Tests & Treatments

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

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Schools Provide Vision Testing — Eyeglasses A Bigger Challenge

(Jane Meredith Adams/EdSource)

San Jose student receives eye exam from nonprofit “Vision to Learn.” (Jane Meredith Adams/EdSource Today)

By Jane Meredith Adams, EdSource Today

It was a good week for the 90 students at Merritt Trace Elementary School in San Jose who climbed into a mobile eye exam van and emerged with the promise of a free pair of eyeglasses. But for thousands of students across the state who need glasses but don’t have them, it was another blurry week of not seeing the blackboard or the letters in a book.

Effective Jan. 1, two new state laws will clarify and expand the protocol for mandatory vision screening of students. But they don’t address the crux of a major children’s health conundrum: ensuring that students who fail the vision test actually get eyeglasses.

As many as one in four students in kindergarten through 12th grade has a vision problem, but in some California schools, the majority of students in need of glasses don’t receive them, researchers said. One study of 11,000 low-income first-graders in Southern California found that 95 percent of students who needed eyeglasses didn’t have them, one year after their mandatory kindergarten vision screening.

“You would hope that the problems would have been caught,” said Dr. Anne Coleman, a co-author of the study and an ophthalmologist at UCLA’s Jules Stein Eye Institute. Continue reading

FDA Considers Lifting Ban on Gay Men Donating Blood

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By Mina Kim and Peter Shuler

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will consider Tuesday lifting a 31-year-old ban on blood donations from gay men.

Originally fueled by fear and little understanding of AIDS, federal regulators in 1983 banned donations from men who have sex with men. Now a federal health advisory committee recommends that the FDA ease that ban, saying that men who have not had sex with another man for a year may donate blood.

Hank Greely is a professor of law and medicine at Stanford and directs the Center for Law and the Biosciences. He reminded listeners of how little we knew about AIDS when the ban was first put in place. “No one really knew what caused AIDS” at that time, he said. “They did know people were getting the disease from transfusions, and that gay men were one of the groups that had the highest incidence of the disease.” Continue reading

Miscommunication A Major Cause of Medical Error, Study Shows

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By Irene Noguchi

It seems almost unbelievable, but medical errors may be the third leading cause of death in America, after heart disease and cancer. That’s according to an analysis from Journal of Patient Safety. Could the key to change be in better communication? A new study from UC San Francisco and eight other institutions, says yes. Researchers found that improving communication between health providers can reduce patient injuries from medical errors by 30 percent.

The team found that a highly risky period was when patients are transferred or “handed off” between medical providers. Critical information gets passed between doctors, nurses and pharmacists.

When there’s a shift change or a patient moves to another hospital, “there’s an opportunity for communication failure,” says Daniel West, professor of pediatrics and vice-chair at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital. Continue reading

How Likely Are You to Have Heart Surgery? A C-Section? Depends Where You Live

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

“Location, location, location” may be a well-known maxim in real estate, but it applies in health care, too. Where you live matters in terms of what treatment you will receive for a given condition.

A new statewide survey published Tuesday found significant variation in the rate of 13 common elective procedures for several health conditions — including heart disease, childbirth and arthritis of the hip or knee. Treatments for these conditions are considered “elective” because deciding which treatment is best (or deciding on no treatment at all) can depend on someone’s preference.

It would be ideal if the patient was fully informed of all treatment options and made a decision based on his or her own preferences. But often it’s the doctor’s preferences that drive the decision. Continue reading

KQED’s #PriceCheck Project Shows Steep Variation in Prices Paid by Health Insurers

(Illustration: Andy Warner)

(Illustration: Andy Warner)

Since June, KQED has been crowdsourcing health care prices.

For starters, insurers paid from $128 to $694 for a screening mammogram.  

Why turn to crowdsourcing? Because health care prices are notoriously opaque. Negotiated rates between insurance companies and providers, both doctors and hospitals, are sealed tight, by contract. We know there’s variation, but comparing what one insurance company pays with another is virtually impossible.

So we asked you, the members of our community, to share what you paid.

Together with our collaborators KPCC in Los Angeles and ClearHealthCosts.com, a New York City startup dedicated to health cost transparency, we created a form to make it easy for people to share what they paid — and easy for consumers to see apples-to-apples comparisons of prices. Continue reading

PriceCheck: Insurer Payments for IUDs Vary by $800 in California

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Earlier this year, 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.

On PriceCheck we’re shining a light on the opaque world of health care costs. We’ve asked what you, the members of our audience, have been charged for common medical tests and services, including mammograms and lower-back MRIs.

Now a PriceCheck update on IUDs, the long-acting contraceptive. (And it’s really long-acting — up to seven years for the hormonal type; up to 12 years for the copper IUD). You told us what you were charged and what your insurers paid for an IUD.

Like all FDA-approved methods of birth control, IUDs are supposed to be available at no co-pay to consumers under a requirement of the Affordable Care Act. Were they? The device alone generally costs several hundred dollars; a doctor’s charge to insert the device can be hundreds more.

Continue reading

Seeing Red During Breast Cancer Awareness Month

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By Anne Loeser, NPR

The lump first surfaced in my breast in 1989, when I was 36 years old.

Despite decades of awareness months, survival has remained depressingly flat.

To many young women, a small lump like that wouldn’t be cause for alarm because most breast lumps are benign. But there’s a long history of breast cancer in my family, so I immediately consulted a renowned breast surgeon. “It’s nothing to worry about,” she said. My mammogram was completely normal. She thought the lump was merely normal breast tissue.

But four years later I was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer.

My treatment was among the most aggressive available: surgery (a double mastectomy), chemotherapy and five years of hormonal therapy to keep my hormone-sensitive breast cancer quiescent.

Since there was no further sign of my cancer after my surgery, I hoped that my hard-hitting trio of treatment had succeeded in blasting every last cancer cell. And whenever I made my annual visit to my oncologist, I was comforted by his reassuring words: “There’s no sign of your disease.” Continue reading

Five UC Hospitals Now Designated for Ebola Care

UCSF is one of the five centers designated. (Niall Kennedy/Flickr)

UCSF is one of the five centers designated. (Niall Kennedy/Flickr)

The five medical centers of the University of California will serve as designated Ebola treatment centers should a person in the state become ill from the virus.

While public health officials are calling on all hospitals in California to redouble preparations for screening and isolating patients at risk for Ebola, those who are confirmed to have the virus will be transferred to a UC medical center in San Francisco, Davis, Irvine, Los Angeles, or San Diego.

“As a public university, stepping up to a public health crisis, like a potential Ebola outbreak, is what we do,” says Brooke Converse, spokesperson for the UC Office of the President. “Our overall mission as the University of California is to serve Californians and serve the taxpayers and the public.” Continue reading

California Hospitals Prepare for Ebola

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

Kaiser’s new hospital in Oakland is one of two sites that Kaiser has chosen to treat any Ebola patient that might present in its system. (Lisa Aliferis/KQED)

Hospitals in California are adapting to evolving guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control on how to best prepare for a possible Ebola patient. There are no known — or suspected — cases of the virus in California, but the infection of two nurses in Texas has hospitals here revamping their protocols.

Responsibility ultimately falls on each individual hospital to incorporate CDC guidelines into its own Ebola response plan. The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) is providing guidance, but the state’s chief of communicable disease control, James Watt, says state help can only go so far.

“The reality is that every hospital situation is unique. The physical layout of the hospital is unique and needs to be taken into account. Also the equipment that (each) hospital has,” he said during a press briefing last week. “That’s why it’s really important for the training and the planning to be done at the facility level. That’s not something that can be one-size-fits-all.” Continue reading

Ebola Is Not That Contagious, and 10 Other Quick Facts

Two nurses at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas contracted Ebola from a patient they were treating, but 44 of 48 others who came in contact with the patient, including his fiancee,  have completed their quarantine period and are cleared of the disease. The remaining four should complete their quarantine soon. (Mike Stone/Getty Images)

Two nurses at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas contracted Ebola from a patient they were treating, but 44 of 48 others who came in contact with the patient, including his fiancee, have completed their quarantine period and are cleared of the disease. The remaining four should complete their quarantine soon. (Mike Stone/Getty Images)

By Alison Bruzek, NPR

Basic information about Ebola isn’t as clear as it probably could be.

A recent poll by the Harvard School of Public Health, for instance, found that 38 percent of Americans are worried that Ebola will infect them or a family member in the next year, despite assurances that the U.S. will stop Ebola in its tracks.

We’ve put together a primer on what you need to know. We’ll update it as new information develops.

1. It’s Not That Contagious. Really.

Each person who contracts the virus spreads it, on average, to one or two other people. It’s not as contagious as HIV, SARS or measles.

2. Ebola Is Not Airborne…

Ebola is transmitted through bodily fluids, such as blood, sweat, saliva, breast milk, feces, urine and semen. However, infectious disease specialists say Ebola is not an airborne disease, like the flu. Continue reading