Category Archives: Covering medical studies

Why reporters should check the data in a ‘brief’

Liz Seegert

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic editor on aging. Her work has appeared in Kaiser Health News, The Atlantic.com, New America Media, AARP.com, 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.

A recent data brief from the National Center for Health Statistics reported a 23 percent increase in the age-adjusted hypertension-related death rate from 2000 to 2013. In that same period, the rate for all other causes of death combined decreased 21 percent. The report, “Hypertension-related Mortality in the United States, 2000–2013” is part of a series from the Centers for Disease Control on myriad health issues, morbidity and mortality.

Photo: Morgan via Flickr

Photo: Morgan via Flickr

Such reports, while an interesting starting point for a story, can easily be taken out of context and mislead your audience. That’s why building a stable of reliable health care experts to whom you can show the data and quote in your story is important.

The authors of the NCHS brief defined hypertension-related mortality as “any mention of hypertension on the death certificate or as the underlying cause of death.” Continue reading

More interactivity, tips for veterans and newcomers in #AHCJ15 medical research workshop

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.

Ivan Oransky, M.D.

One of the most popular and longest-running workshop sessions will return to AHCJ’s annual conference in Silicon Valley with an updated presentation that will benefit research reporting veterans as well as those new to – and possibly intimidated by – reporting on medical studies.

In Thursday morning’s session, “How to accurately report on medical research findings,” presenters Ivan Oransky, M.D., vice president and global editorial director of MedPage Today and co-founder of Retraction Watch, and Gary Schwitzer, publisher of HealthNewsReview.org, will offer a boot camp on medical study coverage. Instruction will range from evaluating the quality of study findings and discussing benefits and harms to responsibly framing findings in news articles and finding appropriate outside commentary on tight deadlines.

Gary Schwitzer

Gary Schwitzer

“There are never enough opportunities to be trained in or to get a refresher course in how to evaluate studies and evidence,” said Schwitzer, now in his ninth year of presenting this type of workshop at the conference. “I can almost guarantee you’ll get some new, practical, hands-on tools, tips and resources to help you do a better job reporting studies – and some healthy skepticism,” he said. Continue reading

Learning to find – and navigate – the wealth of data online

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.

Robert Logan, Ph.D.

Robert Logan, Ph.D.

The abundance of data available through PubMed, ClinicalTrials.gov and other National Library of Medicine resources can be overwhelming, especially if you are just learning to dig into medical studies.

But if you stick around for Sunday morning’s sessions at Health Journalism 2015 in Silicon Valley, you can join Robert Logan, Ph.D., a communication scientist at the National Library of Medicine, and Ivan Oransky, M.D., vice president and global editorial director of MedPage Today and co-founder of Retraction Watch, as they guide you through these sites and show you how to find and use the information you need for your story – or even to find stories.

Ivan Oransky, M.D.

In an interactive session – bring your laptop! – Logan will show you where to find health and medical information on MedlinePlus.gov, PubMed, PubMed Health and ClinicalTrials.gov.

“MedlinePlus.gov is a gateway to all NLM websites and it is written for patients, the public, and the press,” Logan explained. “Once comfortable with MedlinePlus.gov, health reporters also gain curated access to many of National Library of Medicine’s health information services that are used by medical professionals and scientists.” Then Oransky, who is vice president of AHCJ’s board of directors, will show you how to use what you find in your reporting.

Even if you have attended this Sunday morning session before, Logan and Oransky have updated the presentation to help you take advantage of new features in these sites. “For example, PubMed Health, a rich resource of systematic reviews, has been redesigned and is easier to use,” Logan said. “PubMed Commons is expanding and increasingly provides a place to find critics of (and sources about) current medical research studies.”

Another new feature includes commenting from approved researchers on the PubMed site. “Members will learn how to tap into active conversations among researchers about one another’s work,” Oransky said. “We’ll make finding context, and the right outside sources, super-easy.”

Online registration for the conference ends at noon CT on Wednesday, April 8. The conference hotel’s rooms are sold out, but the AHCJ conference website provides information on nearby hotel options.

Mark Cuban’s bad health advice shows importance of explaining screenings to public

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.

Photo: JD Lasica via Flickr

Photo: JD Lasica via FlickrMark Cuban

If you’ve missed the bizarre Twitter debate between billionaire businessman and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban versus all the health and medical experts online who cared to engage, it’s worth catching up.

Cuban’s comments are key to understanding one of the most important paradigm shifts going on in American health care: the use of data to create evidence-based screening guidelines to reduce unnecessary, expensive and potentially harmful interventions. Writing about screenings therefore requires understanding both the benefits and the harms of screening.

Cuban tweeted Wednesday afternoon:

This wasn’t an April Fool’s joke – Cuban was seriously recommending to his 2.8 million followers that getting four blood tests a year, every year, was a smart health decision. Charles Ornstein called him out and later Storifyed the ensuing debate. Other journalists, such as Seema Yasmin, M.D., at The Dallas Morning News, also wrote about how wrong Cuban is. Continue reading

Tara Haelle takes over AHCJ’s medical studies core topic area

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

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

Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle, an independent journalist based in Peoria, Ill., and regular contributor to Forbes and HealthDay, is AHCJ’s newest core topic leader.

She will help guide journalists through the jargon-filled shorthand of science and research and enable them to translate the evidence into accurate information that their readers can grasp.

Haelle is a freelance journalist and multimedia photographer who has particularly focused on medical studies over the past five years.

She particularly specializes in reporting on vaccines, pediatrics, maternal health, obesity, nutrition and mental health. Continue reading

2014 winners named in top health journalism awards

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

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

awardsSoaring drug prices that make even copays unaffordable for many, an unchecked rise in robotic surgery, financial abuse revealed using previously secret Medicare data, and the health ramifications of the boom in hydraulic fracturing for oil were among the top winners of this year’s Award for Excellence in Health Care Journalism.

Awards also went to articles that examined the “collateral damage” of urban violence, followed a team of doctors and scientists fighting Ebola, and exposed the growing number of unregulated diagnostic tests that can lead to patient harm.

Read the full announcement and see the winning entries. Congratulations to all of the winners!

Health Journalism 2015 agenda covers gamut of health care

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

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

<span class="credit">Pia Christensen/AHCJ</span>AHCJ President Karl Stark, the assistant managing editor, business, health and science at <em>The Philadelphia Inquirer</em>, gives tips on covering hospital finance at Health Journalism 2014.

Pia Christensen/AHCJAHCJ President Karl Stark, the assistant managing editor, business, health and science at The Philadelphia Inquirer, gives tips on covering hospital finance at Health Journalism 2014.

We have posted descriptions of nearly all of the panels planned for Health Journalism 2015 and it’s an agenda packed with timely and useful sessions for anyone covering health.

Field trips on Thursday will feature trips to Stanford University, Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, Stanford Health Care, Stanford National Accelerator Laboratory, the Division of Clinical Anatomy at Stanford University and the VA Palo Alto Health Care System to learn about simulation training, pediatric heart care, hospital disaster preparation, veterans’ rehabilitation, early detection of cancer and much more. Continue reading

Investigating the health impacts of fracking

Kris Hickman

About Kris Hickman

Kris Hickman (@the_index_case) is a graduate research assistant for AHCJ, pursuing a master’s degree in public health. She has a bachelor's degree in anthropology, with a minor in journalism, from the University of Missouri. She spent two years in Zambia as an HIV/AIDS community education volunteer in the Peace Corps. She aspires to be an epidemiologist and science writer.

Pia Christensen/AHCJ

Pia Christensen/AHCJ

The fracking controversy has been high profile in recent years, and tempers are short on all sides of the subject. Some groups see natural gas and the process used to extract it – hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” – as a boon to energy production in the U.S., while others see it as a pernicious threat to people and the environment.

As shown in this New York Times interactive infographic, fracking (sometimes called “unconventional gas drilling”) is a complicated process. It involves high-pressure injection of fluids into natural gas reserves that lie thousands of feet underground, trapped in layers of shale. In addition, there’s a landslide of conflicting information and anecdotal evidence.

So, as a reporter, how do you sift through the various interests and pull out a story that is relevant to your community?

Continue reading

Pew releases survey on interaction between scientists, public

Kris Hickman

About Kris Hickman

Kris Hickman (@the_index_case) is a graduate research assistant for AHCJ, pursuing a master’s degree in public health. She has a bachelor's degree in anthropology, with a minor in journalism, from the University of Missouri. She spent two years in Zambia as an HIV/AIDS community education volunteer in the Peace Corps. She aspires to be an epidemiologist and science writer.

On Sunday, the Pew Research Center released the results of a survey on the interaction between scientists, the media and the public. The survey revealed how scientists engage with the public, and how different demographics view scientific issues.

Image by  Andrew Huff via flickr.

Image by Andrew Huff via flickr.

Pew released the report in collaboration with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and the findings were presented at the AAAS 2015 Annual Meeting on Sunday. The report included feedback from 3,784 AAAS scientists, and it is the second in a series of surveys canvassing both scientists and the American public on the interface of scientific data and public understanding.

“How Scientists Engage the Public,” reveals that most scientists – 87 percent – feel they should participate in the public policy process and in relevant debates about science and technology. Not surprisingly, almost all of them said they engaged on some level with journalists or members of the public.

Continue reading

SuperAger brains distinctly different than those of peers

Liz Seegert

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic editor on aging. Her work has appeared in Kaiser Health News, The Atlantic.com, New America Media, AARP.com, 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.

Why do the brains of some older adults look very different than those of their peers? Scientists at Northwestern University say the answer may explain why these elders don’t suffer the same cognitive decline that affects other seniors.

Image by  Allan Ajifot via flickr.

Image by Allan Ajifot via flickr.

These so-called “SuperAgers,” all age 80 and older, have memories as sharp as those of healthy people 30 years younger, according to a small study by researchers from the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine. This is the first study to quantify brain differences of SuperAgers and normal older people.

When compared with people of similar ages, the “brain signature” of SuperAgers have a thicker region of the cortex; significantly fewer tangles — a primary marker of Alzheimer’s disease – and a substantial supply of von Economo neurons, which are linked to higher social intelligence.

Continue reading