It’s contest time! Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism competition begins

About Tony Leys

AHCJ board member Tony Leys has been the Des Moines Register’s main health care reporter since 2000. He was a 2011-12 AHCJ Regional Health fellow, and he has reported from Haiti, Afghanistan, Guatemala, Uganda and Mali.

Photo: Len Bruzzese/AHCJHelen Branswell, left, receives her first-place award for beat reporting for Stat from AHCJ President Ivan Oransky.

It’s fall, that magical time of year when the leaves turn, the pumpkin-spice debate rages – and health care journalists start gathering their best stories from this year.

That’s right, the 2021 AHCJ contest season has opened.

Entries are now being accepted in nine categories, including beat, investigative, public health, and student. The big news this year is we’ve added an audio category to recognize the great health journalism being done for radio and podcasts. Continue reading

New study highlights privacy questions in teenagers’ electronic health records

About Karen Blum

Karen Blum is AHCJ’s core topic leader on health IT. An independent journalist in the Baltimore area, she has written health IT stories for publications such as Pharmacy Practice News, Clinical Oncology News, Gastroenterology & Endoscopy News, General Surgery News and Infectious Disease Special Edition.

Photo by Evolution Labs via Flickr.

Adolescent online patient portals can be set up confidentially so information about pregnancy testing, sexually transmitted diseases, mental health, and drug and alcohol use, etc., are kept private from parents and guardians. But a new study published in JAMA Network Open from three children’s hospitals revealed that more than half of adolescents’ accounts were inappropriately accessed by parents and guardians.

The study suggests there is more work to do both in designing these portals and in educating parents and their teens about them, the authors said.

Study methodology

Participating sites included Stanford Children’s Health in Palo Alto, Calif.; Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego; and Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio — all of which allow adolescents to have patient portal accounts. Guardians can register for proxy accounts.

Investigators used a natural language processing algorithm to analyze all messages sent from patient portal accounts for 13- to 18-year-olds from June 2014 through the end of February 2020 to identify notes sent by parents/guardians. Some manual reviews at each institution were also performed. The study looked for either third-person references to the adolescent, phrases such as “my child,” or incidences where the signature matched the name of a guardian on file.

A closer look at the results

Researchers analyzed 25,642 messages sent from 3,429 adolescent accounts across the three institutions. After adjusting for sensitivity and specificity of the algorithm, they found that an estimated 64-76% of all accounts with outbound messages were accessed by parents and guardians. Parent access decreased as patients aged, from 59-64% in records for 13- to 14-year-olds to 40-50% in those for 17- to 18-year-olds.

Compliance with federal regulations and state confidentiality and consent laws for adolescents requires a reliable mechanism to share protected health information without guardian knowledge, the authors said. Thus, the study suggests that adolescent portal accounts as they exist today may be lacking.

“The 21st Century Cures Act has encouraged the sharing of health information with patients, which we totally endorse and really want to happen,” said senior study author Natalie Pageler, M.D., the chief medical information officer for Stanford Children’s Health, and a clinical professor of pediatrics and medicine at Stanford University, in a phone interview. “It’s the right thing to do for patients and families. But we think this issue [of parents accessing their teenagers’ accounts] is under-recognized…Many parents are getting access to information that they shouldn’t be, which creates a risk for teens.”

This includes the risk that if teens don’t trust that they have a confidential relationship with their provider, they won’t seek the care they need, Pageler said. Worse, for some teens there may be a risk of physical violence or retribution from parents.

According to Pageler, teenagers should have their confidential accounts, and parents can set up a proxy one granting them access to other health information that doesn’t fall under the above-mentioned categories. But it’s tricky, as state laws regarding consent can vary.

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Report shows consumers could save even more on health insurance

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.

Image courtesy of The Commonwealth Fund

Reporting on how much consumers will save on health insurance under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) has never been easy, but last week, it got more complicated.

Previous studies on how ARPA would affect household spending on health insurance underestimated the effects of the law, according to a report on Oct. 6 from the Commonwealth Fund. That means consumers could spend much less out of pocket for copayments and deductibles if Congress passes the reforms being debated now under budget deliberations. The increased savings come because of a recalculation of the effects of ARPA, the fund reported.

Although the recalculation didn’t get much coverage, this story is important for journalists because the increased savings could be in the billions of dollars. In addition, the reforms proposed in Congress would cut the number of Americans without health insurance by 7 million, the fund reported.

In a report the fund published in September, “The Coverage and Cost Effects of Key Health Insurance Reforms Being Considered by Congress,” researchers from the Urban Institute noted that members of Congress have proposed a budget this year that includes reforming the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in two ways. One reform would make permanent the enhanced premium subsidies in ARPA that otherwise would expire at the end of next year. The other reform would fix what’s called the Medicaid coverage gap by extending eligibility for subsidies on the ACA marketplaces to people earning below 100% of the federal poverty level (FPL) in the 12 states that have not expanded Medicaid.

In those 12 states (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin and Wyoming), Medicaid eligibility for adults is strictly limited. The median annual income limit for a family of three is just 41% of the FPL, or $8,905. Also, childless adults are ineligible.

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Journalism organizations that offer training, networking, industry news and more—recommendations from AHCJ members

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.

Photo by GotCredit via Flickr

AHCJ is my favorite journalism association. I have made many friends networking at the annual conferences, found editors through PitchFest, obtained access to expensive journals, and discovered a variety of valuable resources on the website.

I also belong to other journalism organizations to supplement what AHCJ offers. I regularly visit websites such as the Poynter Institute and the National Press Club Journalism Institute for expert panels or tip sheets that would help me grow my business or improve as a journalist.

After asking other core topic leaders and members of AHCJ’s freelance committee for suggestions and doing my own research, I’ve compiled a list of links to organizations that I encourage all AHCJ members to check out. The list can be found at the Freelance Center’s Running a Business tab under the Networking and branding heading.

Freelance medical writer and editor Erin Boyle, a member of AHCJ’s freelance committee, recommends the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA). “AMWA has been a great resource for me, particularly as an independent journalist, in providing me with the nuts and bolts of setting up my freelance business from sessions at its regional and national conferences,” Boyle said.

“It’s also a great organization to meet and network with a diverse group of medical writers and receive more education about the medical writing side of things,” Boyle added.

Fellow freelance committee member and independent journalist Katja Ridderbusch praises the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ). “ICFJ has plenty of international fellowships, grants and educational opportunities, from webinars to conferences, and for journalists interested in international reporting or just tapping into an international network of journalists, this is a great organization to connect with,” Ridderbusch said.

Ridderbusch, who is originally from Germany, received an international reporting fellowship 20 years ago through ICFJ that brought her to the United States for three months. It was an “amazing experience that really opened my horizon, made me a better reporter and, literally, changed the course of my life,” she recalled. “I probably wouldn’t have immigrated to the U.S. without the experience.”

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Tips for reporting on what experts say could be a tough flu season for the elderly

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.

As cases of the Delta variant start to wane, infectious disease specialists have a new concern this fall — flu and pneumonia, especially in vulnerable populations like older adults.

Experts from the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) and the CDC expressed concern about a potentially serious flu season at a video press briefing on October 7.  Flu cases during 2020-21 were extremely low— just 2,124 confirmed cases between Sept. 27, 2020, and May 15, 2021— thanks in large part to people working from home, wearing masks, social distancing and practicing good hand hygiene.

But as more communities ease restrictions, the flu could surge this year, impacting many more people. For seniors, whose immune systems are weaker than younger adults, that could mean an increase in hospitalizations, cases of pneumonia, or even deaths.

“The medical and public health community are preparing for a potentially vigorous respiratory virus session in the United States,” said William Schaffner, M.D., NFID medical director, who moderated the briefing. “The best way to prepare is to get your flu vaccine.”

Vaccination is especially important among at-risk populations, including adults 65 and older, and those with certain chronic conditions according to Schaffner.

Currently, the U.S. is on track for similar flu vaccination rates as 2020, about 52% overall, according to CDC director Rochelle Walensky, M.D., M.P.H., who participated in the briefing.  That rate may not be good enough this year to keep case rates low.

A recent NFID survey revealed that even among those who are at high risk for complications, nearly 1 in 4 (23%) were not planning to get vaccinated this season. While most people over age 65 (71%) said they will get a flu shot, 30% of seniors would remain unprotected, leading to potentially serious consequences.

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