Health/Science/Tech | KERA News

Health/Science/Tech

Every week, KERA explores the latest in health, science and technology in North Texas through two main series, Vital Signs and Breakthroughs.

Charts at UNT Health Science Center's Human Movement Performance Lab.
Credit Stephanie Kuo / KERA News

Vital Signs

In Vital Signs, Sam Baker taps into the expertise of local health care leaders to provide insight into your everyday health and well-being.

Breakthroughs

In Breakthroughs, KERA reporters delve into the latest health-related technologies developed in North Texas and across the state. From the Zika virus to fried chicken, no scientific topic is off limits. 

Learn more in-depth multimedia projects: Surviving Ebola, a look at how Ebola made its way to Dallas and the lessons local hospitals and governments learned; Growing Up After Cancer, the journey of one North Texas boy with cancer; and The Broken Hip, an in-depth look at how a fall can change everything. 

Parde, C. J., Castillo, C., Hill, M. Q., Colon, Y. I., Sankaranarayanan, S., Chen, J. C., and O'Toole, A. J. (2017, May)

The human face conveys our thoughts and emotions, and we seek it out when trying to identify others. It's also a focal point for the future of identification technology. 

Governments, law enforcement and even businesses are interested in being able to identify people at a distance. 

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The Justice Department in June announced charges against more than 600 people responsible for more than $2 billion in health care fraud losses over a 12-month period.

That stems in part from 10 strike forces across the country created to investigate Medicare fraud. The Dallas unit began in 2011.

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Faced with a shortage of donor hearts, transplant centers have had to expand their criteria for acceptable organs. 

For the first time in years, the uninsured rate in Texas is starting to climb again. After the Affordable Care Act went into effect in 2014, the state’s uninsured rate dropped from 22 percent to about 16 percent in 2016. However, that trend has started to move in another direction.

UT Southwestern Medical Center

Suicide rates have been rising in nearly every state.

It's the 10th-leading cause of death, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention nearly 45,000 Americans age 10 or older died by suicide in 2016.

Suicide is rarely caused by a single factor. That's why researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas are working on a study that combines an intervention program with a personalized app aimed at teenagers.

From Texas Standard:

You’ve heard of minimally invasive surgery – it’s often called laparoscopic surgery. Instead of making a large cut in a patient, and moving tissues and organs that are in the way, doctors make smaller cuts and focus on just the area they need to with the help of a tiny camera.

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Treatment for early stage breast cancer can involve dozens of radiation treatments over a month or more, but a clinical trial now underway may shorten that to a single dose.

When Drew Calver had a heart attack last year, his health plan paid nearly $56,000 for the 44-year-old's emergency hospital stay at St. David's Medical Center in Austin, Texas, a hospital that wasn't in his insurance network. But the hospital charged Calver another $108,951. That sum — a so-called balance bill — was the difference between what the hospital and his insurer thought his care was worth.

Though in-network hospitals must accept previously contracted rates from health plans, out-of-network hospitals can try to bill as they like.

Christopher Connelly / KERA News

In Texas, organizations that work with victims of sexual violence are seeing more women and men coming forward to report assaults this year.

One Tarrant County group has seen a 9 percent increase in calls from victims since January. It’s not entirely clear what is behind the trend, but the increased demand for services for sexual assault survivors comes as sexual harassment and violence have made national headlines.

HHS / AP

Texas is trying to stop the Affordable Care Act — and argued as much in federal court in Fort Worth Wednesday. 

Callie Richmond for The Texas Tribune

U.S. District Judge David Alan Ezra struck down a Texas law on Wednesday that would have required hospitals and clinics to bury or cremate fetal remains, causing another courtroom setback for state leaders and anti-abortion groups.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is challenging the Affordable Care Act at a hearing in federal court in Fort Worth today.

Wednesday is looking like yet another pivotal day in the life-or-death saga that has marked the history of the Affordable Care Act.

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When you walk into the hospital with chest pain, doctors will conduct a physical exam, get your medical history and do an echocardiogram or EKG to measure electrical activity in the heart.

And then there’s the blood test to diagnose or rule out a heart attack. 

Consumers who buy insurance through the Affordable Care Act markets may be pleasantly surprised this fall as average premiums are forecast to rise much less than in recent years.

The price of a 2019 policy sold on the ACA exchanges will increase less than 4 percent, according to an analysis of preliminary filings from insurers in all 50 states by ACASignups.net, a website and blog run by analyst Charles Gaba that tracks ACA enrollment and insurer participation.

And those insurers are expanding their offerings.

A Texas man has a heart attack – and good medical insurance – and still finds himself on the hook for $109,000 in medical bills.

Another man in Florida owed $3,400 for a CT scan, after his insurance company pays its part.

A Texas hospital that charged a teacher $108,951 for care after a 2017 heart attack told the patient Thursday it would slash the bill to $332.29 — but not before a story about the huge charge sparked a national conversation over what should be done to combat surprise medical bills that afflict a growing number of Americans.

The story of Drew Calver was first reported by NPR and Kaiser Health News on Monday as part of the "Bill of the Month" series, which examines U.S. health care prices and the troubles patients run up against in the $3.5 trillion industry.

A hospital in Texas has cut ties with a nurse who apparently posted about a young patient with the measles in a Facebook group dedicated to "anti-vaxxers," people who reject the scientific evidence of the safety and effectiveness of vaccines.

Screenshots show a self-identified nurse saying the sick child's symptoms helped her understand why people vaccinate their children, but that "I'll continue along my little non-vax journey with no regrets."

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There’s good cholesterol (HDL) and bad cholesterol (LDL). While a high HDL number on a screening is usually good news, it may not tell the whole story for some women.

Editor's note: Shortly after this story by Kaiser Health News and NPR was published and broadcast on Monday, St. David's said it was now willing to accept $782.29 to resolve the $108,951 balance because Drew Calver qualifies for its "financial assistance discount." In a statement, the hospital said this offer was contingent on Calver submitting his application for a discount based on his household finances. Calver disputed that he owes any additional money to St. David's and said this situation should have been resolved long before now.

Countless scientific studies have espoused the idea that a glass of red wine a day can be good for the heart, but a new, sweeping global study published in The Lancet on Friday rejects the notion that any drinking can be healthy.

No amount of alcohol is safe, according to The Global Burden of Diseases study, which analyzed levels of alcohol use and its health effects in 195 countries from 1990 to 2016.

Rural Texans With HIV Or AIDS Face Stigma, And Limited Care Options

Aug 23, 2018

From Texas Standard:

Texas has the fourth highest rate of HIV and AIDS in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A majority of the 86,000 Texans with these conditions live in urban areas, where there’s better access to medical care and a greater chance of avoiding the stigma that can come with a positive diagnosis. But for Texans with HIV or AIDS who live in smaller towns, finding medical care – and human compassion – can be much more difficult.

Carlos Osorio / AP

A few years back, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha felt perfectly comfortable telling parents it was fine for their kids to drink the town’s water. Flint, Michigan was a part of America, wasn’t it?

After she learned it was contaminated with lead, she evolved from passive pediatrician to investigator of the city’s water supply and activist for the public’s health. And the repercussions are still playing out.

When it comes to cancer survival, the United States is sharply divided by race. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the cancer death rate for African-Americans is 25 percent higher than whites, and Hispanics and Latinos are more likely to be diagnosed with cancer at a late, and more dangerous, stage of the disease.

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Various medications and therapies can provide relief, but the FDA has approved the first in a new class of drug aimed at heading off migraine headaches before they start. 

Your doctor probably nags you to schedule cancer screening tests like mammograms and colonoscopies. These tests, after all, can be life-saving, and most doctors want to make sure you get them done.

But when it comes to explaining the ways that certain screenings can cause you harm, your doctor may not be doing such a good job.

A Medicaid committee in Texas is requiring those who comment at its meetings to disclose more details about their ties to pharmaceutical companies after a Center for Public Integrity and NPR investigation into the drug industry's influence on such boards.

The state is one of the latest to respond to the findings of the Medicaid, Under the Influence project. Officials in Arizona, Colorado and New York have already taken action.

Long before he began studying for a career in health care, Marlon Munoz performed one of the most sensitive roles in the field: delivering diagnoses to patients.

As an informal interpreter between English-speaking doctors and his Spanish-speaking family and friends, Munoz knew well the burden that comes with the job. He still becomes emotional when he remembers having to tell his wife, Aibi Perez, she had breast cancer.

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Over-the-counter medications usually relieve most cases of acid reflux, or what some call “nighttime heartburn," but they don’t always work. 

My back hurts when I sit down.

It's been going on for 10 years. It really doesn't matter where I am — at work, at a restaurant, even on our couch at home. My lower back screams, "Stop sitting!"

To try to reduce the pain, I bought a kneeling chair at work. Then I got a standing desk. Then I went back to a regular chair because standing became painful.

I've seen physical therapists, orthopedic surgeons and pain specialists. I've mastered Pilates, increased flexibility and strengthened muscles. At one point, my abs were so strong my husband nicknamed them "the plate."

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