Category Archives: Europe

Cultural perceptions of aging affect health status, caregiving

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, Home Care Technology report and on HealthStyles Radio (WBAI-FM, NYC). She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health, Media & Policy at Hunter College, NYC, and a co-produces HealthStyles for WBAI-FM/Pacifica Radio.

Images by Judy Baxter, NCVO and Steven Gray via Flickr.

Images by Judy Baxter, NCVO and Steven Gray via Flickr.

A new study out of the United Kingdom reinforces the influence that culture and societal attitudes can have on the health status of older adults. Psychologists from the University of Kent used data from the European Social Survey to ask respondents, all age 70 or older, to self-rate their health.

In countries where old age is thought of as signifying low status, participants who identified themselves as ‘old’ felt worse about their own health. The opposite was true in places where older people have a perception of higher social status. The researchers concluded that elevating perceived social status of older people would reduce negative connotations associated with old age and the negative impact on how healthy people felt.

The value different societies place on the elderly has a lot to with how they are cared for later in life, evolutionary biologist Jared Diamond explained in a recent TED talk. These effects in turn, influence public policy for global long-term services and supports. The International Federation of Social Workers recently noted, “Although older adults serve as essential resources to their communities, they face a great risk of marginalization.” Continue reading

What reporters need to know about side effects and drug studies

Brenda Goodman

About Brenda Goodman

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

Image by AJ Cann via flickr.

Image by AJ Cann via flickr.

Recently, Dr. Ben Goldacre (@bengoldacre), a prominent critic of drug studies, wanted to find out how often side effects reported by users of cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins were genuinely caused by the medications.

The study he co-authored concluded that most reported side effects of statins aren’t often due to the drugs themselves, but to other causes. The study generated front-page headlines in the U.K., with an article in The Telegraph declaring, “Statins have virtually no side effects, study finds.”

Outcry ensued. Patients who experienced side effects on statins begged to differ, and Goldacre’s fans wondered if he had suddenly gone soft on pharmaceutical companies.

In response, Goldacre penned a nuanced explanation of the study findings, explaining* that its conclusions were flawed because it was based on incomplete data.

The statin study controversy aside, his blog post makes some key points about how side effects are reported in medical journals that are helpful for health reporters to keep in mind when covering the downsides of new drugs. I’ve boiled some important points down and included them in this tip sheet for AHCJ members.

*Editor’s note: An earlier version of this post used the word “admitting.”

Tips for finding local stories about health reform

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.

Last week, Stacey Singer, of The Palm Beach Post, and I led a workshop on  “Ten Local Health Stories” (actually we sort of went quite a bit over the “10” limit) for the Excellence in Journalism (EIJ12) conference, sponsored by SPJ and RTNDA in Fort Lauderdale. We’ve posted my overview, Stacey’s very hands-on and helpful local take, and a resource list (adapted from, but not identical too, the resources we’ve been assembling for more than a year on the AHCJ Health Reform core topic pages).

Core Topics
Health Reform
Aging
Oral Health
Other Topics

We also wanted to thank the Alliance for Health Reform for shipping to Florida a box of its very handy resource guide . (Disclosure: I wrote one of the overview chapters, although wasn’t involved with the more recent updates to it.)

The session went on for more than an hour, so I’m not going to try to describe it all, but wanted to just share a few points we made: Continue reading

Explaining the numbers behind the Medicaid expansion

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.

One of the questions that I got from colleagues after AHCJ’s post-Supreme Court webcast was about the cutoff for expanded Medicaid (in states that opt in to Medicaid expansion). The health law says it’s open to people or families with income up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level. Yet some experts and advocates talk about 138 percent. Which is right?

Core Topics
Health Reform
Aging
Other Topics

Both, sort of.

The Affordable Care Act certainly states 133 and that’s the number you will commonly see, in the media and in the policy world.

But there is some small print. The law specifies that people qualify with “modified adjusted gross income” (MAGI) at or below 133 percent FPL. But there is a provision in the law that, in effect, adjusts the level to a de facto 138 percent. If you are a state official, budgeting and planning and figuring out who is eligible and who isn’t, this is important. If you are a journalist writing about it, you can probably stick with 133. (I do.) Continue reading

How Britain’s new health law got through Parliament

John Lister

About John Lister

John Lister, European web coordinator for AHCJ, has been a journalist for 35 years, specializing in reporting health policy in England. He is the author of "Health Policy Reform: Driving the Wrong Way?," a critique of market-style reforms, and "The NHS After 60: for Patients or Profits?," a critical history of the British National Health Service.

Most health care professionals vociferously opposed Britain’s new Health and Social Care Act in the final few months as the House of Lords debated its fate.

Opposition was especially strong from family doctors (GPs), who, on the face of it, should have seen themselves as beneficiaries of new powers and control, but most of whom have seen the proposals as a threat to them and to the National Health Service. Continue reading

Britain passes NHS reforms amid controversy

John Lister

About John Lister

John Lister, European web coordinator for AHCJ, has been a journalist for 35 years, specializing in reporting health policy in England. He is the author of "Health Policy Reform: Driving the Wrong Way?," a critique of market-style reforms, and "The NHS After 60: for Patients or Profits?," a critical history of the British National Health Service.

The British government’s highly controversial “Health and Social Care Act” finally completed its bruising 15-month journey through the Houses of Parliament in March, in the teeth of opposition from doctorsnursing unionspublic health professionals, and mounting public concern. The debate on the merits and implications of the proposals is far from over. Continue reading

‘Anti-agenda’ influencing journalists’ health coverage

Esther Paniagua

About Esther Paniagua

Esther Paniagua is editor in chief of the Spanish edition of Technology Review, published by MIT, and is a freelance health writer for the popular science magazine, Muy Interesante. She manages the Spanish participation in the European co-funded project HeaRT (Health Reporting Training), with support of the European Commission.

For whom does the media write? It seems a stupid question with an obvious answer. However, I wouldn’t give a categorical answer because, too often, media seem to be more interested in offering information not always in their readers’ best interests. Continue reading

Controversy over breast implants spreads across Europe

John Lister

About John Lister

John Lister, European web coordinator for AHCJ, has been a journalist for 35 years, specializing in reporting health policy in England. He is the author of "Health Policy Reform: Driving the Wrong Way?," a critique of market-style reforms, and "The NHS After 60: for Patients or Profits?," a critical history of the British National Health Service.

British clinics delivering cosmetic surgery were thrown into crisis by the decision last month of the French government to fund the removal of thousands of breast implants manufactured by the now-closed French company Poly Implant Prostheses (PIP). The implants were found to have used industrial grade silicone made for use in mattresses. Continue reading

Investigation delves into Wash.’s prescription drug problem

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism, and he has blogged for Covering Health ever since.

Everything time we think prescription drug abuse stories have peaked, something comes along to push the story further. This time, InvestigateWest’s Carol Smith sets herself apart by starting from square one and clearly explaining the origins and dimensions of Washington’s particularly nasty drug issues, tracing back each facet of the problem to its source and spotlighting what makes the Evergreen State unique.prescription-drugs

Washington has been one of the hardest hit states in the country, in part because of aggressive prescribing practices. That, coupled with lack of oversight of doctors who over-prescribe, has led to the spectacular run-up in the number of deaths from prescription overdoses.

The backdrop for her work is an epidemic that shows no signs of abating, despite a recently implemented state law Smith calls “a bold attempt to reduce overdose deaths by launching the first-ever dosing limits for doctors and others who prescribe these medicines.”

Prescription drug abuse is at epidemic levels throughout the state, and elsewhere in the country, despite lawmakers’ attempts to get a grip on it. Washington now has one of the highest death rates in the nation. Deaths from prescription drug overdoses in this state have skyrocketed nearly twenty-fold since the mid-1990s, and now outstrip those from traffic accidents.

Why caused it to leap so quickly? Smith tracks down several key tipping points. “There’s plenty of blame to go around for what caused the epidemic,” she writes. “Aggressive marketing of opiates by drug companies, nonexistent tracking of overprescribing, lack of insurance coverage for alternative treatments for pain, and demand by patients for quick fixes, to name a few.”

She drills down into many of those causes, with my personal favorites being two key origin stories:

  • How marketing by OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma led to relaxed guidelines for chronic pain treatment and a “1999 law specified ‘No disciplinary action will be taken against a practitioner based solely on the quantity and/or frequency of opiates prescribed,'” both of which helped cause a jump in prescriptions.
  • How “the rise in the death rates of Medicaid patients tracks along with the state’s cost-saving decision to move many of its poorest residents to the cheapest, most potent pain reliever available: Methadone.”

See the upper right-hand sidebar for more stories from the six-month investigation.

Journalists discuss reporting from the heart of a pandemic

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism, and he has blogged for Covering Health ever since.

Recently, New York Times health and science reporter Donald McNeil joined the National Journal‘s Maggie Fox, the Nieman Foundation’s Stefanie Friedhoff and the Canadian Press’ Helen Branswell on a Global Journalist radio panel to discuss reporting on international pandemics and global diseases. The full episode is available to download, listen or watch online.

Host David Reed

Host David Reed

McNeil provided his take on everything from what he packed to keep himself safe from SARS to his take on the accuracy of the movie “Contagion,” but his most relevant thoughts for AHCJ readers were in response to questions about sourcing and a journalist’s obligations in an outbreak situation.

GJ: What are some of the ways you, as a journalist, verify the information you receive, and where do you get that information?

McNeil: … it all depends on the disease. But generally, you get fairly accurate, careful information out of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva. There are times when you aren’t happy with the information you are getting or the decisions they make, but most of the time, I think they are both extremely careful science-driven organizations.

GJ: In reporting on the potential danger of flu and warning people to stay vigilant, are you ever concerned that some reports from the media might cause panic among people?

McNeil: I don’t see my job as being a public health official; I see my job as a journalist. So my job is to tell the truth, and the truth is basically the one goddess I serve. Obviously, people care about this stuff, so in the same way another journalist who covers the White House wants to tell people accurately what the president did or didn’t do yesterday and what it means, I am trying to tell my audience how dangerous the virus is if it’s a virus, and how many people are killed, and what can be done about it. My job is telling the truth and getting the news out.