AHRQ interviews Ornstein, talks medical errors

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Robert Wachter, M.D., (bio), editor of AHRQ WebM&M (Morbidity and Mortality), interviewed AHCJ President Charles Ornstein, of ProPublica, for a recent issue (get the audio version here). Their conversation began as a general discussion of health journalism, then zeroed in on hospital errors and the Pulitzer Prize-winning series on King/Drew Medical Center in Los Angeles that Ornstein did with Tracy Weber when both were at the LA Times.

The whole thing is worth a read. In this excerpt Ornstein discusses how health journalists find stories:

Good reporters have a variety of sources of information. Reporters who routinely cover the hospitals in their communities should be constantly looking at state inspection reports, lawsuit data about payouts, their Joint Commission accreditation, and how they’re doing with their training program. All these types of things should be on the radar screen and monitored regularly. But nothing can replace talking to employees in the facilities and the patients that receive care there—trying to get an on-the-ground perspective.

In a companion piece, Wachter reflected on the role the media has played in shaking the medical profession out of a dangerous rut of complacency:

What do we need from reporters who cover the medical errors beat? … reporters need to know enough about error science that they appreciate the importance of searching for systems factors, without immediately zeroing in on more dramatic and obvious sharp-end errors. They need to get the facts right. And, while raising the appropriate concerns, they need to avoid sensationalism and place the error, or the topic, in broader context. When they do these things, they are providing a unique and critical service to patients and caregivers.

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