About AHCJ: General News

Record crowd hears from Dennis Quaid, Elizabeth Edwards Date: 04/01/08


April 1, 2008

Contact: Len Bruzzese, AHCJ executive director, 573-884-5606

Highlights, tip sheets and webcasts from the conference.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – A record crowd attending Health Journalism 2008 heard Elizabeth Edwards criticize Republican presidential candidate John McCain's health care proposals, actor Dennis Quaid urge better protection against hospital medical errors and Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt unveil access to hospital patient satisfaction data.

The annual conference of the Association of Health Care Journalists marked the group's 10th anniversary by drawing nearly 600 attendees to the four-day gathering. The conference featured panel sessions, roundtables, workshops, field trips and news briefings focused on the latest in medical research, health care policy, clinical practice, public health issues, consumer health and the business of health care.

In her address at the AHCJ awards luncheon, Edwards, who has breast cancer, said while McCain's Web site refers to "building national markets by permitting providers to practice nationwide" and bringing costs under control, the proposal would allow health plans to be based in states with fewer mandates. The McCain plan, according to Edwards, would allow consumers to buy cheaper insurance from companies in less-regulated states but then they will have issues with pre-existing conditions or have high deductibles.

She repeatedly urged journalists to hold the candidates' feet to the fire and make sure they are telling the truth about their health care plans. She said journalists have the responsibility to "make the American voting public more informed."

In a special conference news briefing, Quaid talked candidly about the frightening experience of nearly losing his newborn twins after they were administered overdoses of heparin twice in an eight-hour period at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

In November, nurses and pharmacy technicians failed to check the drug vials before administering the wrong dosage. A similar mistake killed three children in Indiana a year earlier. The Quaid children recovered and are now at home, thriving. But the error led Quaid and his wife to launch a foundation devoted to improving patient safety and reducing medication errors.

In another news briefing, Leavitt announced the addition of patient satisfaction measures to the agency's Hospital Compare Web site, where the public can look up information about specific hospitals.

Leavitt admitted that the agency lags in providing good information for the public, but "we're making a lot of progress." The new information is based on survey information from the Hospital Quality Alliance, a coalition of organizations ranging from U.S. Chamber of Commerce to AFL-CIO. The survey includes information about hospital staff communication, noise levels and whether the patient would recommend the hospital.

Breaking news also came from officials from the American Public Health Association and its partners who unveiled a public health blueprint for tackling climate change in advance of National Public Health Week (April 7-13).

Dr. Georges Benjamin, the APHA executive director, described the blueprint as a one-of-a-kind consensus document, compiled by a group of leading climate change and public health professionals. It outlined strategies to mitigate and prepare for the effects of climate change.

In a new AHCJ conference feature, editors from some top magazines, newspapers and Web sites met with freelance journalists to hear story pitches. The association's first "Freelance PitchFest" brought together 11 editors with more than 40 independent journalists for an opportunity to sit down and discuss ideas one-on-one.

This year's conference was hosted by Georgetown University Medical Center and Georgetown University Hospital. The endowing sponsor was The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Conference sponsors included the American Journal of Nursing, California HealthCare Foundation, The California Endowment, The California Wellness Foundation, The Commonwealth Fund, Foundation for Informed Medical Decision Making, Johns Hopkins Institutions, Kaiser Family Foundation, Missouri Foundation for Health, Montefiore Medical Center, Picker Institute and RTI International.

The Association of Health Care Journalists is an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing public understanding of health care issues. Its mission is to improve the quality, accuracy and visibility of health care reporting, writing and editing. Its offices are based at the Missouri School of Journalism. Materials from the conference are being made available at healthjournalism.org.