Right to Know: Resources

Right to Know committee

Welcome to the AHCJ Right to Know page. The Right to Know Committee promotes the free flow of health and medical information, advises the AHCJ Board of Directors on potential advocacy positions and serves as a resource for members on access issues.

Irene Wielawski, an independent journalist, is chair of the committee and Felice Freyer, a medical writer at The Providence Journal, serves as vice chair. Please contact Freyer or Wielawski if you have a question or want to help.

During the past few years, AHCJ has voiced concern to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services when it decided to centralize its press operations, worked with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to improve access to journalists after the anthrax attacks and joined with other journalism groups, through the Council of National Journalism Organizations, to keep access to public records and information.

Most recently, AHCJ found that more than two-thirds of health care reporters taking part in a First Amendment survey have had stories held or left unpublished because the Food and Drug Administration did not respond to FOIA requests in a timely manner.

And, of course, we've been particularly concerned with the effects of HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act passed on Aug. 21, 1996. The new law set in motion efforts by the federal government to craft rules designed to protect the medical privacy of patients. The act eventually spurred the Department of Health and Human Services to offer the first federal medical privacy regulations called the Standards for Privacy of Individually Identifiable Health Information or simply the Privacy Rule, issued in draft on Oct. 29, 1999. We're interested in any problems you've encountered because of HIPAA. E-mail the details to: info@healthjournalism.org. Be sure to put "HIPAA problems" in the subject line.

Here are some links dealing with public records and freedom of information. For more, use the dropdown menu at the top right of your screen (Select Topic) and choose "Freedom of Information."

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press offers a FOIA Letter Generator, a free 24-hour hotline for journalists about how the law affects gathering and reporting news (1-800-336-4243) and such guides as "How to Use the Federal FOI Act", "Access to Electronic Records" and "Tapping Officials' Secrets," which lists open records and meetings laws in each state. The Reporters Committee offers an easy form to fill out for an FOI request..

The National Freedom of Information Coalition offers grants and resources to help foster the creation and growth of state FOI coalitions, and to assist with projects furthering public access to government records and meetings.

The National Security Archive, an independent non-governmental research institute and library based at George Washington University, has a great deal of information about FOIA, including how to use it, sample requests and appeals, noteworthy news stories made possible by FOIA documents, audits and more.

Public Citizen, a national not-for-profit consumer advocacy organization founded by Ralph Nader, offers information and links to relevant resources.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services FOI site lists its offices and agencies and how to obtain information from them. The National Institutes of Health Freedom of Information Office has a guide on how to submit requests, file appeals and find information about Electronic Freedom of Information Act Amendments of 1996.

U.S. House Government Reform Committee published an updated edition of "A Citizen's Guide on Using the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act of 1974 to Request Government Records" in June 2003. An online copy is available from the Federation of American Scientists.

The Society of Environmental Journalists has an FOI resource page with links and FOI fundamentals, among other resources.

Investigative Reporters and Editors features an FOI Center with speeches, interviews and projects, FOI columns from the IRE Journal and other useful links.

FOI-L electronic list - Started as a service to the National Freedom of Information Coalition, this service can give you valuable updates and you may find answers. To subscribe, send an e-mail message to: LISTSERV@listserv.syr.edu the body of the message, type: SUB FOI-L full_name. Use your full name for full_name (not e-mail address). Do not put a subject line and delete any signature which may automatically appear at the end. For more information, contact Barbara Croll Fought, an associate professor at Syracuse University and former NFOIC board director. You can reach her at bcfought@syr.edu or 315-443-4054.