Tests & Treatments

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

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Sacramento Patient Being Tested for Possible Exposure to Ebola

Ebola virus magnified 108,000 times. (Getty Images)

Ebola virus magnified 108,000 times. (Getty Images)

By Lisa Aliferis and April Dembosky

Don’t panic, folks. Really.

A patient who may have been exposed to the Ebola virus is being tested at Kaiser’s South Sacramento Hospital.

The other key information here is that California Department of Public Health officials call the unidentified patient “low risk,” according to criteria established by the CDC that considers travel history, exposure to infection, and clinical features.

In a call with reporters Wednesday afternoon, CDPH deputy Dr. Gil Chavez said the state has received no reports of any high risk patients. CDPH said the patient is being tested out of an “abundance of caution.”

In a statement, Dr. Stephen Parodi, director of hospital operations for Kaiser Northern California, said the unidentified patient is being kept in a specially equipped negative pressure room, and staff working with the patient are using “personal protective equipment.” Continue reading

Judge Orders Overhaul in Segregation for California’s Mentally Ill Inmates

All Inmates are shackled whenever they leave their cells. (Julie Small/KQED)

All Inmates are shackled whenever they leave their cells. (Julie Small/KQED)

By Julie Small

Segregating prison inmates who repeatedly break the rules or turn violent against other inmates or guards is not new in California. For years the state has placed these inmates in special housing sections with multiple barriers between them and others.

Evidence that segregation ‘can and does cause serious psychological harm’ in inmates with serious mental illness.

But the practice of isolating inmates whose bad behavior may be part of a mental illness is under fire amid a rash of suicides and attempted suicides. The focus on this type of treatment comes against a backdrop of lawsuits brought by inmates against the state over the last two decades. Those lawsuits have exposed a correctional system poorly equipped to handle their extraordinary needs.

Now a federal judge says that kind of punishment poses too great a risk for inmates with serious mental illness who, he says, can and do worsen in segregation.  Continue reading

Map: See What Different Providers Charge for Common Health Care Procedures

Here’s a truism: Health care costs are wildly variable and utterly confusing. That’s why KQED joined forces with KPCC and ClearHealthCosts.com to launch PriceCheck. For the last six weeks we’ve asked you to submit your costs for common procedures. To compare apples-to-apples, we asked how much your provider charged, how much your insurer paid and how much you paid for common procedures. And you’ve responded!

You’ve showed us that back MRIs can cost anywhere between $255 and $3,700 in the Bay Area. And that screening mammograms range from $125 to $801.

We’ve also surveyed hundreds of providers for cash prices — also known as self-pay — throughout California. Now you can sort through our data below as well as search on our site. Please help us build our database by submitting your health care costs.

Continue reading

Long-Sought Autism Therapy A Medi-Cal Benefit, State Says

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By David Gorn, California Healthline

State officials Tuesday said autism therapy clearly is a covered Medicaid benefit, and they hope to submit a state plan amendment by Sept. 30 to start the process to make it a benefit for those under age 21, enrolled in the state’s Medi-Cal program. Medi-Cal is California’s version of Medicaid.

According to René Mollow, deputy director of benefits and eligibility at the Department of Health Care Services, Medi-Cal children are entitled to applied behavior analysis — known as ABA therapy.

“Right now we’re working on the development of a state plan amendment. We want to engage the stakeholders in developing that,” Mollow said. “We’re looking to have it submitted at the end of September, and having it retroactive to July 1.” Continue reading

How Much for a Back MRI in the Bay Area: $255 or $3,700?

(Getty Images)

People can easily save $1,000 or more just by going to another facility, sometimes only a few minutes drive away. (Getty Images)

Editor’s note: In June, KQED launched PriceCheck, a 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.

Last week in our PriceCheck project, we turned to MRIs. We asked you, the members of our audience, to share what you have paid for a back MRI. The goal is to shine a light on the notoriously opaque world of health care costs.

One person saved $1,270 on a back MRI, just by asking.

What we’ve found is even more startling than the prices we already collected on screening mammograms. Most of our results so far are from the Bay Area, so I’m focusing on that variation. For a comparison looking at the entire state, check out this post from our ClearHealthCosts.com partner. Continue reading

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