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Fake birth control pills. Cough syrup for children that contained a powerful opioid. Antimalarial pills that were actually just made of potato and cornstarch.

These are, according to the World Health Organization, just a few examples of poor-quality or fake medicines identified in recent years.

A doctor offers a surgical add-on that leads to a $1,877 bill for a young girl's ear piercing. A patient protests unnecessary scans to identify and treat her breast cysts. A study shows intensive care-level treatment is overused.

ProPublica has been documenting the myriad ways the health system wastes money on unnecessary services, often shifting the costs to consumers. But there are ways patients can protect themselves.

Bill Radke talks to Dr. Sam Sharar, professor in the Department of Anesthesiology at the University of Washington, about how doctors are using virtual reality to manage burn treatment pain. 

Flickr Photo/Andrew Malone (CC BY 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/4unt5o

Every healthcare worker in Washington is required to undergo suicide prevention training. That includes nurses, dentists and even chiropractors. Now, University of Washington researchers have developed an interactive, online training program called All Patients Safe.

Brand-new. Custom-made. Solar-powered. Brightly colored. Classic Victorian design. Location, location, location — conveniently situated in downtown San Francisco.

We're referring, of course, to the latest addition to the city's fleet of public toilets.

San Francisco rolled out its new "Painted Lady" toilet model this week. And we mean literally rolled out — the toilet is part of the city's Pit Stop fleet of mobile, fully staffed public toilet facilities.

When U.S. officials feared an outbreak of the Zika virus last year, the Department of Health and Human Services and state officials kicked into high gear.

They tested mosquitoes neighborhood by neighborhood in Miami and other hot Gulf Coast communities where the virus was likely to flourish. They launched outreach campaigns to encourage people to use bug spray. And they pushed the development of a vaccine.

Fred Appelbaum first read about Don Thomas' use of marrow transplantation to treat leukemia. After reading that article, 'I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,' said Appelbaum.
Courtesy of Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Fred Appelbaum started his career in the 1970s when leukemia patients were given months to live. He worked with Dr. Don Thomas, a researcher at Fred Hutch who pioneered bone marrow transplantation. The procedure was considered radical at the time, but it would save tens of thousands of lives and change the course of cancer treatment.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved its first digital drug: a pill embedded with a sensor that transmits whether someone has taken it.

Although the approval is a big step for digital medicine, there are concerns about privacy, convenience and cost.

Michael-Shawn Dugar, Seahawks reporter for Seattle PI.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Last Thursday’s Seahawks game was a great opportunity to practice up on some Greek vocabulary terms. Let’s start with “Pyrrhic victory.”

Bill Radke speaks with Erica Farrell, clinical manager for the Washington chapter of the Alzheimer's Association, about what we know and don't know about Alzheimer's and why she's optimistic an effective treatment can be found. 

Joe DiMaggio, Dr. E. Donnall Thomas, and patient Darrell Johnson in LAF (laminar airflow) room, 1978
Courtesy of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

There was a time when the cure for leukemia was almost as lethal as the disease. Before bone marrow transplants, patients were treated with arsenic or radiation — and the outlook was often considered hopeless.

The goal is simple: a drug that can relieve chronic pain without causing addiction.

But achieving that goal has proved difficult, says Edward Bilsky, a pharmacologist who serves as the provost and chief academic officer at Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences in Yakima, Wash.

"We know a lot more about pain and addiction than we used to," says Bilsky, "But it's been hard to get a practical drug."

Devin Kelley, the man we now know killed more than two dozen people at a Texas church on Sunday, escaped a mental health facility before the Air Force could try him on charges that he beat his wife and baby stepson back in 2012.

And President Trump, like many people before him, is pointing to mental health — not guns — as the cause of the church massacre.

NW Abortion Groups Merge To Form Largest Coverage Area In Nation

Nov 3, 2017

Two Northwest groups that help people pay for abortions are merging to create one of the largest abortion funds in the nation.

Compared to many areas, the Pacific Northwest has relatively good access to abortion clinics, especially in populated areas.

But many women don’t have health insurance, or if they do have insurance it has such a high deductible the $650 procedure has to be paid for out-of-pocket.

Now two local funds, Oregon-based Network for Reproductive Options and Washington-based The CAIR Project, are merging to form the Northwest Abortion Access Fund.

This 63-year-old could lift a baby elephant

Nov 1, 2017
Alma Kimura, 63, powerlifts at Seattle Strength and Power on 3rd Ave., in Seattle. Kimura started powerlifting at age 58.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Five years ago Alma Kimura was a successful lawyer. She played tennis every Thursday and was a part of a book club.

Then one of her tennis partners suggested she try another sport. Alma, 58 at the time, figured it would be good for her health. So she gave powerlifting a try.


Doctor
Flickr Photo/Alex Proimos (CC-BY-NC-ND)/https://flic.kr/p/bt29wL

Health insurance experts say the 2018 rates in the Affordable Care Act didn't have to be so expensive. And if a bill in Congress is approved, they won't be.

Most people can acknowledge that discrimination has an insidious effect on the lives of minorities, even when it's unintentional. Those effects can include being passed over for jobs for which they are qualified or shut out of housing they can afford. And most people are painfully aware of the tensions between African-Americans and police.

It has the power to save lives by targeting opioid overdoses — something that kills more than 140 Americans every day. And now Narcan, the nasal spray that can pull a drug user back from an overdose, is being carried by all of Walgreens' more than 8,000 pharmacies.

Donna Smith, center, laughs with Dr. Brad McPhee before getting a filling during the Seattle/King County Clinic on Thursday, October 26, 2017, at Key Arena. Smith drove from Vancouver, Washington, and waited in line starting at 10 p.m. on Wednesday night.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Lines started forming around Seattle’s Key Arena Wednesday night for an annual four-day free health care clinic that began early Thursday morning.

Donna Smith drove from Vancouver, Washington, to get a filling. She arrived shortly before 10 p.m. to wait in line.

Joel’s Law allows families in Washington state to petition a court to involuntarily commit a mentally ill loved one. In Pierce County, home to Tacoma, nearly 100 percent of petitions are granted, but in Seattle’s King County, most are rejected.

When Annie Dennison was diagnosed with breast cancer last year, she readily followed advice from her medical team, agreeing to harsh treatments in the hope of curing her disease.

"You're terrified out of your mind" after a diagnosis of cancer, said Dennison, 55, a retired psychologist from Orange County, Calif.

In addition to lumpectomy surgery, chemotherapy and other medications, Dennison underwent six weeks of daily radiation treatments. She agreed to the lengthy radiation regimen, she said, because she had no idea there was another option.

KUOW PHOTO/KARA MCDERMOTT

This week, some Seattle-area leaders told Amazon they'd like to hit the refresh button on their relationship with the company. Is Seattle going overboard with the apologizing? And what does Amazon owe Seattle for its success?

Updated at 3:55 p.m. ET

A bipartisan coalition of 24 senators — 12 Republicans and 12 Democrats — has signed on to health care legislation to prop up the individual insurance market and keep premiums down. With the expected support of all Senate Democrats, it could have the votes to pass the chamber. But questions remain over when it might actually get a vote, as well as whether President Trump and House Republicans would bring the bill over the finish line.

If you've ever put in eyedrops, some of them have almost certainly spilled onto your eyelid or cheek.

The good news is the mess doesn't necessarily mean you missed. The bad news is that medicine you wiped off your face is wasted by design — and it's well-known to the drug companies that make the drops.

Washington Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray
U.S. Senate

Washington state’s U.S. senators were busy Tuesday.

Senator Patty Murray helped strike a bipartisan deal to avoid President Donald Trump's recently announced cuts to health insurance subsidies. 

Updated at 12:15 p.m. ET

Less than a week after President Trump said he is cutting off subsidies to health insurance companies, lawmakers announced Tuesday that they had a deal to restore the money and take other actions that could stabilize insurance markets for next year.

People who have obsessive-compulsive disorder can get trapped inside a thought. It repeats itself, like a stuck song. Did I lock the door? Is that doorknob clean enough to touch? I better wash my hands again — and again.

The biology underpinning this loop remains murky to scientists, but scientists are beginning to sniff out potential genetic factors behind OCD and shed light on how the disorder affects the brain.

An outbreak of the plague is growing in Madagascar.

President Trump signed an executive order Thursday that is intended to provide more options for people shopping for health insurance. The president invoked his power of the pen after repeated Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, have failed.

"The competition will be staggering," Trump said. "Insurance companies will be fighting to get every single person signed up. And you will be, hopefully, negotiating, negotiating, negotiating. And you will get such low prices for such great care."

California Gov. Jerry Brown defied the drug industry Monday, signing the most comprehensive drug price transparency bill in the nation that will force drug makers to publicly justify big price hikes.

"Californians have a right to know why their medical costs are out of control, especially when pharmaceutical profits are soaring," Brown says. "This measure is a step at bringing transparency, truth, exposure to a very important part of our lives, that is the cost of prescription drugs."

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