This is the week to pick up your copy of Sierra Lodestar, our weekly entertainment and recreation magazine for the Mother Lode. Inside it you will find a special 32-page “2012 Mother Lode Health Guide,” fall-winter edition. It’s your prescription to understanding health issues and resources available right here at home.

It was made possible with the help of a lot of people, including the editorial staff of the Calaveras Enterprise, several community contributors, and health professionals from throughout the Mother Lode and beyond.

I’ll admit in this first issue we deal heavily with fundamentals, from your rights as a patient to how to handle emergencies, to a heavy dose of numbers, including the leading causes of death and most prevalent illnesses besetting the people of Amador, Calaveras and Tuolumne counties. We look, too, at the hospitals here. Each Mother Lode county has its own – Sutter Amador in Jackson, Mark Twain St. Joseph’s in San Andreas, and Sonora Regional Medical Center in Sonora. Each offers basic care, but also specialties not necessarily available in neighboring counties.

The more you know about health care resources here, the better off you are going to be. Across the spectrum, health professionals we talked to urged the public to become an active partner in their own health care. People who are knowledgeable about their health and the state of health care today are going to live longer, healthier lives.

You also need to be a good consumer. Doctors we discussed this with urge their patients to ask lots of questions, beginning with why certain procedures are being recommended. Some are unnecessary, of course. They may be routinely ordered simply as protection for the doctor’s insurance provider. If so, as a consumer you have to ask who should be paying for that procedure and whether it is really necessary that you should be made to endure it.

While exploring health resources here we discovered an extensive variety of agencies and organizations that offer support to specific classes of individuals, from children, to women, to men, to families, to the elderly, to people looking to connect with others suffering the same chronic diseases, to those who reach out to help people suffering mental illnesses, even to those who need help to quit smoking.

We listed all of these in the Health Guide because we want it to be a resource you can keep handy, a ready reference guide for you and your family and friends.

In this day and age, the Internet helps. But it can also hinder. Quacks and charlatans abound and they use the Internet to prey upon the sick and vulnerable. So, consulting with the most knowledgeable professionals in our area, we compiled a list of reliable websites where you can begin your research without fear of being victimized by scam artists. All those websites are listed in the Health Guide as well.

Finally, as we were wrapping up research for this first issue of the Health Guide – our plan is to produce a second, spring-summer issue in early 2013 – we discovered a remarkable state website that offers consumers a glimpse into health care prices. Excuse the long address, but it’s important: It is oshpd.ca.gov/HID/products/hospitals/chrgmstr/index.html.

“Thanks to a 2005 California State Assembly bill, AB 1045, patients receiving treatment in California can know the price of some of the most common outpatient procedures before wlaking through facility doors,” the Health Guide reports. In fact, prices for the 25 most common outpatient procedures can be found on the website for each of the three hospitals in our area. So if your doctor prescribes a chest X-ray for you, or a blood panel, or one of the other standard prescriptions doctors routinely order, you can go to the website and, like any good health consumer, check prices. While what you actually pay likely depends on your insurance, it still pays to shop around.

Like I said, we discovered this website late in our preparations for the Health Guide, so watch the Calaveras Enterprise’s Friday Health Page for more about pricing and how to be a good health-services consumer. Published every Friday, the Enterprise’s Health Page bridges the gap between semi-annual issues of the Health Guide and it continues to fulfill our promise to offer readers information about the resources that are right here in our own neighborhood.

Pick up a copy of the Health Guide along with your Sierra Lodestar this week. Be aware, be informed, be healthy.

Contact Buzz Eggleston at editor@calaverasenterprise.com