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Check the map – medical procedure rates vary widely across California

While many patients may think “doctor knows best” when choosing between different medical procedures, a new study from the California HealthCare Foundation found that some of these decisions may be driven more by local physician preferences rather than clinical evidence.

In some California counties, the local rates of elective procedures are dramatically higher than neighboring areas. For example, a man newly diagnosed with prostate cancer who lives in Tracy, Calif., is 479 percent more likely to undergo internal radiation, i.e., brachytherapy, than the state average. (Click on the map above for rates in other counties.)

To make this data more useful to medical consumers, the study authors published an online interactive map that allows Californians to quickly determine if their region performs elective procedures at disproportionately higher rates than the rest of the state.

"We're hoping these maps can push along conversations about how to improve health-care delivery," said Laurence Baker, PhD, a consultant on this study and a professor of health research and policy at Stanford. "One thing that is often important is better communication between patients and doctors, particularly in cases where patients can have different preferences. Getting this information out there might help some conversations happen that could lead to better treatment decisions and health outcomes."

This new version of the procedure map adds breast cancer, prostate cancer, and spine procedure rates and expanded data to include Medicare patients and younger populations enrolled in commercial plans, Medicaid patients, and the uninsured.

Previously: Heart bypass or angioplasty? There’s an app for thatNew breast cancer finding suggests limiting surgery and Ask Stanford Med: Answers to your questions on prostate cancer and the latest research

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