Author Archives: Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of, coordinates social media efforts of AHCJ and assists with the editing and production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

Vulnerable seniors are going without vaccinations

Eileen Beal

In the United States, far too many people – including many older adults – don’t get the vaccines they need to prevent getting and spreading preventable diseases.  In a recent CDC press release, Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H, says many people think “that infectious diseases are over in the industrialized world.”

However, global travel and trade can spread diseases quickly, leaving seniors vulnerable to infection. Here, Eileen Beal discusses the risks of not being vaccinated and the reasons seniors aren’t getting vaccinations, and also provides resources for people looking for more information on vaccines.

Drilling down into numbers uncovers Marketplace glitch

Don Sapatkin

Ten days before the (expected) close of open enrollment, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the federal exchange’s window-shopping tool – the one that the administration encourages everyone to check before applying for Marketplace insurance – was using the wrong year’s poverty-level guidelines. Neither the Obama administration nor any health-care consultants or policy experts that reporter Don Sapatkin could find had noticed it and the site was corrected within hours after the story was posted.

In theory, almost anyone going on the site got slightly incorrect information for 35 days. Most seriously affected, however, were people just above the poverty line in states that have not expanded Medicaid. When they put their information into the tool, it responded: “Not eligible for help paying for coverage.” Many of them may have given up right there and not submitted the actual applications (which were using the correct poverty stats and were assessed correctly). It’s impossible to tell from the notification letter whether errors were made.

Read about how Sapatkin uncovered the error and what the response was from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Covering hospital ratings? Here’s one aspect consumers need you to report #ahcj14

Photo: Pia ChristensenA Health Journalism 2014 panel about hospital rankings included (left to right) Evan Marks of Healthgrades, Marshall Allen of ProPublica and John Santa, M.D., of Consumer Reports.

If you were at Health Journalism 2014, you might have heard that things got interesting on Saturday when journalists questioned panelists who represented hospital ranking services about their business practices.

Tony Leys

Tony Leys, a reporter for the Des Moines Register, was in the audience for “Hospital grading: Reporting on quality report cards” and asked Evan Marks, the executive vice president of informatics and strategy for Healthgrades, how much hospitals pay his organization to be allowed to advertise their ratings. Marks refused to answer the question.

After the panel, Leys pursued the question and got some details that all reporters should be aware of when they consider writing about hospital rankings, including some concrete data on how much hospitals are paying in “licensing fees” to ratings services. You might use his technique to find out how much some of your local hospitals are paying.

Read this tip sheet to find out more.

Covering ACA numbers? The semantics matter

Kyle Cheney

Kyle Cheney

With big new sign-up numbers coming out of the state and federal exchanges, Politico health care reporter Kyle Cheney reports on what the numbers mean. Enrolled? Selected? Covered? The differences matter. 

Loose characterizations by allies and enemies of how many people have signed up, (more than 7 million as of April 1) have led to rampant – often verifiably incorrect – interpretations in the press. That matters.  The way news reports characterize enrollment could  tilt the national narrative about the health law in a tense election year.

There are subtle but significant differences between the number of people “signed up” for ACA plans and the number actually “enrolled.” And there’s an even greater difference,  for the short term, between the number of enrollees and the number of people who have “coverage.”

Here’s a tip sheet with some help in avoiding getting caught up in the enrollment spin.

Health reporter finds conflicts between medical evidence, personal experience

Matthew CavanaughKaren D. Brown

When first diagnosed with breast cancer, journalist Karen D. Brown didn’t plan to write about it. But, as she met with surgeons, anesthesiologists and oncologists who presented her with treatment options, she found it was a lot more confusing than she had realized when reporting on the statistics.

All of a sudden I realized that my medical odyssey and the health news cycle had crossed orbits. I could write about my personal experience and also shed light on a bigger issue that I felt had not yet been told to death – namely, how hard it is for an individual to make decisions based on population-wide statistics, and politically loaded ones at that.

In this article for AHCJ, Brown tells us how she came to write a piece that appeared in The Boston Globe about the conflicts between statistics and emotions and how they affected her decisions.

She writes about how she chose the statistics that she included in her story, what information she did not include to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest in her future reporting and how she made sure her narrative was fair and accurate. Read about Brown’s experience.

2013 winners named in top health journalism awards

Tune in for the 2013 winners

See the announcement of the 2013 winners of the Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism. Read more about each winner, including a summary of the entry. AHCJ members can click on the title of the entry to see the questionnaire about how the story was reported.

An investigation that found criminals running diet supplement companies, a series revealing the failure of hospitals to provide life-saving newborn screening tests and an examination of efforts to prevent childhood deaths in Africa and Asia were among the top winners of this year’s Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism.

First-place awards also went to articles that looked at the potential dangers of acetaminophen, the reasons behind a high suicide rate in Montana and what happens to veterans who lose their health benefits when they are discharged for minor offenses.

See the complete list of winners.

Growth, expanding scope of practice among changes for dental assistants

Image by University of the Fraser Valley via flickr.

There are more than 300,000 dental assistants at work across America and their ranks are expected to increase 25 percent in the next decade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as a result of the recognition of the link between oral health and overall health.

Their work often includes helping dentists with procedures, taking and developing X-rays, preparing and sterilizing  instruments, making appointments, keeping records, and giving patients post-operative instructions.

But, from state to state, duties, credentialing, and training standards vary widely.

Oral health topic leader Mary Otto provides some background, the latest news on what’s happening in various states and links in a new tip sheet to help reporters learn what changes may be in the works in their state – just in time for Dental Assistants Recognition Week, March 2-8. It might be an opportunity to take a look at this changing profession and write about what dental assistants are doing in your state.

Reporter focuses on chronic pain for series on opioid use

Lisa Bernard-Kuhn

Lisa Bernard-Kuhn

When The Cincinnati Enquirer set out to look at the societal costs of the deadly opioid crisis, reporter Lisa Bernard-Kuhn was assigned to look at the role of chronic pain.

During more than eight months of reporting, she looked into how doctors measure pain, how effect opioids are at treating pain, patients’ expectations and more.

In an article for AHCJ, she explains how she was able to get doctors and patients to talk on the record and shares some of her most useful sources and lessons learned.

Cover the science behind screenings, preventive health recommendations

USPSTF-webcastThe U.S. Preventive Services Task Force often finds itself in the news when determining what works and doesn’t work in screenings and preventive care. It told healthy women not to bother with calcium and vitamin D pills, said many women could wait on mammograms until age 50 and recently clarified who might benefit from regular lung cancer screening tests.

The task force’s work lies in translating medical evidence into clinical practice, which can be a difficult and contentious task. Its recommendations are often nuanced and misunderstood.

How does the group come to these determinations and how can you report on the science and not just the heat a recommendation generates? What is evidence-based medicine and how does the USPSTF use it to make recommendations on health care services? Continue reading