Author Archives: Kerry Dooley Young

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.

Hospital ratings: How journalists can help consumers have important conversations

Photo by Alex Proimos via Flickr.

Many of our readers, listeners and viewers are not aware of the different ratings available to help consumers evaluate hospitals. While there are challenges with using these ratings, they may be helpful for patients, especially those preparing for an elective procedure.

Experienced journalists have seen numerous stories examining the differing methodologies and motives of the groups that produce hospital ratings. Many journalists have written on this topic already. It’s important to make sure your readers understand how much marketing may be involved with reports they see about hospitals getting top marks.

The existence of hospital ratings is likely old news for many of us. But many of the people we serve may not know about them or not know what to do with the data they provide.

“Stories that are written about websites like Leapfrog Group can be a beneficial source of information,” Christine Smith of Rockville, Maryland said in an email to AHCJ.

Smith told me she thought Medstar Georgetown University Hospital was a top-rated center due in part to the statements on its website and its affiliation with a prestigious academic institution. During our conversation, I told her I would look at the ratings CMS had posted for Medstar Georgetown University Hospital. On Medicare.gov’s comparison page, the hospital earned two of five possible stars, as seen in the screenshot below.

But there are hospitals in neighboring Maryland and Virginia that earned four-star and five-star ratings. (If you are curious which hospitals got these more impressive marks, you can search here.) The same holds true in the latest rankings from The Leapfrog Group.

Continue reading

Tracking the Senate confirmation process for next FDA chief

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Senate’s vetting of a proposed Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner may provide an opportunity for reporters to dig into some of the most pressing concerns in U.S. health policy, including the opioid epidemic and the standards used to clear new medical treatments for the market.

President Joe Biden on Nov. 12 announced his plan to nominate Robert Califf as FDA commissioner. Califf served in this same post in the final months of the Obama administration, from February 2016 to January 2017 (Learn everything you need to know about Califf in this blog post.) The next step will be a hearing on the nomination before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee. The committee expects to receive a formal nomination for Califf this week and will schedule a hearing “as soon as possible,” a HELP aide told AHCJ.

Califf likely will face questions during his next round of Senate vetting on some of the same topics he faced on the first round, including FDA’s decisions on food safety and the pace at which it approves generic drugs. Senators will likely ask him to weigh in on controversies that have emerged since, particularly the FDA’s approval of Biogen’s Aduhelm drug for Alzheimer’s disease. (The AHCJ has covered this issue in June and July blogs.)

If confirmed, Califf would also lead the FDA during the next big push in Congress to change how the agency handles drug approvals in general.

Continue reading

FDA warns that breast implants are not “lifetime devices”: Tips for covering this story

Photo by Docteur Spitalier Philippe via Flickr

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced last week a series of steps meant to address long-standing concerns about breast implants. These include new labeling with a boxed warning about risks, a patient decision checklist and updated silicone gel-filled breast implant rupture screening recommendations.

These actions follow years of efforts by patient advocates and journalists to make public information about risks associated with breast implants, including a rare form of cancer of the immune system.

Laurie McGinley of the Washington Post offered a broad overview of the issue in her 2019 story about an earlier step the FDA took that helped pave the way for last week’s announcement. The FDA in 2019 issued a draft guidance document that offered recommendations for makers of breast implants about addressing potential risks. In 2020, the FDA issued a final version of this guidance document, a tool the FDA often uses to tell companies what it expects of them in terms of manufacturing, testing and promoting their products.

Last week, the FDA leveraged its authority over the regulation of medical devices to ensure that doctors discuss risks associated with breast implants with patients seeking them.

Continue reading

Joint Commission campaign may spark new stories on discrimination in medical care

Ana Pujols McKee, M.D. (Photo courtesy of The Joint Commission)

A new Joint Commission campaign encouraging people to report health care discrimination could give journalists a window into how hospitals and medical groups are tackling this problem.

On Oct. 5, the commission announced an expansion of its long-running “Speak Up Against Discrimination” program with a new campaign to address discrimination. Since 2002, the Speak Up campaign has worked to help make patients and health care professionals more aware of issues including the risk of errors with prescribed drugs and preventable falls.

For those new to the health beat, The Joint Commission is a nonprofit that accredits U.S. hospitals. That gives it clout in helping to shape how medical care is delivered. Many hospitals rely on accreditation by The Joint Commission to qualify for Medicaid and Medicare payments.

The Speak Up campaign is a step toward larger and long-term efforts to address systemic racism in U.S. medical care, said Ana Pujols McKee, M.D., executive vice president and chief medical officer, chief diversity, and inclusion officer of the commission.

Leaders in hospitals and medical offices need to commit to identifying and addressing racism and other forms of discrimination in their organizations, McKee told AHCJ. Medical staff and hospital administrators may not understand how frequently their patients receive poor treatment because of prejudices, she explained.

Continue reading

Another lobbying battle looms on surprise medical bills

Photo by wwnorm via creativecommons.org

The unveiling of a new federal rule last week to prevent “surprise” medical bills is worth covering on its own merit. The expected lobbying battle about this rule also could provide a good news peg for digging into one of the key debates about what’s causing the cost of health care to continue its rise in the U.S.

At the heart of recent battles over surprise bills is the question of how much insurers should pay for out-of-network medical care.

The Biden administration’s rule leans toward using payment rates already established within insurers’ networks in resolving disputes about out-of-network care. Known as the qualifying payment amount (QPA), this benchmark is pegged to the median contracted rate. Other factors may be considered in resolving payment disputes, but QPA is described as something akin to a stand-in for an “appropriate” out-of-network rate in the rule. Continue reading