New index evaluating aging across states is a valuable resource for journalists

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic leader on aging. Her work has appeared in NextAvenue.com, Journal of Active Aging, Cancer Today, Kaiser Health News and other outlets. She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health Policy and Media Engagement at George Washington University and co-produces the HealthCetera podcast.

Photo by Carlos Ebert via Flickr.

Where you live will help determine how successfully you age. A retrospective analysis by leading aging experts in the U.S. found wide variation in how well states are adapting to their aging populations. They concluded that without a cohesive federal approach, state policy plays a more pivotal role in this process.

In a new article in the Milbank Quarterly, researchers describe how they developed an empirical index to evaluate how U.S. states adapt to societal aging across five critical domains: productivity and engagement, security, equity, cohesion and wellbeing. They found that the level of adaptation to successful aging varied substantially between states and over time. The index is another tool reporters can use to assess whether state health policy is keeping pace with the needs of its older population.

The highest-ranked states in 2017 were Vermont, Hawaii, Iowa, Colorado and New Hampshire. The lowest-ranked states were Louisiana, Arkansas, Kentucky, West Virginia and Mississippi. The greatest improvement in rankings between 2003 and 2017 was shown by South Carolina, Iowa, Arizona and Delaware. Louisiana saw the greatest decline starting in 2010. The study found no national trends in successful aging, suggesting that policy at the state level a significant determinant in adapting and meeting the needs of aging populations.

Data from multiple sources for all 50 states and the District of Columbia from 2003 to 2017 was used to measure key aging domains, which define successful aging at the population level. This index drills down to more granular markers of successful aging compared with other indexes, which have previously assessed more general societal support of its older population, such as life expectancy or activities of daily living. Supplemental charts and graphs provide a closer look at changes in potential policy drivers by state, such as spending on supplemental nutrition programs, recreation, public transportation or libraries.

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Find out how to prepare your audiences to respond if they find errors in their medical records

About Kerry Dooley Young

Kerry Dooley Young (@kdooleyyoung) is AHCJ's core topic leader on patient safety. She has written extensively about the Food and Drug Administration, medical research, health policy and quality measurements. Her work has appeared in Medscape Medical News, Congressional Quarterly/CQ Roll Call and Bloomberg News.

AHCJ Dec 8. webcast panel

Federal laws and rules have opened a path for Americans to have greater access to their medical records. That’s a welcome development, especially with restrictions against information blocking having taken effect in April.

But what happens when patients read their records? Many of them will find errors. That’s why AHCJ will offer a Dec. 8 webinar about how to cover this topic. This panel discussion was inspired by reporting that veteran journalist Cheryl Clark has done for MedPage Today, including a Sept. 14 article titled Open Notes Shines Light on Errors in Patient Medical Records. In a September blog for AHCJ, Clark wrote of her own experience with medical records, including finding summary visit notes from one doctor that “contained 19 errors and a whole section that made no sense.”

“Errors, which Heather Gantzer, M.D., M.A.C.P, told me occur in `100%’ of medical records” can include wrong medications, old problems listed as current problems, a statement that a procedure was performed when it was cancelled and ICD-10 codes for conditions that had nothing to do with the reason the patient went to the doctor in the first place,” Clark wrote in a Sept. 22 blog for  AHCJ.

The estimate of 100% may be too high, although I have to say it closely reflects the experience of the AHCJ folks involved in presenting this webinar.

As AHCJ members tend to seek statistics from studies published in respected medical journals, let me offer you another estimate. Writing in JAMA Network Open in June 2020, researchers from Harvard Medical School, the University of California, University of Michigan, University of Massachusetts, University of Washington School of Medicine and  Geisinger reported on the results of a survey looking at what happened with more than 22,000 patients who had read one or more notes in the past 12 months.

Of these patients, 4830 (21.1%) reported a perceived mistake and 2043 (42.3 %) reported that the mistake was serious, with this group split between replies indicating that the error was somewhat serious (32.4%) and very serious, 9.9%, wrote Catherine (Cait) DesRoches and her co-authors in their paper, titled “Frequency and Types of Patient-Reported Errors in Electronic Health Record Ambulatory Care Notes.”

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New tip sheet urges journalists to advise Medicare members about the best plans to meet their needs

About Joseph Burns

Joseph Burns (@jburns18), a Massachusetts-based independent journalist, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health reform. He welcomes questions and suggestions and tip sheets at joseph@healthjournalism.org.

Trudy Lieberman

Every day, some 10,000 Americans become eligible for Medicare, a rate that’s projected to continue for the next 18 years, as the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis estimated in 2019.

For health care journalists, these startling numbers mean we have an important role to advise seniors on the best plans to meet their needs during Medicare’s annual open enrollment (Oct. 15 through Dec. 7). Our advisory role seems to become more important every year as costs rise and because we need to counteract the messages seniors get in the annoyingly frequent advertisements for Medicare Advantage (MA) plans.

Medicare open enrollment

During Medicare’s open enrollment period, seniors face a dizzying array of choices about whether to choose traditional Medicare or a MA plan or if they should add a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan.

So much advertising and reporting are devoted to MA and Part D plans that the more comprehensive coverage available to seniors through Medicare Supplement plans (also called Medigap) gets all but drowned out.

In a new tip sheet, health care journalist and former AHCJ president Trudy Lieberman (@Trudy_Lieberman) explains why reporters covering health care for seniors should write about the benefits of Medigap plans.

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Expand your freelance business by writing for niche publications

About Barbara Mantel

Barbara Mantel (@BJMantel), an independent journalist, is AHCJ’s freelance community correspondent. Her work has appeared in CQ Researcher, Rural Health Quarterly, Undark, Healthline, NBCNews.com and NPR, among others. She helps members find the resources they need to succeed as freelancers and welcomes your suggestions.

The panelists and moderator of AHCJ’s Dec. 8 webcast.

I have been lucky as a freelancer to have a regular gig as a contributing writer for CQ Researcher, an online magazine that examines a single topic in depth each week. It serves as the backbone for my freelance business. As editors at other publications come and go and their freelance budgets shrink, CQ Researcher has been a reliable and steady source of assignments.

But the stories can take months to report, write and edit, and frankly, I am a bit burned out. As a result, I have been reducing the number of CQ Researcher articles that I write each year and looking to expand the number of other media outlets I freelance for. 

I was in this frame of mind when independent journalist Jen A. Miller approached me about providing AHCJ’s freelance members information about writing for niche publications. Miller has written “Notes from a Hired Pen: Where to Find New Freelance Writing Clients and Turbocharge Your Career,” an e-book that is full of tips for finding, pitching and writing for specialized publications beyond the traditional consumer outlets freelancers often think of pitching. 

There is a whole world of potential clients for freelancers to tap beyond newspapers, general interest science and health magazines, women’s magazines and other traditional consumer publications. Trade groups publish magazines for members, companies for customers and universities for alums. Media conglomerates may have a stable of specialized publications targeting various professional groups. Many are looking for talented freelance writers to fill out the pages, whether digital or print.

That’s why on Wednesday, Dec. 8 at 3:00 p.m. EST, I will be moderating a panel discussion for an AHCJ webinar called “Beyond newsstands: how to expand your freelance business through niche publications.”

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Sex differences and COVID-19: How journalists can raise awareness

About Erica Tricarico

Managing Editor Erica Tricarico is a graduate of Howard University and the master’s program in journalism at CUNY. Tricarico comes to AHCJ from MJH Life Sciences in Cranbury, N.J., where she managed an editorial team producing content on animal care. Before that, she was a freelance health care reporter for Everyday Health.

AHCJ webcast, 12/1/21.

As widespread as the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have been, there are differences reporters need to understand — and those sex- and gender-based differences aren’t unique to the way this pandemic has played out. They’re apparent in many other aspects of health.

That was the big takeaway from Wednesday’s AHCJ webcast, hosted by independent journalist Michele Cohen Marill. Panelists were:

  • Louise McCullough, M.D., Ph.D., the Roy M. and Phyllis Gough Huffington distinguished chair of neurology at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston and chief of neurology at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center;
  • Sara Ghandehari, M.D., a pulmonologist and director of pulmonary rehabilitation in the Women’s Guild Lung Institute at Cedar-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles;
  • Psychologist Carolyn M. Mazure, Ph.D., the Norma Weinberg Spungen and Joan Lebson Bildner Professor in Women’s Health Research and director of Women’s Health Research at Yale.

McCullough laid the foundation for the conversation by explaining the difference between sex and gender this way: Sex is biological, while gender is about your perception or society’s perception of your sex.

In terms of the physical impact of COVID-19, men tend to experience more devastating disease and have a higher risk of mortality, while women are more likely to have long-haul symptoms. But there are gender differences when it comes to the impact of the pandemic on mental health, Mazure pointed out, which are related to the kind of work women do within and outside the household.

“If you don’t look for sex differences you won’t find them, but they’re there,” McCullough said.

Panelists agreed that highlighting sex differences in health reporting is crucial. “We cannot allow this to be dropped. We have to raise awareness,” Mazure said.

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