Category Archives: Hot Health Headline

Contest entries provide insights, education into reporting

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.

One of the most inspiring parts of my job comes every spring: That’s when I get to see the winning entries in the Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism.

Often they are pieces I’ve seen over the previous year – many of which I’ve blogged or tweeted about or we’ve had the reporters write about their work for us. But there are always a few surprises that I had missed when they were published or aired.

Andrew Holtz, a health news veteran and longtime contest judge, has had the same experience. “Like most AHCJ members, I follow health news closely. Still, several of the entries surprised me. Not only were they delightful pieces of journalism, they revealed stories I hadn’t known,” Holtz said in an email. Continue reading

In sad, compelling stories, journalists are documenting a mental health care system in crisis

Joseph Burns

About Joseph Burns

Joseph Burns (@jburns18), a Massachusetts-based independent journalist, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health insurance. He welcomes questions and suggestions on insurance resources and tip sheets at joseph@healthjournalism.org.

Photo: Jan Bommes via Flickr

Photo: Jan Bommes via Flickr

Imagine the outcry if patients with cancer or any other chronic condition lacked standard, appropriate care. Such ill treatment would not be tolerated.

Yet the U.S. health care system routinely fails to provide basic care to Americans with mental illness, says Patrick J. Kennedy, a former congressman from Rhode Island and co-founder of One Mind, an organization seeking new treatments for neurologic and psychiatric diseases of the brain.

For a series of articles in USA Today, Liz Szabo quoted Kennedy on mental health care in America: “The failure to provide treatment and supportive services to people with mental illness – both in the community and in hospitals – has overburdened emergency rooms, crowded state and local jails and left untreated patients to fend for themselves on city streets.”

The burden of inadequate mental health care falls on individuals and families, but also on emergency rooms, hospitals, jails and other institutions, making this topic well worth the rich and deep coverage Szabo and other journalists have committed to it. Such coverage is important, as reporters have found in Colorado, Idaho, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin, and it can be rewarding because it forces journalists to confront and explain some most challenging health care issues in our society. Continue reading

Focus is on closing the gap, ending stigma for World AIDS Day 2014

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.

Today is the 26th Annual World AIDS Day. This year, the theme for World AIDS Day is “Close The Gap,” with United Nations Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon setting a bold goal of ending AIDS by 2030.

According the World Health Organization, about 35 million people have HIV/AIDS worldwide. Sub-Saharan Africa is the most affected region, with approximately 70 percent of new infections worldwide occurring there. In the U.S., approximately 1.2 million people live with HIV − and an estimated one out of seven of those are not aware they are infected. Continue reading

Lindberg, NLM’s health informatics pioneer, to retire

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.

don-lindberg

National Library of MedicineNLM Director Dr. Donald A.B. Lindberg, with artwork inspired by NLM’s Visible Human Project.

Don Lindberg, M.D., who has served as director of the National Library of Medicine for more than 30 years, will retire at the end of March 2015.

In a statement, Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., director of the National Institutes of Health, described Lindberg as “an expert and groundbreaking innovator in the world of information technology, artificial intelligence, computer-aided medical diagnosis, and electronic health records.”

Lindberg, under whose tenure the AHCJ-NLM Health Journalism Fellowships were developed, was the first president of the American Medical Informatics Association. The organization says that many of its members “have benefitted from his strong leadership in training programs, research activities, and educational programs.” The AMIA recognizes his contributions to the field with its annual Donald A.B. Lindberg Award for Innovations in Informatics.

Collins described many of Lindberg’s contributions, many of which are tools regularly used by health journalists, with some historical perspective:

Don has created programs that changed fundamentally the way biomedical information is collected, shared, and analyzed. Think about it-when Don began, NLM had no electronic journals in its collection, few people owned personal computers, and even fewer had access to the Internet. He introduced numerous landmark projects such as free Internet access to MEDLINE via PubMed, MedlinePlus for the general public, the Visible Human Project, ClinicalTrials.gov, the Unified Medical Language System, and more. Don also created the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). NCBI has been a focal point for “Big Data” in biomedicine for decades, providing rapid access to the data generated by the Human Genome Project and now to massive amounts of genetic sequence data generated from evolving high-throughput sequencing technologies. GenBank, PubMed Central, and dbGaP are just some of the many NCBI databases that support and enable access to the results of research funded by NIH and many other organizations.

According to the NLM website, Lindberg is the author of three books, several book chapters and more than 200 articles and reports. He has served as editor and editorial board member of nine publications, including the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Choose words carefully when writing about Ebola

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.

Phot by NIAID via Flickr

Image by NIAID via Flickr

Word choice matters, especially when it comes to covering a deadly disease.

You may have heard the terms “infectious” and “contagious” being used interchangeably in Ebola stories. Even health professionals sometimes use them that way, and that is adequate in many instances. However, minor differences between the two terms may play a role in which one you decide to use in a story.

According to the CDC, contagious means the bacteria or virus can be transmitted from person to person (a communicable disease), and is quantified by R-nought – a mathematical construct that predicts the number of people a contagious individual will infect. Continue reading

Panic is contagious: How to cover public health preparedness

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.

Photo: CDC Global via Flickr

Photo: CDC Global via Flickr

It’s been said that fear travels faster than the virus.

This is true. Given that Ebola is less contagious than many other communicable diseases, it’s easier to catch Ebola panic than Ebola itself. But if you’re a health care journalist writing about Ebola or the Ebola response, it’s sometimes hard to tell the real stories from the sensationalism.

In light of the Ebola diagnosis of  two Dallas health care workers and the CDC initially placing blame on a “breach in protocol,” the past couple of days have seen a flurry of inflammatory Ebola coverage that focuses on the negatives.  One of these is a survey from National Nurses United, the largest nurses’ union in the U.S.: 80 percent of NNU nurses surveyed don’t feel they have received adequate Ebola training.  New allegations have surfaced that nurses treating him “worked for days without proper protective gear and faced constantly changing protocols.” Additionally, there have been federal funding cuts to public health preparedness and response activities: $1 billion less in FY 2013 than in FY 2002, a year in which the nation dealt with 9/11 and the anthrax attacks, and anticipated the SARS epidemic of 2003. Continue reading

Dallas Ebola case raises questions about care for the uninsured

Joseph Burns

About Joseph Burns

Joseph Burns (@jburns18), a Massachusetts-based independent journalist, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health insurance. He welcomes questions and suggestions on insurance resources and tip sheets at joseph@healthjournalism.org.

"Ebola virions" by See Source - Charting the Path of the Deadly Ebola Virus in Central Africa. PLoS Biol 3/11/2005: e403 doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0030403. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.

Ebola virions” from “Charting the Path of the Deadly Ebola Virus in Central Africa.” PLoS Biol 3/11/2005: e403 doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0030403. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.

When Thomas Eric Duncan died Wednesday of Ebola at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, one of many questions that remained unanswered was why the hospital didn’t do more to diagnose and treat Duncan initially. On Sept. 25, Duncan walked into the hospital’s emergency room, was given antibiotics and sent home, according to coverage in the Los Angeles Times and elsewhere.

The question about what happened on Sept. 25 is important because Duncan could have infected many other individuals between when he was sent home on Sept. 25 and when he returned on Sept. 28 and was put into isolation. Writing in The New York Times, Manny Fernandez and Dave Philipps suggest that Duncan might still be alive if he had been admitted on Sept. 25.

After his death, Duncan’s fiancée, Louise Troh, and other African-Americans, questioned whether Duncan had received substandard care. Continue reading

Defusing panic over Ebola by understanding R-nought

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.

Earlier today it was announced that Thomas Eric Duncan died in Dallas. Duncan, a Liberian national who contracted Ebola in Liberia, did not show symptoms on his journey to Dallas or immediately after his arrival. Various news outlets are reporting that travelers arriving in the United States from West Africa would have their temperatures taken and be asked to answer questionnaires ascertaining any possible exposure.

Given today’s events, it’s understandable that Internet speculation and media coverage have fanned the flames of public panic regarding Ebola. But reporters should be asking state and local epidemiologists if that panic is really justified.

Math can answer that question.

Continue reading

Patient condition terminology: Do you really know what ‘critical’ means?

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.

Photo: Quinn Dombrowski via Flickr

Photo: Quinn Dombrowski via Flickr

Some words are so familiar that it’s easy to assume you know what they mean – especially terms for a patient’s condition. Words such as “stable” and “critical” make it into health news all the time, but what do they really mean?

In light of the African Ebola epidemic, and the first diagnosis of Ebola on American soil, reporters should understand terms commonly used to describe a patient’s medical state or condition.

First, health writers should understand “vital signs” and what providers mean when they refer to vital signs as being normal. According to Medline Plus, “vital signs” include heart beat, breathing rate, temperature and blood pressure.  Continue reading

A collection of the latest Ebola stories, resources

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.

 Photo: NIAID via Flickr

Photo: NIAID via Flickr

What I’m reading about Ebola today:

Possible second Ebola case in Dallas,” which may, of course, be related to “Experts question two-day delay in admitting Texas Ebola patient.” And now we learn that the “Ebola patient told hospital he had been to Liberia,” as well make use of a helpful interactive graphic on how contact tracing works. (Edited to add that last link.)

BioWorld Today has compiled a list of resources and stories about Ebola: “Special Report: The Push to Contain Ebola Virus.”

The World Health Organization has a page for Ebola situation assessments that it says will be updated Wednesday afternoon with information about a clinical trial of a vaccine. Continue reading