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Resources: AHCJ Data

 Health data – Association of Health Care Journalists Stories using health data

For AHCJ members: Comparison tool for hospital Medicare charges
AHCJ just updated its version of Medicare inpatient charge data covering hospitals across the United States. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has updated its data, showing what hospitals charge Medicare for the same treatment or procedure. Government data files include bills...

What journalists should know about hospital ratings
Journalists should take hospital ratings with a healthy dose of skepticism, according to experts at a recent AHCJ New York chapter event. Simply looking at an institution’s overall rating is just the start. Reporting that without understanding what’s being rated and how “success” is...

Firearm data resources for reporting on the Orlando mass shooting
In light of the mass shooting in Orlando, many journalists covering the event will need access to statistics on firearms, legislation, past mass shootings and related information to add context to their posts. It’s often challenging to find this information, and all of the reported data has flaws...

Review of EPA data leads USA Today to towns with contaminated water
Yes, database websites can seem clunky, and government data can seem hopelessly riddled with errors. But searching, downloading and analyzing it – specifically EPA records on drinking water – led USA Today to a blockbuster front-page story that not only drew attention to the threat of lead...

Turn to new tip sheet before writing about drug prices
Drug prices have become a hot topic – and a significant source of the ongoing challenges to achieving affordable premiums and out-of-pocket costs in both Affordable Care Act exchange plans and employer-sponsored coverage. Drug costs are now the single largest health care concern of Americans...


HHS hospital mortality and readmission data

DataThe U.S. Health and Human Services' Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services "Outcome of Care Measures" is an attempt to show what happens after patients with certain conditions receive hospital care.

The AHCJ version of the data attempts to help you compare outcome measures, namely 30-day mortality rates and readmission rates.

This information helps you understand, for particular conditions, whether a hospital's rates are in line with national averages, significantly better or significantly worse.

Data to research health providers and connections

Health journalists often need detailed, accurate information about health care providers. AHCJ is working with the company Carevoyance to provide data covering hospitals, physicians, laboratories and other providers.

Carevoyance is a health care-specific search and discovery platform built on a broad collection of health care data. Carevoyance allows users to access information from across hundreds of previously disparate and siloed public and private data sources for a single portal. 

You can find information about provider specialties, finances, referrals, affillations, patient demographics, prescriptions and basic contact information. AHCJ members can search by geography, names, specialties and more.

The new ecosystem of health data keeps getting bigger

Each year, the release of new datasets makes it more exciting to cover health care. No longer are we limited to comparing states to one another to look for differences. No longer are doctors’ practice patterns protected by outdated privacy rules. We have entered an era in which we can compare one doctor to another. And what we’re learning is that there are huge, seemingly unexplainable, differences among them.

This tip sheet, by ProPublica's Charles Ornstein, offers both very broad data sources, as well as more granular ones. None of the data sets cover individual claims-level data, which require special permissions and often cost a lot of money.

Data on failures in reporting to ClinicalTrials.gov

A Dec. 14, 2015, investigation by Stat found that “prestigious medical research institutions have flagrantly violated a federal law requiring public reporting of study results, depriving patients and doctors of complete data to gauge the safety and benefits of treatments.”

Charles Piller of Stat reports that the worst offenders included four of the top 10 recipients of federal medical research funding from the National Institutes of Health.

Other reporters can do their own stories about institutions and companies in their areas using the data that Stat obtained and is making available through AHCJ.

The data includes 98 universities, nonprofits, and corporations that served as sponsors or collaborators on at least 20 trials subject to federal disclosure requirements between 2008 and Sept. 10 of this year (when the data were downloaded).

Hospital inspections data

AHCJ has obtained data including information about inspections of acute and critical access hospitals since Jan. 1, 2011. The data came from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

These downloadable files include information about the inspections of these hospitals after a complaint.

To understand what facilities and inspections are included – and NOT included – in this dataset, you should carefully read all of the documentation on the site www.hospitalinspections.org.

Annual Exhibit of Premiums, Enrollment, and Utilization

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners, which represents insurance commissioners from around the country, compiles statistics on annual enrollment by health insurer for individual plans and small group policies, as well as certain information on premiums and utilization of services.

These data tables include enrollment for the individual and group markets in each state. This includes both those who enrolled using the health insurance marketplaces created under the Affordable Care Act, as well as so-called off-exchange enrollment (through private exchanges or directly with insurance companies). The second table includes utilization statistics for each plan for 2014 and 2013. Figures for California are not included because data for the state is incomplete.

Data to research medical education, training

In its efforts for more public data about physician residency programs, AHCJ has worked with Doximity Inc. to provide members the first comprehensive national research on residency programs.

Doximity, in collaboration with U.S. News & World Report, has granted AHCJ members access to its complete 2014 research.

Use data to cover the Affordable Care Act

Katherine HempsteadThe Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has six databases on its "Reform by the Numbers" website that can be useful for reporters covering health care. In an exclusive briefing at an AHCJ New York chapter meeting in June 2014, the Foundation's Katherine Hempstead, Ph.D., discussed the highlights of the databases.

The databases can answer many questions, such as whether consumers are having trouble paying their sky-high deductibles or whether waiting lines are growing at doctors’ offices. Want to know how your state exchange differs from others? This data can help. Hempstead also offers ideas for stories that can be mined from the data no matter your technical abilities.

Medicare payments data by state

The government release of information about Medicare payments to health professionals, a total of $72 billion in the single year of 2013, means unprecedented access to details of how public funds are spent. For 35 years - until 2014 - the data have been off limits to the public. The release has already generated stories by health journalists, with possibilities for more stories in the weeks and months ahead. To help with these stories, AHCJ has broken down the data by state in spreadsheet format for members to download.

Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board’s EMMA site

The Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board’s EMMA site has been described as “one of the coolest sites to hit hospital finances in years. It enables you get to get up-to-date financial information and debt. You can also download the results and show them to experts for quotes.”

Quick Health Data Online: Access to county-level health status data

The Quick Health Data Online system, from the HHS Office on Women’s Health, provides state- and county-level data for all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and US territories and possessions. Data are available by gender, race and ethnicity and come from a variety of national and state sources. The system is organized into eleven main categories, including demographics, mortality, natality, reproductive health, violence, prevention, disease and mental health. Within each main category, there are numerous subcategories.

Medicare provider charge data

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has released data showing what hospitals across the country charge Medicare for the same treatment or procedure. This allows a basis for some local or regional comparisons and a starting point for stories on hospital costs. Get the data and documentation.

Integrated Health Interview Series

The Integrated Health Interview Series is a consistently-coded version of data from the U.S. National Health Interview Survey from 1963-present, including over 10,000 variables on health behaviors, health conditions, and health care access and use, and is available for free over the Internet.

Numbers reveal how often, or how rarely, states check doctors’ disciplinary records

How often does your state medical board search doctors in the National Practitioner Data Bank? Surprisingly not often, according to data provided to the Association of Health Care Journalists by the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, which runs the data bank.

AHCJ and other media groups have been pushing the government to restore unfettered access to the Public Use File of the data bank, citing important stories that journalists have written about lax oversight of doctors by state medical boards.

AHCJ requested data from HRSA so reporters could see how often their states check the backgrounds of medical doctors and osteopaths, as well as interns and residents. The numbers are available in two different charts.

National Practitioner Data Bank Public Use File

The NPDB is a confidential system that compiles malpractice payouts, hospital discipline and regulatory sanctions against doctors and other health professionals. For years, HRSA has made a public version of it available without identifying information about the health providers.

In September 2011, the agency removed the file from its website. The government said it did so because reporters were able to link information in the data bank to specific doctors, and the law prohibits the public use file from identifying doctors. AHCJ and several other journalism organizations protested the action and appealed for restoration of the file.

In November, HRSA restored the file but with restrictions that prevent users from using the dataset alone or with other data to indentify individuals. Investigative Reporters and Editors, working with AHCJ and the Society of Professional Journalists, has posted the a version of the data that predates those restrictions for download, free to the public.

Hiding in plain sight: California hospital data

Does your local hospital place more cardiac stents than others? Do more of its patients leave the emergency room without being seen? Does it have a high level of C-section births? These questions and others are relatively easy to answer thanks to a data gold mine kept by the obscure California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development. It doesn't matter if your hospital is public, nonprofit or for-profit, data on its patients and services are available online.

Charles Ornstein, senior reporter at ProPublica and president of AHCJ's board of directors, will guide you through using the data to answer those questions and more.

Global Health Data Exchange at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation

The University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation maintains the Global Health Data Exchange (or GHDx), a sort of clearinghouse for global public health data sets.

Nursing Homes: Special Focus Facility Initiative

On May 21, 2015, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services released the most recent list of nursing homes in its Special Focus Facility Initiative. These are homes that "(a) have had a history of serious quality issues and (b) are included in a special program to stimulate improvements in their quality of care."

The SFF Initiative is intended to address nursing homes that cycle in and out of compliance based on inspections. Nursing homes in this program are visited in person by survey teams twice as frequently as other nursing homes (about twice per year).

This list includes new additions to the SFF initiative, nursing homes that have failed to show significant improvement, nursing homes that have shown significant improvement, nursing homes that have sustained significant improvement for about 12 months and nursing homes that were either terminated by CMS from participation in Medicare and Medicaid within the past few months, or voluntarily chose not to continue such participation. 

Analyze patient satisfaction surveys to evaluate local hospitals

Surgeon operating as an example of what data is available through Hospital Compare from the Department of Health and Human Services.Beginning in March 2008, the federal government began publicly reporting patient satisfaction measures for hospitals across the United States. The survey tool, known as the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Health Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) survey, is the first attempt by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to standardize survey results of patients' perspectives of hospital care.

AHCJ has compiled Excel files that allow you to compare more than three hospitals at a time, using spreadsheet or database software to filter, sort and use other analysis tools with precision.

By looking at data for hospitals in your community or state, you may be able to quickly spot trends. Does one chain have a better track record than another? Do for-profit hospitals perform better than nonprofits? How about public hospitals? 

Finding patterns and trends in health data: Pivot tables in spreadsheets

Excel pivot tables are a powerful way to organize, interpret and manipulate numerical data. In this tip sheet, reporters will learn the skills necessary to apply these tables in real-world situations, including analyzing the Nursing Home Compare data.

Medicare's Nursing Home Compare database

Courtesy of the CDC and Brian Donnelly, LifeSpan FurnishingsNursing Home Compare uses data compiled from inspections and compares health and fire safety concerns as well as quality measures and staffing information from every Medicare and Medicaid-certified nursing home in the country.

Nursing Home Compare, according to the Medicare Web site, is meant to provide information to help individuals, family members, caregivers, and those who assist them find and compare nursing homes and make informed decisions about nursing home care.

AHCJ has reduced key elements in Nursing Compare data into a more manageable formats in Excel spreadsheets.

Intro to investigating health data using spreadsheets

Excel tutorialThis tutorial will give you a jumpstart on using spreadsheets to investigate health data.

While it's important to remember that a spreadsheet can give you a lead but can't replace your news judgment, this will help you navigate around spreadsheets, understand some basic references and learn some good practices in dealing with data.

Data files from the National Center for Health Statistics

The National Center for Health Statistics offers downloadable public-use data files through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's FTP file server. Data sets, documentation and questionnaires from NCHS surveys and data collection systems are available.

Community Health Data Initiative

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Institute of Medicine launched this initiative to help consumers and communities get more value out of the nation's wealth of health data. It includes a number of web tools, reports and downloadable data.