Author Archives: Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle

About Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle (@TaraHaelle) is AHCJ's medical studies core topic leader, guiding journalists through the jargon-filled shorthand of science and research and enabling them to translate the evidence into accurate information.

VA surgery database explanation available for medical research reporting

Photo: U.S. Pacific Fleet via Flickr

Surgery research can become complex very quickly: Not only are there the underlying conditions and demographics of each patient to consider, but also different characteristics particular to the procedure itself, the circumstances of the procedure, the institution and the providers doing the procedure.

If you frequently report on surgery studies, you may have covered a study that used data from the Veterans Affairs Surgical Quality Improvement Program (VASQIP).

Continue reading

Roxane Gay’s ‘Hunger’ a worthy, perhaps necessary, read for medical journalists

Content note: This blog post mentions sexual assault.

I read (and write) nonfiction all day long, so most of my me-time pleasure reading is limited to fiction. I recently made an exception on a friend’s recommendation and listened to the audiobook of Roxane Gay’s “Hunger,” as read by the author (which was important and relevant given its content).

It was not an easy book to listen to, but I’m so glad that I did — both personally and for my work as a journalist. I think it’s a book every health journalist ought to consider reading if they are able. (My reason for saying “if they are able” will become apparent shortly.) Continue reading

Be cautious, skeptical with comprehensive reviews of evidence

Photo: nekrum via Flickr

I recently was assessing a lengthy review of the evidence on environmental exposures and breast cancer risk, and as I read, red flags started popping up. While I may not know the evidence base in this area extremely well, I knew it well enough to recognize that the authors were making statements I was pretty sure were not supported by the evidence — or at least not to the extent the review suggested. Continue reading

Get ready to cover the coming tide of clinical research preprints

The bread and butter of medical research reporting traditionally has been coverage of peer-reviewed studies. However, some new kids are threatening to elbow their way into the conversation and reporters should be prepared.

Preprints aren’t exactly new to scientific research in general, but are a recent phenomenon within biological research and rapidly growing, according to graphs at PrePubMed, a preprint aggregator and indexer similar to but unaffiliated with PubMed. Preprints also are making their way into medical/clinical research. Continue reading

What was that number again …? The solution to re-using stats in your writing

Photo: kerolic via Flickr

Like many reporters, I have developed several niches in my reporting within medical research. I most often write about pediatrics, women’s health, mental health, vaccines, public health (including gun violence) and, increasingly, health disparities or related social justice aspects of health and medicine.

Because I try to include links throughout my writing to back up the figures I use to provide context on a topic, I would frequently find myself looking up the same data again and again. For topics like vaccines, it usually wasn’t too difficult to find studies or statistics I had previously cited. They were generally easy to find on the CDC website, or I could remember a couple key articles I’d written where I linked to the majority of the figures I might want to link to again. Continue reading

Journalists can learn from these ‘9.5 Theses for a Reformation of Evidence-Based Medicine’

At the American Academy of Pediatrics annual meeting last fall, I attended a talk by Kevin Powell, M.D., Ph.D., called “Evidence-Based Medicine in a World of Post-Truth and Alternative Facts.”

Despite the title’s allusions, however, the talk did not discuss problems in communicating science or medical findings in today’s media ecosystem. Rather, Powell argued that many of the problems we see in today’s problematic reporting and “fake news” have long existed in medical research — but there are ways to address those problems. Continue reading