New blog gives first-person account of Ebola treatment in West Africa

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.

Ebola coverage has been ubiquitous, but fairly short on eyewitness perspective. This BMJ blog, “The Ebola Diaries,” gives readers on-the-ground insights from the front lines of Ebola treatment in West Africa.

The blog will follow eight British military doctors and their Ebola Virus Disease Treatment Unit (EVDTU). They arrived in Sierra Leone from Yorkshire two weeks ago, and will focus their treatment efforts on health care providers who might have contracted the virus. Here is a sample from their first post:

We have now been in Sierra Leone for two weeks, and been exposed to the usual frustrations of an emerging humanitarian operation: reduced communication; supply line difficulties; acclimatising to 80% relative humidity; and learning the local dialect, which lies somewhere between Brixton and Peckham. However, these difficulties are ameliorated by a sea view and friendly nurses!

Follow “The Ebola diaries” for weekly observations on treating Ebola in Sierra Leone.

(Hat tip to Dr. Mona Khanna for sharing the blog with us.)

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.

What the Republican win might mean for the Affordable Care Act

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.

Image by  ofacalifornia via flickr.

Image by ofacalifornia via flickr.

Come January, the Republicans will have big majorities in the House and the Senate – majorities they have not had since President Obama took office or since the Affordable Care Act was passed along party lines in 2010.

Now what?  Even the Republicans are figuring that out  – but here’s some of what we know.

The Senate and the House will both have ACA repeal votes. Such a vote will win overwhelmingly in the House and, in the Senate, the Republican majority is also expected to vote against the ACA (or for a procedural motion related to a straight out repeal vote) but it will still fall short of the 60 needed to clear a filibuster.

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Gero is “hot science:” NIH Director Collins

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.

The National Institutes of Health remains strongly committed to the future of aging research, said NIH Director Francis S. Collins during Thursday’s kickoff of the Gerontological Society of America’s Annual Conference in Washington, D.C.

During his keynote speech at the GSA meeting, Collins highlighted several areas of research that are getting recent notice by mainstream media, including the BRAIN Initiative (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies), bio markers to map cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease and a 5-year, $30 million fall prevention project.

Collins also described several research successes at NIH and its National Institute on Aging since the NIA’s founding in 1974.  “Life expectancy has increased. Deaths from cardiovascular disease are down 70 percent in the last 60 years,” he said. “Cancer deaths are also down, although not enough, but have dropped about one percent a year for the last 15 years.” Every one percent decline saves the U.S. About $500 billion in costs, he noted.

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New report raises concerns about Indiana dental chains

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 healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on oral health resources at mary@healthjournalism.org.

A new federal report raises questions about the billing practices of nearly 100 Indiana Medicaid dentists, as well as the quality of care provided by several dental chains that serve poor children in the state.

While the report, produced by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General, does not explicitly name specific dentists or clinics, the authors note that two-thirds of the dentists whose billing practices raised concerns worked for four dental chains. Three of the chains have been the focus of state and federal scrutiny, they observed.

Photo: Pia Christensen/AHCJ

Photo: Pia Christensen/AHCJ

“One chain has been under scrutiny in several States for providing unnecessary services,” the authors wrote. “Thirty-one dentists whom we identified with questionable billing worked for this chain,” they added. The remark was footnoted with a reference to a June 2012 report, “The Business Behind Dental Treatment for America’s Poorest Children,” by David Health and Jill Rosenbaum for the Center for Public Integrity and Frontline that focused on the Georgia-based Kool Smiles dental chain. (See ‘Dollars and dentists:’ Investigating the dental care crisis in the U.S. and Complaints to attorneys general yield sources for dental investigation.)

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Interactive atlases can help coverage of Diabetes Awareness Month

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.

Sometimes it’s difficult to get a handle on major health determinants in your community, and it’s even harder to make them come alive in a story. Straightforward statistics can be dry or intimidating, while percentages and frequencies might fail to resonate.

So how can you give your readers, viewers or listeners a little extra background information without boring them to sleep? Interactive atlases are an effective way to do this – they can provide stories with both images and some enriched perspective. November is National Diabetes Awareness Month, and mapping tools like the CDC Diabetes Atlas provide a visual representation of diabetes in the U.S. The Diabetes Atlas helps to illustrate both diabetes and its many determinants using four indicators:

  • Diagnosed diabetes
  • Diagnosed diabetes incidence
  • Obesity
  • Leisure-time physical inactivity

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Students find new angles to cover at free dental clinic

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 healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on oral health resources at mary@healthjournalism.org.

Julie Drizin

Julie Drizin

The Journalism Center on Children & Families, formerly the Casey Journalism Center, is scheduled to close at the end of the year. Over the past 20 years, JCCF, based at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, has worked to help reporters do a better job of telling the stories of vulnerable people.

Now funding is running out, as JCCF’s director Julie Drizin explained in her announcement: “The College has concluded that this Center is not sustainable in the current economic climate.”

The center has offered grants, fellowships and other resources that have resulted in deeper coverage of health, justice and economic issues as they relate to children and families. In keeping with the center’s mission, Drizin has taught an undergraduate class at the college of journalism. Recently, she gathered a team of student reporters to cover a free two-day dental clinic sponsored by the University of Maryland School of Public Health’s Center for Health Equity.

The student’s coverage of the 100-chair clinic resulted in a compelling assortment of stories that are packaged together on the JCCF website as part of the “On The Beat” feature. One of the most striking aspects of the students’ reporting is the variety of angles they managed to find while all covering the same event – angles that professional journalists might find useful.

In this Q&A for AHCJ, Drizin offers insights into how, as a teacher, she turned this free dental clinic into a window on the human condition for her class. She reflects upon the tradition of advocacy journalism. And she shares the best piece of advice she offered to her students as they headed out to cover the event.

New OIG report: Medicare paid for HIV drugs for deceased beneficiaries

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.

A report released Friday by the Office of the Inspector General found that, under the Part D program, Medicare paid for HIV drugs for 150 dead recipients.

An analysis of Prescription Drug Event (PDE) records for HIV drugs in 2012 determined that CMS’s current practices allowed most of these payments to occur. Although CMS has processes in place that reject PDE records for drugs with dates of service more than 32 days after death, in some cases, claims that fell outside this window were paid. Most of these drugs were dispensed by retail pharmacies.  prescription-drugs

According to OIG, “Drugs that treat the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) can be a target for fraud, waste, and abuse, primarily because they can be very expensive.” The report points out, for example, that one common antiretroviral drug costs approximately $1,700 per month. HIV drugs accounted for one-quarter of one percent of all Part D drugs in 2012.

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Four-year results of global payment initiative show costs reduced, quality improved

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.

An innovative payment program from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts has achieved impressive results in controlling costs and improving quality over four years, according to a new study.

In an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers from Harvard Medical School evaluated a Blue Cross initiative, called the alternative quality contract (AQC), which pays physicians and hospitals a risk-adjusted global budget.

Image by A Healthier Michigan via flickr.

Image by A Healthier Michigan via flickr.

The analysis showed that the AQC reduced costs over the first four years of the program (2009 through 2012) by 6.8 percent compared with costs in a control group. The control group included commercially insured members of employer-sponsored plans in Connecticut, Maine, New Jersey, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

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Five journalists receive 2015 Health Care Performance fellowships

Len Bruzzese

About Len Bruzzese

Len Bruzzese is the executive director of AHCJ and its Center for Excellence in Health Care Journalism. He also is an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and serves on the executive committee of the Council of National Journalism Organizations.

AHCJ Reporting Fellowships on Health Care Performance The Association of Health Care Journalists has awarded five journalists AHCJ Reporting Fellowships on Health Care Performance for work to be completed in 2015. The program, in its fifth year, is meant to help journalists understand and report on the performance of local health care markets and the U.S. health system as a whole.

The fellowship program, supported by The Commonwealth Fund, is intended to give experienced print, broadcast and online reporters an opportunity to concentrate on the performance of health care systems – or significant parts of those systems – locally, regionally or nationally. The fellows are able to examine policies, practices and outcomes, as well as the roles of various stakeholders.

The 2015 fellows will be:

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