Category Archives: Conflicts of interest

Workshop will help reporters translate medical research to audiences accurately

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.

EBMEven if you only cover health care occasionally, you run across myriad medical studies and health claims. The results and claims often seem conflicting and confusing. But understanding evidence-based medicine will help journalists explore for their audiences the science and the policy decisions that impact lives.

The program is set and the speakers are confirmed for next month’s Journalism Workshop on Evidence-Based Medicine.

Sessions will include:

  • The connections and disconnections of science and policy
  • Getting up to speed on clinical studies
  • Research tools for evidence-based stories
  • How to report on scientific fraud
  • Understanding and reporting on screening evidence
  • Digging into statistics
  • How to use anecdotes and narratives while sticking to evidence

Continue reading

A cautionary tale about relying on white papers as research

Liz Seegert

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic editor on aging. Her work has appeared in Kaiser Health News, The, New America Media,, Practical Diabetology and Home Care Technology report. She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health, Media & Policy at Hunter College in New York City, and co-produces HealthStyles for WBAI-FM/Pacifica Radio.

questions-and-moneyWhite papers can be useful tools for journalists. Ideally, they provide authoritative, in-depth information from government or nonprofits about specific policy, diseases, programs, or issues. However, they can also be powerful marketing tools, used by corporations to position a specific product or service as the “solution” to whatever the “problem” is.

Then there is the white paper released by a nonprofit, but developed with corporate financial support. Continue reading

Member’s JAMA piece looks at ethical considerations of physician-journalists

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.

Rita Rubin

Rita Rubin

AHCJ member Rita Rubin explores the tricky territory of working as a doctor and a journalist in a “Medical News & Perspectives” piece in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

She highlights several examples of physician-journalists who have walked the ethical tight rope, including Nancy Snyderman, Sanjay Gupta, Mehmet Oz, Jennifer Ashton and David Samadi. She also quotes Tom Linden, who left his medical practice to work in television news and points out how important it is to keep the two roles separate, a point he has made in the past. Continue reading

Freelancers face unique conflict-of-interest dilemmas

Tara Haelle

About Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle (@TaraHaelle) is AHCJ's medical studies core topic leader, guiding journalists through the jargon-filled shorthand of science and research and enabling them to translate the evidence into accurate information.

Yan Arief Purwanto. (Creative Commons license)

Photo: Yan Arief Purwanto via Flickr

Previously, Covering Health has addressed two kinds of potential conflicts of interest that health journalists should watch out for: those of journal article authors and those related to sponsors of journalist trips or other training opportunities.

For freelancers, there’s yet another COI maze to navigate: ensuring that work for one client doesn’t create a conflict for another, present or future.

This sounds simple enough: Don’t cover the same research for two competitors, for example. But in today’s freelance ecosystem, avoiding these conflicts has become more complex, especially with the various types of clients freelancers might have. Continue reading

Use caution with new data on doctor payments from drug, device companies

Charles Ornstein

About Charles Ornstein

Charles Ornstein is a senior reporter with ProPublica in New York. The Pulitzer Prize-winning writer is a member and past president of the Association of Health Care Journalists' board of directors and a member of its Right to Know Committee.

Photo by **Mary** via Flickr

Photo by **Mary** via Flickr

This article originally appeared on ProPublica’s website.

The government’s new website on drug and device company ties to doctors will be incomplete and may be misleading – for now.

The government’s release today of a trove of data detailing drug and device companies’ payments to doctors has been widely hailed as a milestone for transparency. But it is also something else: a very limited window into the billions in industry spending. Before you dive in and search for a specific doctor, here are five caveats to keep in mind: Continue reading

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

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.

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.

Researchers ‘owe’ the public information about financial ties #ahcj14

Blythe Bernhard

About Blythe Bernhard

Blythe Bernhard reports on health and medicine for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and serves on AHCJ's Right to Know and Contest committees. She attended Health Journalism 2014 as an AHCJ-Missouri Health Journalism fellow, a program supported by the Missouri Foundation for Health.

When writing about medical studies, reporters should always ask researchers about any financial relationships with drug companies or device manufacturers. That was one of the main lessons from a panel on conflicts of interest on Saturday at Health Journalism 2014.

Starting in September, sunshine provisions in the Affordable Care Act will require drug companies to disclose most payments to doctors. Some companies have already started to publicize their financial relationships with doctors. But most medical journal articles do not give accurate information on researchers’ potential conflicts of interest, said panelist Susan Chimonas of the Institute of Medicine as a Profession at Columbia University.

“You shouldn’t be uncomfortable asking these questions,” Chimonas said. “They owe you this information. They owe everyone this information.” Continue reading

Prescribing data and the side effects of assumptions #ahcj14

Jaclyn Cosgrove

About Jaclyn Cosgrove

Jaclyn Cosgrove is a medical and health reporter at The Oklahoman. She is attending Health Journalism 2014 on an AHCJ Rural Health Journalism fellowship, which is supported by The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust.

Reporters curious about the financial relationship between physicians and pharmaceutical companies can use publicly available data as a starting point – although that comes with some caveats, journalists and industry leaders say.

During the workshop “Covering prescription drug data,” Charles Ornstein, ProPublica senior reporter, pointed out resources that ProPublica has created that reporters can use to write stories about doctors in their communities. Continue reading

Reporter looks at why, how clinic banned drug reps and their samples

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 She welcomes questions and suggestions on health reform resources and tip sheets at

Markian Hawryluk

Markian Hawryluk

Six years ago, a clinic in Oregon made the decision to ban representatives from the pharmaceutical companies. The doctors and staff say goodbye to free samples of expensive drugs, lavish lunches, pens, notebooks, mugs, toys for children and other “benefits.”

Markian Hawryluk, a health reporter with The Bend (Ore.) Bulletin, picked up on a recent journal article about the transformation and used that as his inspiration to write about how the clinic made its decision and how it changed the way doctors there practice medicine, as well as how the move impacted the community.

As data is collected under the Physician Payments Sunshine Act, a part of the Affordable Care Act that will require pharmaceutical companies to disclose the money and gifts given to physicians, reporters may start noting similar changes in their area.

Read more about how Hawryluk reported the story and what he learned about the influence drug reps and samples have on prescribing.

Independent reviews find less benefit, more harm than first reported for bone protein product

Brenda Goodman

About Brenda Goodman

Brenda Goodman (@GoodmanBrenda), an Atlanta-based freelancer, is AHCJ’s topic leader on medical studies, curating related material at She welcomes questions and suggestions on medical study resources and tip sheets at

Efforts to correct biased and dangerous medical studies are making more headlines.

Shortly after I posted about a new idea to correct missing and misreported research, I got an email from AHCJ member John Fauber, an investigative reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

His latest story for the Journal Sentinel and MedPage Today involves an extensive undertaking coordinated by Yale University to correct the record on a product made by Medtronic called Infuse. The project is called YODA, for Yale Open Data Access. (Read more..)

Infuse — officially a device — consists of a metal cage fitted around a sponge that is soaked in a genetically engineered protein. The protein is supposed to promote bone growth and healing. It works, but perhaps too well. Side effects linked to its use include bone overgrowth that can trap and irritate nerve roots causing chronic pain. It has also been tied to a complication called retrograde ejaculation, which leads to sterility in men.  Patients who receive infuse also experienced more problems with wound healing and more cancer.

All in all, pretty devastating outcomes for patients who were hoping to feel better after their back surgeries. Continue reading