Pharmacy access story gains stronger local angle from inventive use of study’s own data

Joanne Kenen

About Joanne Kenen

Joanne Kenen, (@JoanneKenen) the health editor at Politico, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health reform and curates related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on health reform resources and tip sheets at joanne@healthjournalism.org.

Photo: Ben Husmann via Flickr

Photo: Ben Husmann via Flickr

Local pharmacies have limited hours? Turns out that this is way more than an inconvenience. It may also be a factor in hospital readmissions. Patients who can’t easily get their medications from an accessible, nearby – and open! – pharmacy are more likely to end up back in the hospital.

Experts have been exploring possible reasons why so many patients bounce in and out of the hospital, and why it’s been hard to bring down the 30-day readmission rates, even with new financial incentives under the Affordable Care Act.

A state university study, rich in regional data, on how pharmacy access may be a factor enabled Markian Hawryluk, an award-winning reporter for the Bend Bulletin in Oregon, to connect national trends to the situation in his publication’s circulation area for a well-researched story this summer. Hawryluk now has written a How I Did It article for AHCJ. It provides good tips for reporters who may struggle with adding color to an otherwise dry press release about a research study. I liked Hawryluk’s approach for a variety of reasons.

  • He took what could have been a fairly routine press release from a local university in his inbox about a study and saw its significance.
  • He went beyond talking to the researchers and actually got them to share their data, so he could dive in to see what it could tell him about the communities he covers.
  • He connected local data with his solid understanding of the national health law and the changes it is bringing to health care, beyond the well-documented coverage expansion.
  • He blended data and narrative. I particularly liked how he framed his story around a husband and wife who run a local independent pharmacy and make a lot of extra effort to meet the community’s needs – but can’t do it all.

Read his piece about how he produced the story.

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