Clinic in Sacramento. Most of them speak little to no English.

Patient assistance director Danny Tao says people come here to get free medical consultations and drug prescriptions. But, he says that when patients take those prescriptions to be filled, they don’t understand the instructions on the label.

“They go pick them up, and we don’t exactly know if they’re taking it or not — or if they know how to take it,” Tao said. Continue reading

CDC: California Inmates Should Be Tested for Valley Fever Immunity

Aerial view of Avenal State Prison, near Coalinga in the Central Valley, where inmates have been hit hard by Valley Fever. (Buzzbo/Flickr)

Aerial view of Avenal State Prison near Coalinga, one of two Central Valley prisons where inmates are at high risk from Valley fever. (Buzzbo/Flickr)

By April Laissle

Federal health officials say the state must take steps to reduce the outbreaks of Valley fever at its prisons. Their recommendations come after 30 inmates in California died from the illness since 2008.

The fungal infection is caused by spores in the soil and can cause fever, chest pain and swelling. Two Central Valley prisons, Avenal and Pleasant Valley, have had especially high rates of the disease. Last year, California officials agreed to transfer high-risk inmates from the two prisons.

Now, experts from the Centers for Disease Control suggest new inmates should be tested for immunity. They say susceptible inmates should not sent to the two Central Valley prisons. Continue reading

PriceCheck: How Much Does A Back MRI Cost?

Back MRI costs vary widely, even within the same city. (Cory Doctorow/Flickr)

Back MRI costs vary widely, even within the same city. (Cory Doctorow/Flickr)

In June, KQED launched PriceCheck, our crowdsourcing project on health costs. We’re working in collaboration with KPCC, public media in Los Angeles, and ClearHealthCosts.com, a New York City startup looking at health costs.

Just in San Francisco, back MRIs range in price from $575 to $6,221.

We’re asking you, the members of our community, to share what you’ve paid. We started with mammograms. We have both cash or “self-pay” prices in our database. We also have crowdsourced prices. The range we’ve found, even in close geographic areas, is startling.

Here’s one example: ClearHealthCosts collected self-pay prices at various centers in the Bay Area and Southern California. If a woman walks into the NorCal Imaging Center in Walnut Creek, a screening mammogram will cost her $125, if she pays out of pocket. Continue reading

Kaiser Therapists, Patients Allege Long Waits for Mental Health Care

Kaiser Permanente’s newly opened medical center in Oakland. (Lisa Aliferis/KQED)

Kaiser Permanente’s newly opened medical center in Oakland. (Lisa Aliferis/KQED)

One month, three months, even five months.

That’s how long some Northern California Kaiser patients wait to see an individual therapist — according to many Kaiser patients and therapists.

KQED’s Jon Brooks has reported extensively on this issue over the last two months. He talked to close to two dozen therapists and patients who said that they were experiencing long wait times. One therapist whose specialty is geriatric care told him that she had written to her superiors saying, “I can’t tell a patient that has six months to live that I’ll see them in five months.” Continue reading

Explaining the Health Insurance ‘Explanation of Benefits’

By Lynne Shallcross

We are wrapping up the first phase of our PriceCheck project. The goal is to shine a light on costs of common health care procedures in California. We’re starting with screening mammograms, and already we’ve found that the cash price (for people who are uninsured or have gone out of network) varies from a low of $60 at the H. Claude Hudson Comprehensive Health Center in Los Angeles, a county-run clinic, to $801 at U.C. San Francisco on the high end.

Together with KPCC in Los Angeles and ClearHealthCosts.com, we’re also asking you, the members of our community, to share what you’ve been charged — and what your provider has been paid — for common health procedures.

In order to do that, you need to get familiar with your insurance company’s “explanation of benefits” or EOB. That’s the form your insurer sends to explain what was paid, to whom, at what level and why.

Here’s a typical EOB, that we’ve marked with some explanations below:

An explanation of benefits from Anthem Blue Cross.

An explanation of benefits from Anthem Blue Cross.

Continue reading

Therapists, Patients Criticize Kaiser Over Long Delays for Therapy

Kaiser Permanente's newly opened medical center in Oakland. (Lisa Aliferis/KQED)

Kaiser Permanente’s newly opened medical center in Oakland. (Lisa Aliferis/KQED)

This is the second of two parts about mental health services at Northern California Kaiser.

In January 2013 a woman named “Nina” had a terrible falling out with her father. Soon after, she found out he had incurable cancer and was going to die. In the ensuing weeks, she tried to patch things up, but with the pressures inherent in the last months of a dying man, was unable to attain any form of closure. Some six months after their fight, he was gone.

“People are suffering, and I fear some of my patients will commit suicide for lack of ongoing treatment.”

“Nina,” who did not want us to use her real name for reasons of privacy, had been prone to depression. Zoloft had helped, but the now irreparable family rift left her severely depressed, with occasional thoughts of suicide. “I was in a state of constant emotional pain and confusion,” she says. “It was affecting all aspects of my life.”

She went for an intake appointment at the psychiatric department at Kaiser Permanente’s Oakland Medical Center, with the expectation she’d be able to see a therapist for individual appointments during this severe emotional crisis. She requested those sessions, but the intake therapist told her Kaiser only offered group therapy.

“I said I’m not comfortable talking about my situation with a bunch of strangers,” Nina says. “She very kindly tried to make me aware of the value of group therapy. But I knew in my heart it wasn’t where I wanted to be.” Continue reading

Sonoma County Has Highest Whooping Cough Rate in Statewide Epidemic

Napa has the second highest rate of the disease. (Esparrow1/Flickr)

Napa has the second highest rate of the disease. (Esparrow1/Flickr)

By Lynne Shallcross

It’s been a little over a month since California declared a whooping cough epidemic, and according to the most recent data from the state, three neighboring Bay Area counties have the highest rates of the disease statewide: Sonoma, Napa and Marin.

Sonoma County’s rate of whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is almost 120 cases per 100,000 people. Napa County’s rate is 90 per 100,000, and Marin’s rate is 65 per 100,000.

Sonoma County’s interim health officer, Karen Holbrook, says the number of cases reported each week has peaked and is now declining.

“It’s not what the state is experiencing as a whole, but we are coming down,” Holbrook says. “Will that hold indefinitely remains to be seen.”

Holbrook says California is seeing a whooping cough epidemic partly because the disease is cyclical, with cases spiking every three to five years. Continue reading

PriceCheck: What Insurance Companies Are Paying for Mammograms

(Illustration: Andy Warner)

(Illustration: Andy Warner)

It’s been almost three weeks since we launched our PriceCheck project, and women statewide are continuing to share what they — or their insurance companies — have paid for a mammogram.

Is your insurer paying $134 or $1,200?    

I talked about PriceCheck and our most recent data with Rachael Myrow on The California Report Thursday morning.

It’s been fun to see people’s mouths fall open when I tell them the range we’re seeing that insurers pay for mammograms across California:  $134 on the low end to $1,200 on the high end. Continue reading

San Francisco Supes Approve Laura’s Law, Can Compel Mentally Ill Into Treatment

(jivedanson/Flickr)

(jivedanson/Flickr)

Update 10pm by Isabel Angell

San Francisco Supervisors passed a version of Laura’s Law today that compels treatment for certain mental health patients. Supervisor Mark Farrell, who sponsored the legislation, said Laura’s Law will be an “important tool” for the city.

“I do believe we need to do more as a city and we need to do more to help those who are clearly suffering and cannot help themselves. In order to make a difference here at the local level, we have to continue to challenge ourselves and the status quo,” Farrell said before the vote.

A last-minute amendment from Supervisor Jane Kim that added an external evaluation after three years helped the ordinance pass 9-2. Supervisor Eric Mar, who cast one of the “no” votes, called mental health treatment a civil rights issue.

Continue reading

Feds Say Autism Therapy Now Covered As Children’s Medicaid Benefit

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By David Gorn, California Healthline

CMS officials released federal guidance for states on Medicaid coverage of autism therapy on Monday, and that guidance indicates it is covered for beneficiaries under age 21.

“ABA therapy must be covered (by Medi-Cal). It’s very, very clear.”

“It’s a good day. It’s such a good day,” said Julie Kornack, senior public policy analyst at the Center for Autism and Related Disorders, an advocacy group based in Tarzana. “Whenever you get a decision that we’ve been seeking for years, that is a good day.”

Applied behavior analysis treatment, known as ABA therapy, now is a benefit for those under age 21 under the Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis and Treatment (EPSDT) provision of Medicaid — and therefore it also must be covered under Medi-Cal, California’s version of Medicaid, according to Kristin Jacobson, president of Autism Deserves Equal Coverage, an advocacy group based in Burlingame. Continue reading