Category Archives: Right to know

Debunking myths designed to hinder price, quality transparency efforts

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

When writing about transparency in health care prices and quality, journalists should expose the myths that health care providers promote. That’s the advice Francois de Brantes gave during a session on price and quality transparency at Health Journalism 2015 last month.

The executive director of the Health Care Incentives Improvement Institute (HCI3), de Brantes (@Fdebrantes) said, “Call them on their bull sh–. Their arguments against price and quality transparency are bogus.”

Yet when state legislatures consider laws promoting the public reporting of health care prices and quality ratings, provider organizations often lobby against these laws. “What are they protecting?” he asked. “Doesn’t the public have a right to know?” Continue reading

Illnesses, injuries linked to medical devices a ripe area for investigation #ahcj15

Paul Sisson

About Paul Sisson

Paul Sisson covers health care for U-T San Diego. He attended Health Journalism 2015 on an AHCJ-California Health Journalism Fellowship, which is supported by The California HealthCare Foundation.

CDC/ James ArcherAn outbreak of carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae (CRE) was linked to dirty duodenoscopes.

CDC/ James ArcherAn outbreak of carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae (CRE) was linked to dirty duodenoscopes.

Most medical devices marketed in the United States do not need formal approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Members of a panel at Health Journalism 2015 on medical device coverage provided a variety of advice for reporters covering and of the implants, instruments and diagnostic tools common to the modern medical machine.

Moderator of the session was Chad Terhune, a Los Angeles Times reporter who recently found himself chasing an outbreak of carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae (CRE) linked to dirty duodenoscopes. Contributing to the discussion were panelists USA Today investigative reporter Peter Eisler and Scott Lucas, associate director of accident and forensic investigation at the ECRI Institute. Continue reading

Journalists get guidance on navigating HIPAA rules #ahcj15

Sheila Hagar

About Sheila Hagar

Sheila Hagar (@ubsheilahagar) is a columnist, blogger and reporter for the Walla Walla (Wash.) Union-Bulletin newspaper. She attended Health Journalism 2015 as an AHCJ-Rural Health Journalism Fellow.

Pia Christensen/AHCJJan Emerson-Shea, vice president  of external affairs for the California Hospital Association, guides journalists in how to work with hospitals and patient privacy laws at Health Journalism 2015.

Pia Christensen/AHCJJan Emerson-Shea, vice president of external affairs for the California Hospital Association, guides journalists in how to work with hospitals and patient privacy laws at Health Journalism 2015.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act was enacted nearly 20 years ago to make reporters gnash their teeth. Not quite, presenters at Health Journalism 2015 in Santa Clara, Calif., told their audience.

HIPAA, as it was birthed into law in 1996, was intended to make it easier for people to keep their health insurance when they change jobs. The law set standards for the electronic exchange of patient information, including protecting the privacy of such records. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued the Privacy Rule to implement that aspect of the law, and its Office of Civil Rights is in charge of enforcing it.

The Privacy Rule, which went into effect in April 2003, has made it more difficult for reporters to get information about individuals’ health care, such as the names and condition of accident victims. Hospital employees and reporters not well informed about the law make things even harder.

It is important to remember some key points about HIPAA and other patient privacy laws, presenters said: Continue reading

Investigation reveals dental board’s lack of transparency

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health, curating related material at She welcomes questions and suggestions on oral health resources at

Image by SalFlako via flickr.

Image by SalFlako via flickr.

How transparent is your state dental board when it comes to helping patients find out more about their dentists?

In Arizona, the state board of dental examiners has taken actions against hundreds of dentists in recent years. But it can be difficult for a patient in the state to find out if his or her dentist has been in trouble.

Linda Holt started worrying about the quality of her dental care after suffering complications from an implant procedure, Phoenix-based ABC-15 television explained in one part of a recent investigative series.

But if she had checked the profile of her dentist, Glenn Featherman, on the Arizona Board of Dental Examiner’s website she would not have been able to tell that he had recently been cited by the board for problems that arose with an implant procedure he performed on another patient. Continue reading

How AHCJ engages in sustained push for transparency year round

Felice J. Freyer

About Felice J. Freyer

Felice J. Freyer is a member of AHCJ's board of directors, serving as vice chair of the organization's Right to Know Committee. She is a medical writer for The Providence (R.I.) Journal.

Sunshine Week logoIn early February, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services advertised a telephone question-and-answer session intended for “non-press associated individuals.” Essentially anyone could listen in – except the members of the media. Crazy, right?

But when a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists asked CMS to change the wording of the February invitation, the agency’s press office declined.

Learning of this, Irene Wielawski, chair of AHCJ’s Right to Know Committee, immediately contacted Mark Weber, a high-ranking public affairs official at HHS with whom the committee speaks regularly. Weber took action, and within days, a new invitation went out specifying that the call was open to all interested “people,” with no restrictions on the media.

A small victory – but a swift one, and an example of how a sustained push for government transparency can make a difference. Continue reading

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, 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

For AHCJ members: Access data about medical education, training

Jeff Porter

About Jeff Porter

Jeff Porter is the special projects director for AHCJ and plays a lead role in planning conferences, workshops and other training events. He also leads the organization's data collection and data instruction efforts.

Photo: Mercy Health via Flickr

In its ongoing effort to shed light on physician residency programs, AHCJ is announcing a new benefit for members: Access to national rankings calculated based on 50,000 peer nominations from board-certified physicians, with geographic weighting.

Last summer, AHCJ called for more transparency about the accreditation of physician residency programs, so the public can be better informed about the quality of graduate medical education programs in their communities.

In a letter sent to the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, AHCJ praised the group for having a website that includes accreditation decisions for institutions and their individual training programs. But AHCJ asked ACGME to publish additional information, including why individual programs and institutions have favorable or less-than-favorable accreditation status and the percentage of residents who pass their board exams.

While ACGME declined to provide that additional information, AHCJ has worked with Doximity Inc. to provide members the first comprehensive national research on residency programs. Continue reading

Report reveals the challenges behind covering patient safety

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

Michael L. Millenson

Patient safety is a critically important topic for health care journalists. Yet collecting the data needed to report on it thoroughly can be frustratingly difficult.

For a new report, former journalist Michael L. Millenson (@MLMillenson), explains the challenges he and his colleagues encountered collecting the data they needed to produce a nonpartisan report, “The Politics of Patient Harm: Medical Error and the Safest Congressional Districts.” The first analysis of patient safety by congressional district, the report ranks each district as good, fair or poor on patient safety.

Early in his career, Millenson covered health care for The Chicago Tribune. He is the author of “Demanding Medical Excellence: Doctors and Accountability in the Information Age,” and president of Health Quality Advisors LLC.

For this patient safety report, he found that – even in the best districts – at least one person dies needlessly every day and eight patients are harmed. The report also shows that 14 more individuals die and 105 are injured every month in hospitals in districts rated “poor” on safety than in those rated “good.”

In poor districts, preventable medical errors cause an average of 553 deaths and 4,148 injuries annually. In fair districts the average annual rate was 469 deaths and 3,518 injuries and in good districts, the rate was 385 deaths and 2,888 injuries.

In a new “How I did it” article, Millenson explains the challenges of collecting and reporting the data needed to compare one congressional district against others.

“In health care, cooking up answers to what look like simple questions can quickly get complicated,” he writes. Surprisingly, it was difficult just to determine how to define the term “hospital” because there are so many different types of hospitals. Just distinguishing a local hospital’s performance from that of another hospital miles away was challenging because multiple hospitals owned by one system may share a provider billing number, he explains.

For journalists, this report and Millenson’s explanation of how it was compiled is useful for comparing patient safety scores in one district versus others, and it’s useful as a way to keep the issue of patient safety in the public eye 15 years after the publication of the Institute of Medicine’s landmark report on the subject, “To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health System.”

Calif. reporter finds dearth of public records on assisted-living homes

Deborah Schoch

About Deborah Schoch

Deborah Schoch is a senior writer with the CHCF Center for Health Reporting at the USC Annenberg School for Journalism & Communication. She is a member of AHCJ’s Right-to-Know Committee and can be reached at or 626-457-4281.

Photo by Ed Yourdon via Flickr

Photo by Ed Yourdon via Flickr

I knew next to nothing about the fast-growing assisted-living industry when I started reporting in early 2013 on problem homes in San Diego.

For example, I did not know that many seniors in today’s assisted-living homes are so frail and medically needy that they would have been in nursing homes 20 or 30 years ago. Many live in facilities with no medically trained staff.

Most astonishing to me was the lack of public access to state regulatory reports revealing the quality of care in homes, not only in California but nationally. We’re so accustomed to NursingHomeCompare and HospitalCompare – whatever their flaws – that the hoops families and journalists must leap through to judge an assisted-living home’s quality seem downright primitive. Continue reading

AHCJ disappointed with ACGME’s response on transparency

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.

ACGME-Response8-12-2014-1The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education has rejected a request from AHCJ to publicly release additional information about the successes and failures of physician training programs nationwide.

Earlier this month, AHCJ called upon ACGME to release details about residency programs with less than full accreditation, as well as the rates at which graduates of residency programs pass their board certification examinations. ACGME posts decisions on favorable or less-than-favorable accreditation status but not the reasons for them.

Replying to AHCJ’s Aug. 5 letter, ACGME executive director Thomas J. Nasca, M.D., wrote that the organization would not provide the requested information, citing the confidentiality of ACGME’s review and decision process.

AHCJ president Karl Stark said he was disappointed by ACGME’s response. Continue reading