High rates of California heart procedures
High rates of California heart procedures raise cost, health quality concerns

About this project

Residents in the Northern California town of Clearlake have been having two common heart procedures at five and six times the state average. Rates are also high across a wide swath of the Central Valley. These elevated numbers are partly a result of widespread health problems that show up in the population. But a new study suggests that the high rates go well beyond that, and researchers say the biggest cause may be clinical practice decisions made by doctors. The findings could have enormous implications for health costs and the quality of care. Insurers and government agencies are taking up the cause, increasingly using these so-called variation studies to pressure doctors to change their practices.


Coronary graphic

A consumer’s guide to heart procedures

Q: What is coronary angiography?

About this project

This project is a partnership between The San Francisco Chronicle and the California HealthCare Foundation Center for Health Reporting. The center is funded by the nonpa

Database: Statewide heart surgical procedures

Database shows rates of heart surgical procedures for 208 geographical areas in California, called Hospital Service Areas (HSA).  They in turn are part of 24 large geographical areas called Hospital Referral Regions (HRR).

Laurence Baker’s methodology for data analysis

For this study, Stanford Professor Laurence Baker analyzed five years of statewide hospital (and some outpatient) discharge data from the 

Technical Report: Methodology for Heart Procedures

Technical Report: Measure development for the Campaign for Effective Patient Care using patient discharge data

Town’s high heart procedure rates raise questions on treatment, costs

Clearlake, Lake County -- This rural Northern California town known for its scenic, bass-filled lake now has another distinction: Clearlake-area residents have been undergoing two common heart procedures more than any other Californi

Variation Report: Advisory Committee

Lance Lang, MD, FAAFP Chair, Advisory Committee Consulting Medical Director, Health Dialog Clinical Director, California Quality Collaborative

Classes help decrease weight-loss surgeries

Doctors and hospitals in the Sacramento region had mixed success in their attempts to rein in medical procedures that were being done at higher rates than the norm.

S.F. experiment aims to improve medical treatment, lower costs

Researchers long ago established that certain medical procedures are performed at dramatically different rates from place to place, and that these disparities affect the quality and cost of health care.

Local patients more likely to get invasive heart procedures

Imagine this: A 35-year-old woman comes to the doctor for vague chest pain without a clear cause.

Valley heart procedure rates among highest in California

People who live between Fresno and Bakersfield are more likely to undergo procedures for clogged arteries than almost any other Californians, according to a new study.

Reporter Emily Bazar Featured on Capital Public Radio

Senior Writer Emily Bazar appeared on Capital Public Radio's Insight program today to discuss her in-depth report on high rates of heart procedures in certain California communities. Bazar published her two-part series in the San Francisco Chronicle...

Reporter Emily Bazar featured on Valley Public Radio

Senior Writer Emily Bazar appeared on Valley Public Radio's Valley Edition program today to discuss her in-depth report on high rates of heart procedures in certain California communities. Bazar published her two-part series in the San Francisco...

Blog Posts

Reporter Emily Bazar Featured on Capital Public Radio

Senior Writer Emily Bazar appeared on Capital Public Radio's Insight program today to discuss her in-depth report on 

Elective angioplasty: When is it appropriate?

When I started doing the reporting for our recently published series about Californians u

Series on variation sparks intense, varied response

This weekend, we launched a series in The San Francisco Chronicle abou


Lauren M. Whaley

Multimedia journalist Lauren M. Whaley is the president of the national Journalism and Women Symposium (JAWS). For the Center and its partners, she produces videos, radio stories, photographs and other multimedia and written pieces. She covers topics such as childbirth policies, mental illness and dialysis and diabetes and helps her colleagues promote their work. Her Center work has won honors from the Scripps Howard Awards and the Association of Health Care Journalists She has contributed stories to Southern California Public Radio, KQED Public Radio, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the Modesto Bee, among others. While living in Wyoming, she worked as a newspaper reporter, blog editor and freelance magazine writer. She earned her master's degree in specialized science journalism from the University of Southern California, her bachelor's from Bowdoin College and spent summers in her early 20s taking high school girls on Arctic canoe expeditions. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and son.  

Emily Bazar

Emily Bazar is a columnist and senior writer for the California HealthCare Foundation Center for Health Reporting, part of the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. Her column, “Ask Emily,...

Project Partners

© 2014 California Healthcare Foundation Center for Health Reporting