Panelists of “Dr. Death” session (from left to right): Matt Grant of KXAN, Kay Van Wey, an attorney of medical malpractice at Van Wey Law PLLC; Laura Beil, an independent journalist and award-winning host and reporter of “Dr. Death” podcast; Lisa B. Robin of the Federation of State Medical Boards and Ware Wendell of Texas Watch (Photo courtesy of KXAN and Chris Nelson.)
Journalists must draw attention to the failures in the U.S. medical and legal systems that allowed Christopher Duntsch, the subject of journalist Laura Beil’s well-regarded “Dr. Death” podcast series, to injure dozens of patients, members of an expert panel said at the “10 years after ‘Dr. Death’: Are patients any safer from bad doctors?” panel at Health Journalism 2022 in Austin.
Despite the publicity generated by Beil’s work and that of other journalists about this case, there’s still too little protection for patients against doctors who already have been proven incompetent, said speakers at the April 30 session. Doctors may change hospitals or even states and continue to practice after harming patients, due in large part to a reluctance among physicians and hospital administrators to report harms, they said.
Matt Grant of KXAN Austin presented highlights from his “Still Practicing” series, which looked at how doctors with problematic histories have been able to transfer to new hospitals.
In the website that houses the videos from the series, Grant and colleagues note that February 2022 marked the fifth anniversary of the conviction of Duntsch for injury to an elderly person, which resulted in a life sentence.
Grant and KXAN colleagues pulled thousands of physician disciplinary records from medical boards across the United States. The records were then checked against the Texas Medical Board’s physician portal one name at a time. The KXAN team said they found at least 49 doctors who had disciplinary actions in other states — including having their medical licenses suspended, revoked or surrendered — who were still practicing or able to in Texas. Some of the physicians were repeat offenders with actions in multiple states. Criminal charges previously filed against doctors included ones for driving drunk, domestic violence, possession of a controlled substance and operating a firearm while intoxicated.
Photo by RODNAE Productions from Pexels.
Independent Journalist Sarah DiGregorio recently offered good advice in a March 14 perspective opinion article in the Washington Post to reporters following current challenges in hospital staffing. She urged a deeper examination of the root causes for reported instability in the nursing workforce and the resulting recent cases of notably high salaries now offered for those willing to take on temporary work away from their homes.
In the article, DiGregorio shared stories from her reporting on nursing to explain why the recent spike in salaries for travel nurses reflects deeper concerns.
The pandemic has added to the stresses of nursing, leading to departures from permanent jobs and creating a situation where people willing to take on temporary employment may get $3,500 a week “and sometimes even more,” DiGregorio noted.
“Yet the problematic explosion of traveling nursing is only a symptom of a longer-running, self-inflicted disaster,” DiGregorio wrote. “Over the long-term, hospitals have failed to hire and support enough nurses to weather crises.”
DiGregorio, who is working on a book on the history of nursing, writes about how hospital executives furloughed or laid off nurses early on in the pandemic when elective procedures were suspended, and then they later had to scramble to raise staff levels.
Photo courtesy of ECRI.
Journalists can use Patient Safety Awareness Week (March 13-19) as an opportunity to question officials at local hospitals and nursing homes about what’s happened with their risk-reduction programs in the past two years. U.S. hospitals and nursing homes lost ground during COVID-19 in their efforts to prevent harm to patients such as catheter-related infections, government data shows.
This article highlights a few resources for journalists seeking to use Patient Safety Awareness Week as a news peg.
The Association for Professionals
The Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) recently issued a report with detailed recommendations for strengthening patient-safety measures. “Especially troubling to APIC is how many preventable infections were transmitted inside hospitals during COVID because that resilience was not built into our healthcare system,” Linda Dickey, R.N., M.P.H., C.I.C., F.A. P.I.C., the president of the group, said in a statement.
Devin Jopp, Ed.D., M.S., chief executive officer of APIC, stressed the need to prepare for crises, allowing infection prevention and control (IPC) procedures to remain in place even during surges in hospital demand. “I won’t sugarcoat it; fortifying our nation’s IPC infrastructure isn’t free, but the cost of ill-preparedness in lives and dollars is incalculable,” Jopp said in a statement.
Photo by Pavel Danilyuk via Pexels.
A new study provides a rare example of something akin to a head-to-head comparison of the quality of care delivered at hospitals run by the Veterans Administration (VA) versus those outside this federal system.
In this case, the advantage appears to go to the VA on a measure of how likely patients were to remain alive within a month of being treated with emergency care.
This study focuses on veterans aged 65 years or older who were enrolled in both the Veterans Health Administration and the Medicare program, reported David C. Chan, M.D., Ph.D., of Stanford University and co-authors in a paper published by the BMJ on Feb. 16. (This paper is available under open-access terms, making it freely accessible to the public.)
Chan and co-authors focused on cases of medical crises involving emergency ambulance rides with lights and sirens that originated from 911 dispatch calls. They used data from the VA, Medicare and Social Security Administration to track what happened to these veterans in the 30 days following these episodes. They also honed in on cases involving veterans who lived within 20 miles of at least one VA hospital and at least one other kind of hospital.
There were 9.32 deaths per 100 patients in those seen at the VA hospitals, Chan and co-authors wrote. They reported a 95% confidence interval range of 9.15 to 9.50 for this figure. (For more on understanding confidence intervals, check the glossary in AHCJ’s medical studies section.) For the veterans taken to other hospitals, Chan and co-authors estimated a rate of 11.67 deaths per 100 patients. They cited a 95% confidence interval range of 11.58 to 11.76 for this group.
These differences translate into an adjusted mortality rate after 30 days that was 20.1% lower among veterans taken to VA hospitals by ambulances than among veterans taken to other hospitals, Chan and co-authors wrote.
Image courtesy of the ECRI.
Trying to engage audiences when writing about obtaining and wearing appropriate masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 can be challenging for journalists, according to new research.
That’s one of the conclusions that can be drawn from the paper, “COVID-19 Message Fatigue: How Does It Predict Preventive Behavioral Intentions and What Types of Information are People Tired of Hearing About?” The journal Health Communication published the paper online in January.
Mengfei Guan, Ph.D., of the University of Arkansas and co-authors sought to study the challenges of “message fatigue” in connection with the COVID pandemic. The public is approaching the two-year mark for intense media coverage of SARS-Cov-2. Using funds from the University of Arkansas, Guan and co-authors used a survey with 744 participants to try to tease out the parts of pandemic health messaging that have grown stale for many consumers.
About 21.9% of the participants said they were tired of hearing about the need to wear masks, suggesting there is more of a concern for message fatigue around this problem. That tops 18% response rate indicating “message fatigue” about social distancing, 10.08% response rate about washing hands, and 3.76% about vaccines.
Guan and co-authors suggested that people may be more receptive to messages that avoid “forceful and controlling language” but instead use stories. They also suggested that “appealing visuals to engage with the audience may be helpful.”
“Recent research has demonstrated the potential of using TikTok to raise awareness of and educate the public on COVID-19 due to their audience-centered interactive characteristics,” they wrote. “In short, health message designers should take advantage of various avenues in the burgeoning social media ecosystem to overcome message resistance.”
In her email exchange with AHCJ, Guan stressed the need to consider “a good attention-getter.”