The Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism recognize the best health reporting in print, broadcast and online media. The contest is run by journalists for journalists and is not influenced or funded by commercial or special-interest groups.
The contest features a variety of categories and entries can include a wide range of health coverage including public health, consumer health, medical research, the business of health care and health ethics.
Contest entrants fill out a questionnaire that details how they reported the work they are submitting. AHCJ posts those questionnaires with the entries, allowing other journalists to learn about new sources, get story ideas and do similar reporting in their own communities.
Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism: 2008 winners
- Large Newspapers (over 250,000 circ.) & wire services
- Medium Newspapers (90,000-250,000 circ.)
- Small Newspapers (under 90,000 circ.)
- General Interest Magazines above 1 million circ.
- General Interest Magazines below 1 million circ.
- Beat Reporting
- Limited Report
- Trade Publications/Newsletters
- TV (Local markets, network, syndicated)
- Radio (Local markets, network, syndicated)
Large Newspapers (over 250,000 circ.) & wire services
First Place: Fixing Mr. Fix-It; Diane Suchetka, The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer
Plain Dealer reporter Diane Suchetka looks at the problems that beset the survivor of a horrendous accident and its toll on his family as they strive to adjust to their new roles.
Second Place: In Their Debt; James Drew and Fred Schulte, The (Baltimore) Sun
In the early 1970s, Maryland officials devised a system – now the only one in the nation – in which the state sets hospital rates. The goal was to guarantee hospital care whether patients could afford it or not. The state allowed hospitals to mark up their charges to recover the cost of providing free or reduced-price care and debts they wrote off. An eight-month investigation by The (Baltimore) Sun found that over the past five years, some of Maryland's 46 nonprofit hospitals have received millions of dollars from the payment system even as they sued tens of thousands of patients over unpaid bills.
Second Place: The Evidence Gap; Staff, The New York Times
A team of science and business reporters was asked to find out how and why the United States spends so much on health care with such disappointing results. They discovered a gaping chasm between scientific evidence and the practice of medicine: in innumerable instances, no solid evidence can be found to justify the standard treatment.
Third Place: At the Edge of Life; Lee Hancock and Sonya N. Hebert, The Dallas Morning News
"At the Edge of Life" explores palliative care's transformative effect for hospital patients and families and clinicians facing life-threatening illness. In narrative stories, photos and videos and online multimedia offerings, the project examines end-of-life decision-making, pain and symptom management, spiritual and psychological challenges for everyone around a hospital bed when cure isn't possible.
Third Place: The Partners Effect; Spotlight Team, The Boston Globe
This series focuses on an out-of balance health care finance system that rewards a few big hospitals, paying them far more for work even when there is no evidence that the higher-priced care produces healthier patients. The stories detail how New England's biggest health care network, Partners HealthCare, is increasingly using its marketplace clout to export its expensive brand of medicine to the suburbs, imperiling community hospitals, and how its cozy relationship with the state's largest insurer has helped to trigger a health care cost crisis.
Medium Newspapers (90,000-250,000 circ.)
First Place: Transplanting Too Soon; Luis Fabregas and Andrew Conte, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
The initial three-part series focused on the practice of doing liver transplants on patients who don't need them because their illnesses have not progressed to the point when they can benefit from the surgery. These patients at the bottom of waiting lists have a higher chance of dying after getting a transplant when they could have lived longer without the transplant, according to widely accepted scientific research.
Second Place: Dangerous and Mentally Ill; Carol Smith, Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Carol Smith's stories focused on different aspects of a system that led to a random killing by a severely mentally ill man with a history of violence.
Third Place: The New Addiction; Marshall Allen and Alex Richards, Las Vegas Sun
The Las Vegas Sun analyzed the Drug Enforcement Administration's controlled substances consumption database and discovered that Nevadans, per capita, are the nation's number one users of hydrocodone, the narcotic in Vicodin and Lortab, and number four consumers of the narcotic painkillers methadone, morphine and oxycodone. The data showed a skyrocketing rise in narcotic consumption in Nevada and nationwide in the past decade.
Small Newspapers (under 90,000 circ.)
First Place: What Lies Beneath; Greg Barnes, John Ramsey and John Fuquay, The Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer
In July 2007, the Fayetteville, N.C., City Council learned about a neighborhood's 20-year fight over gasoline contamination in private drinking wells. The revelation led The Fayetteville Observer to ask: What else lies beneath? The newspaper found dozens of areas with groundwater contamination, including entire neighborhoods. Although public health officials had known about the contamination for years, little had ever been done.
Second Place: Systemwide Flaws Plagued Heparin Recall; Evan George, Los Angeles Daily Journal
After recall alerts about heparin began pouring in from across the country, pharmacists scoured medicine cabinets, whisked tainted heparin away from patients and sailed it back to their distributor for disposal. But a national drug supplier had not yet received the warning notices. That and other failures left the recalled drug on the shelf. In all, 94 hospitals have been fined by state regulators for failing to remove recalled heparin after warnings went out. A review of those state citations by the Daily Journal earlier this month showed that contaminated heparin, which federal officials have suspected in more than 90 deaths and traced to Chinese factories, continued to be administered to hundreds of patients at more than a dozen hospitals throughout California.
Third Place: Alone Among Us; Sharon Salyer and Alejandro Dominguez, The (Everett, Wash.) Herald
While stigma has long been associated with mental health care, the story explores the even greater stigma faced by Hispanics in seeking out and getting mental health care. The project had a number of online components, including both English and Spanish versions.
General Interest Magazines above 1 million circ.
First Place: Growing Up Bipolar; Mary Carmichael, Newsweek
This story focused on a child, Max Blake, now 10, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 2, and followed his struggles - and his parents' - up to the present day.
Second Place: The Medical Marijuana Murder; Frank Owen, Playboy
The murder of marijuana caregiver Ken Gorman and what the circumstances of his death say about the state of the medical marijuana movement in the United States. The article agrees that marijuana has some, albeit limited, medical utility, but debunks the notion that marijuana is a cure-all and takes to task lawmakers for allowing pot dealers with no medical training to act as surrogate doctors dispensing bogus medical advice to sick people.
Third Place: Rx for Disaster; Annemarie Conte, Jessica Branch and Jennifer L. Cook, Good Housekeeping
Abuse of prescription drugs by American adolescents is on the rise. Nearly one in five teens admitted to using medications not prescribed to them. Too often, parents don't recognize the signs their kids are abusing prescription pills, and kids underestimate the dangers. This article provides parents with essential information and advice. After encouraging readers to support a key bill, the bill became a law on October 30.
Third Place: Women's Silent Cancers/Harmful Hysterectomies; Emily Chau, Leslie Laurence and Julia Kagan, Ladies Home Journal
Gynecologic cancers are among the top three killers of women. Yet, except in the case of cervical cancer, there are no good early detection tools. Moreover, some 600,000 hysterectomies are performed annually in the United States and 90 oercent are medically unnecessary.
General Interest Magazines below 1 million circ.
First Place: Do Cholesterol Drugs Do Any Good?; John Carey, BusinessWeek
The story showed that cholesterol-lowering drugs are far less effective than the most people think. For people without existing heart disease, more than one hundred (and perhaps as many as 250) people have to take the drugs for years for just one person to benefit. Yet that tiny benefit comes at the cost of a number of side effects.
Second Place: Your Hospital's Deadly Secret; Katherine Eban and Jacob Lewis (editor), Conde Nast Portfolio
The story of baby Alyssa's death started with a tip from a state regulator: A preemie who was born at just 1.4 pounds and was 12 inches long but was, against all odds, thriving and going to survive, was killed when the pharmacy of a Las Vegas hospital mistakenly gave her 1,000 times the prescribed dosage of zinc sulfate.
Third Place: The Truth About Autism: Scientists Reconsider What They Think They Know; David Wolman, Wired
Over the past decade, an increasingly visible and highly networked community of autistics is trying to kick-start something akin to a civil rights movement. The message: Stop underestimating us. Their efforts, although controversial, are supported by a small but growing cadre of neuro-psychological researchers who are taking a fresh look at the nature of autism itself.
First Place: 2008 Body of Work; Clark Kauffman, Des Moines Register
Clark Kauffman's work included:
- State pays bonuses to worst of homes
- Glenwood medical chiefs were unlicensed
- Privacy law fails to stop snooping
- Gangrene, death follow stay at facility
Second Place: 2008 Body of Work; Carol Smith, Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Carol Smith explores the complexities of a failing mental health system, a dental death investigation and a story about the link between PTSD and brain damage.
Third Place: 2008 Body of Work; Angie Marek, SmartMoney"Peddling Pills" examined the relationship between doctors and pharmaceutical sales reps, and detailed unethical behavior directly witnessed by the reporter.
For "Under the Knife," Marek visited dozens of physicians and successfully bargained down the out-of-pocket costs for several surgeries and cosmetic procedures. She also gave readers a glimpse into the world of office finance managers who authorize such discounts.
"Live Longer," a cover story, looked at what Marek referred to as "health investors," a collection of consumers who spend lavishly each year on their health, often buying everything from vitamin-infused elixirs to exhaustive analyses of their DNA. Marek asked if all this spending was actually lengthening their lives, and at what cost.
In "The Hidden Cost of Retiring Early," Marek shared the stories of Americans who retire before qualifying for Medicare and then have trouble finding health insurance on the individual market.
First Place: Hospital Mistakes Go Public; Jordan Rau, Los Angeles Times
The article revealed that California hospitals had more than 100 avoidable adverse events ("never events") on average each month, including leaving instruments in patients, permitting bedsores to fester and performing the wrong surgeries on patients or the correct surgeries on either the wrong patient or body part.
Second Place: Providers Close Doors to Poor; Marshall Allen, Las Vegas Sun
Budget cuts in the state's Medicaid program are forcing a major shift in where Nevada's poor can seek health care. Low-income cancer patients will have nowhere else to be treated after the only public hospital closes its oncology ward. And Medicaid children with orthopedic needs will have to leave the state, because specialists no longer take their insurance coverage.
Third Place: Tainted Imports Set Off Warnings, Not FDA Action; Justin Blum, Bloomberg News
The story described how the FDA ignored warning signs for years about contaminated drugs from overseas entering the United States. The story quoted former agency officials saying that recent cases of illnesses linked to contaminated medications shouldn't have come as a surprise. It also described internal reports that warned of contaminated drug imports, and quoted former agency commissioners explaining why they didn't act. The story held accountable a senior FDA official who told lawmakers that this year's contamination of the drug heparin was a "wake-up call."
First Place: Conflicts of Interest in Lung Cancer Study; Paul Goldberg, The Cancer Letter
A year-long investigation revealed egregious, undeclared conflicts on interest on the part of a group of scientists who advocated for early detection of lung cancer
Second Place: The Billion Dollar U-Turn; Mark Taylor, Hospitals & Health Networks
Re-admissions pose huge financial and quality of care problems for hospitals and patients. There are mounting pressures for hospitals to prevent patients from coming back days after a procedure. Our story took a close look at the issue – its financial impact and the impact on quality of care.
Third Place: Your Future Chief of Staff?; Howard Larkin, Hospitals & Health Networks
There's a new breed of doctors entering the field. They are focused on Gen Y - young consumers whose assumptions about life could dramatically alter the health care field. They are technically savvy, highly social and very independent. Physicians - and hospital - have to match these demands to be more flexible and wiling to use innovative technologies.
TV (Local markets, network, syndicated)
First Place: Healthline Presents: Polio Revisited; David Wasser, Alissa Collins Latenser and Don Kaiser, Retirement Living TV
Some Polio victims who thought they had recovered are finding that their old symptoms are returning decades later in the form of Post Polio Syndrome. To make matters worse, isolated cases of polio are popping up again in American children who have failed to be immunized and in American tourists who have contracted polio during their travels. This documentary revisits the height of America's dark days of polio, and the role President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the March of Dimes played in finding a cure.
Second Place: Healthcare USA; Hanaan Sarhan, Mat Skene and Avi Lewis, Al Jazeera English Television
This examination of the state of health care in America has a particular focus on rural communities. The mission was to explore how they are coping with being underinsured, or uninsured, and what those individuals were doing on a daily basis in order to cope. It looks at the issue from a ground-level perspective: the people working and living along the front lines of health care every day.
Third Place: Talking About the End; Betty Ann Bowser, Bridget Desimone and Jenny Marder, The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer
Recent studies show that barely a third of advanced cancer patients report having substantive conversations with their oncologists about end-of-life care. NewsHour Health Unit correspondent Betty Ann Bowser profiled an advanced lung cancer patient who found herself in this scenario. The story examined the patient-centered model of care and the physical, emotional and financial benefits to having end of life discussions.
Radio (Local markets, network, syndicated)
First Place: Prescription Drugs at the Swap Meet; Kelley Weiss, Joe Barr and Paul Conley, Capital Public Radio
In California it's not uncommon for people in some Latino communities to get prescription drugs at the local swap meet. KXJZ News found while misuse of these drugs could be deadly, police and health officials around the state are largely ignorant of the problem. But in Los Angeles, an innovative team of health officers and law enforcement is having some success.
Second Place: Chemicals at Home: Searching for Safe Alternatives; Sarah Varney, KQED
After California banned phthalates in childrens' products, the reporter began to investigate what companies were using as alternatives. She found that few scientists knew much about the new chemical and there were no independent studies of the chemical. She discovered that there were questions about the chemical's safety.
Third Place: Delivering AIDS Drugs -- The Long Journey; David Baron, WGBH/PRI’s The World
Baron's report tracks the 8,000 mile journey of a bottle of anti-retroviral pills from a factory in India to an AIDS patient in Ivory Coast. Between the plant and the patient are inefficient bureaucracies and strained government resources, dedicated bureaucrats and health care providers, bad roads and intermittent electricity, and the threat of organized crime rings waiting to strike
First Place: Perils of the New Pesticides; M.B. Pell, Jim Morris and Jillian Olsen, The Center for Public Integrity
An analysis of Environmental Protection Agency data by the Center for Public Integrity shows that the number of reported human health problems, including severe reactions, attributed to pyrethrins and pyrethroids increased by about 300 percent over the past decade. These pesticides are marketed as the safe alternative to older pesticides, but researchers, epidemiologists, and doctors are starting to question the safety of these products.
Second Place: 'Well' blog; Tara Parker-Pope, The New York Times
The blog features posts about a variety of health-related topics that include reader engagement and an emphasis on multimedia presentation.
Second Place: Health Blog; Scott Hensley, Jacob Goldstein and Sarah Rubenstein, The Wall Street Journal
The Wall Street Journal Health Blog includes important news and special reports, as well as concise news reports and analysis to enterprise reporting. The blog regularly covers consumer news, policy, business and medicine. Most weekdays the blog features seven or eight items.
Third Place: Suicide Magnet; Randy Dotinga, Voice of San Diego
This is a series of stories about the public-health problem of suicides from a local bridge. The stories analyze the extent of the problem (more than 200 suicides over about 40 years) and examine how other cities have dealt with "suicide bridges."