Author Archives: Karl Stark

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About Karl Stark

Karl Stark, the assistant managing editor for business, health and science at The Philadelphia Inquirer, serves as president of the AHCJ board of directors.

President’s Corner: Stark reflects on conference, latest AHCJ developments

Photo: Kris Hickman/AHCJAbraham Verghese

Photo: Kris Hickman/AHCJAbraham Verghese

Health Journalism 2015 made me smarter.

I’ll give two examples. First, there was the pleasure of listening to Abraham Verghese, physician and master storyteller, who works in the heart of Silicon Valley, the foundry of disruption, and is quite up to date.

But he also believes in the touch and the rituals of the physical exam. He insisted that we not discard the old values when we take up new gadgets. And he talked about how compassionate listening is a sublime thing and part of the ritual of being a doctor.

Listening is part of the ritual of being a journalist too, which probably explains why his talk was so inspiring.

Another highlight was listening to independent journalist Heather Boerner talk about how she crowd-sourced funding for her book, “Positively Negative: Love, Pregnancy, and Science’s Surprising Victory Over HIV.” Boerner wrote 9,000 words for a $100 assignment. (There is a diagnosis for this: It’s called “journalism.”)

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President’s Corner: Ebola a great reminder that good information can counter hysteria

From the Winter 2015 issue of HealthBeat.

Ebola coverage has fallen to a trickle, but the disease is still killing many people in West Africa. And today the concern is that the virus will become a permanent presence, burning on for years in rural areas. It also could flare up again in the United States and Europe, spreading cases across the globe.

Through it all, AHCJ’s, coordinated by managing editor Pia Christensen, has delivered tons of useful advice.

"Ebola virions" by See Source - Charting the Path of the Deadly Ebola Virus in Central Africa. PLoS Biol 3/11/2005: e403 doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0030403. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.

Ebola virions” by See Source – Charting the Path of the Deadly Ebola Virus in Central Africa. PLoS Biol 3/11/2005: e403 doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0030403. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.

Some of these by AHCJ graduate research assistant Kris Hickman are useful nuggets, such as the difference between “infectious” and “contagious” or how quarantine differed from isolation.

Other posts explained that Ebola is much harder to spread than the measles.

And Joseph Burns, AHCJ’s core topic leader on health insurance, wrote an insightful piece showing how Thomas Eric Duncan’s uninsured status may have contributed to his death in Dallas from Ebola.

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President’s Corner: Health care too vast a beat without generosity of peers 

From the Spring 2014 issue of HealthBeat. 

Rhiannon Meyers

Photo: Len Bruzzese/AHCJRhiannon Meyers

If you didn’t get to hear Rhiannon Meyers describe her diabetes project at Health Journalism 2014 in Denver, you missed her take on a real catty whompus state of affairs, as they say in Texas.

Diabetes is so rampant in Corpus Christi, Rhiannon said, that the Dartmouth Atlas ranked the city No. 1 in the nation for below-the-knee amputations. A national magazine even dubbed the town “Corpulent Christi” for its Texas-sized waist lines. Rhiannon, an investigative reporter covering health care part time at the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, proposed a yearlong project for 2013 that was chosen for support by AHCJ’s Reporting Fellowships on Health Care Performance.

The fellowship – which includes travel and research support, mentoring and other resources – enabled Rhiannon to steep herself in issues surrounding diabetes, both locally and nationally. She learned what questions to ask and where to go for data. “AHCJ helped me bust out of the local silo,” she said. “I heard more from readers during that series than I have in my entire career.”

Stories like this are why AHCJ exists. We are all about reporters learning from one another, sharing ideas and techniques and resources, and then supporting stellar work. Health care is too vast and complicated to cover alone, especially when reporters like Rhiannon have to spread their time across multiple beats.

So what is AHCJ doing now that matters to its members?  Continue reading

Panel will discuss newly released 990 data on hospitals #ahcj13

AHCJ has just released a new trove of information from GuideStar on the finances of nonprofit U.S. hospitals. This information – from tax years 2009 and 2010 – contains carefully selected highlights from the hospital’s IRS 990 forms, which nonprofits must file to maintain their mostly tax-free status.

Reporters can use this AHCJ spreadsheet to get:

  • detailed salary info on top executives
  • the institution’s charity care and community benefit numbers
  • a hospital’s lobbying expenses
  • and the business relationships of board members, among other things.

This data will be discussed at the Health Journalism 2013 session, “Diving into documents: Using 990s and more to cover hospital finances,” on Sunday at 10:40 am. Howard Rivenson, senior lecturer on health management, Harvard School of Public Health, will join me to help demystify hospital finances.

The newest material from 2010 is here and here are last year’s data.