Tag Archives: ahcj11

Neurosurgeon reflects on time in the media spotlight

By Anna Nguyen
Independent Journalist

For G. Michael Lemole Jr., M.D., it’s simply his job to save the lives of patients who have suffered from life-threatening traumatic injuries.


Lemole spoke to health journalists at AHCJ’s annual conference.

Lemole, chief of neurosurgery at the University of Arizona Department of Surgery and University Medical Center, found himself in the national spotlight after he performed brain surgery on U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords after she sustained a gunshot wound to the head in Tucson on Jan. 8.

As the keynote speaker at Health Journalism 2011, he retraced the treatment of the congresswoman earlier this year and his experience working with the media.

“Everyone made a big deal of what we did, but it’s what we do everyday … This is academic medicine at its best,” Lemole said. His hospital is designated by the American College of Surgeons as being equipped to provide the highest level of surgical care to trauma patients. “The real focus of the entire event is the congresswoman.”

Lemole and surgical team performed three surgeries on Giffords. On Jan. 8, Lemole and Martin E. Weinand, M.D., removed part of Giffords’ skull to allow her brain to swell, as well as removing dead brain tissue and skull fragments caused by the bullet. On Jan. 15, Lemole repaired her orbital roof fracture through a skull base approach.

“If there is any silver lining in this, it’s that the bullet didn’t take a more traumatic trajectory,” he said.

The last surgery that Giffords received was a ventriculostomy, which measured intracranial pressure and drained fluid in the brain. He supervised the congresswoman’s care until she was released to a Houston rehabilitation hospital on Jan. 21.

During this time, Lemole and others committed to making themselves available to the media. “We strategized with ourselves, administrators, and with the family. The family asked us to get the correct information out,” he said.

Many doctors are reluctant to speak to the media because they are trained to judge and be judged by objective criteria. With media interactions, doctors are not in control as they are in our operating rooms and intensive care units, Lemole said. During the coverage, he found blog postings involving his parents and comparing his looks to Dan Aykroyd.

Overall, Lemole considered the experience “as positive as it could have been in this terrible event.”

“It’s important to get the story right and give some positive feedback to the media. It was a healthy interaction and respectful of both parties,” Lemole said after the speech.

Conference attendees found the opportunity to hear from Lemole helpful in thinking about their own reporting.

“It’s always good to hear from the other side. We’re always asking the questions and don’t usually get a chance to hear how they viewed us,” said Stephanie Nano, assistant health and science editor for The Associated Press in New York.

Daniel J. DeNoon, a senior medical writer for WebMD, said that this is an ongoing story that journalists will be writing more about. “I really appreciated that he went into details of the operation. It’s extremely timely and informational.”

Anna Nguyen is an independent journalist based in Philadelphia.

Berwick debuts website featuring health data

By Susan Jaffe, Independent Journalist
From Health Journalism 2011

Journalists have a key role to play making health care safer and informing the public, Medicare chief Donald Berwick told reporters attending the annual conference of the Association of Health Care Journalists in Philadelphia on Thursday.

Donald Berwick

Donald Berwick

To help them do their job, Berwick unveiled a government website, the “Health Indicators Warehouse,” and offered a live demonstration.┬áHe said the site offers “a treasure trove of data,” including information never released before in an easily accessible form, including patient safety data, preventive health care indicators, Medicare payment claims and hospital performance at the state and hospital referral region level. Information is searchable by topic, location, health outcomes among other factors.

After highlighting well-publicized features of the Affordable Care Act, Berwick explained how the law provides tools to reduce health care costs that can also improve the quality of care.

“The best way to make care more affordable and sustainable is to make care better,” he said. “Higher quality and lower cost go together.”

To reduce health care costs, he promised continued scrutiny of Medicare Advantage plans, the government-subsidized private health plans, noting that the health law rewards top-performing plans with bonus payments. The law creates accountable care organizations, in which health care providers coordinate patient care in various medical settings. The new Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation “can now nurture invention around the country… that have the effect of lowering cost and raising quality.”

Berwick criticized a Republican proposal to use state block grants to replace Medicaid, the state-federal partnership that provides health insurance to low-income families.

“They are untested, they are hazardous,” he said, and could short change states during an emergency. “What happens if we issue a block grant to a state and then there’s a flu outbreak or the recession comes back? Well, you’re on your own.”

During the question and answer period, reporter Jodie Jackson of the Columbia (Mo.) Daily Tribune, had a query related to his reporting that showed a lack of communication about inspection findings between CMS, the FDA and The Joint Commission. After hearing about Jackson’s findings, Berwick said he wanted to read that series of articles.

Berwick spoke for about 90 minutes, without a prepared text, and chatted with individual reporters for another half-hour. It was his second appearance at an AHCJ conference; in 2005, he was key-note speaker when he headed the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving patient care and safety. Unlike his first visit, Berwick did not stay and join AHCJ members in watching a basketball game.

Scenes from day one of the conference

The first day of Health Journalism 2011 included workshops on mapping and charting health data, criteria to help reporters accurately report on medical research and tools to add multimedia elements to health stories.

AHCJ leaders hold series of media access meetings with government officials

AHCJ representatives held a series of meetings in Washington, D.C., last week to press for government openness at the state and federal levels.

AHCJ President Charles Ornstein and board member Felice Freyer (chair of the sunshine-week1organization’s Right to Know Committee) met with representatives of the Health and Human Services Department, the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, as well as 12 newly appointed state health directors organized by the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.

The federal officials professed a commitment to openness, within limits, and promise to look into specific requests to further that goal. The state health officials, who heard a panel presentation about working effectively with reporters, were receptive and eager to talk with AHCJ about building relationships at the state level.

Read more for details from each meeting …


Freyer will moderate a panel on this topic, “Right to know: Getting information from government agencies,” at Health Journalism 2011. The panel features Peter Ashkenaz, director of communications, FDA Office of Regulatory Affairs; Lisa Chedekel, senior writer and co-founder, Connecticut Health I-Team; Lucy A. Dalglish, executive director, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press; and Lilian Peake, M.D., M.P.H., director, Thomas Jefferson Health District, Virginia Department of Health.

See the Health Journalism 2011 program, speakers

We have been frantically updating the schedule this week for AHCJ’s annual conference with the names of speakers who will be there and the panels that will be offered in Philadelphia.

A Philadelphia-area and national programming committee helped review and distill the hundreds of session suggestions that we got from from AHCJ members and others. They also helped find great moderators and speakers.

There are sessions on public health issues, local hospital quality and finances, ethics and conflicts of interest in medicine, fraud in medical research, special events planned for our many freelance members, receptions and presentation of the Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism.

Take a look at the schedule and then make your plans to come to Philadelphia for Health Journalism 2011, April 14-17.

For those of you on Twitter, the hashtag is #ahcj11. Last year we saw more than 2,200 tweets about and from the conference, so we expect to see lots of action there again this year.