CNN has found itself caught up in a complicated libel case after an investigative story it ran in 2015 about the congenital cardiac surgery program at St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach, Fla. You can read an excellent summary and discussion of the whole mess in a CJR piece written by Trudy Lieberman a month after the original story went live. Continue reading
How many times have you wanted to make a comparison between two numbers — a local rate and national rate, or some kind of rate for one type of surgery vs another, or one demographic group vs another … but you didn’t have the comparison statistics you needed?
What did you do? Did you write around the issue and choose a different angle or framing? Did you cobble together the number you needed from different sources? Did you use a similar number but include qualifications about limitations of the comparison? Continue reading
Google health industry director Mary Ann Belliveau guest-posted on CNN’s health blog this week. Her main point? That after 15 years in health care (nine with Google), she’s learned that “‘health’ isn’t just another category of information,” a fact she attributes to privacy issues and the life-or-death stakes that don’t generally accompany videos of Justin Bieber or Mentos and Coke.
She also said that health videos are exceedingly popular on Youtube — they beat out celebrities, sports and food — and that patients’ (and caregivers’) No. 1 desire is to “hear from people in situations similar to their own.”
More interestingly, she shared the results of what appeared to be recent, Google-conducted user surveys. The big lesson? People really do take real-world action based on health information they find online. It’s yet another reminder of the importance — and stakes — of accurate online health reporting. Here are the numbers:
CNN’s Stephanie Chen considers the issues that surround elderly prisoners, a fast-growing group that has generally flown under the radar. According to Chen, “An analysis of Bureau of Justice Statistics data found that the male prison population over age 55 ballooned by 82 percent in eight years, from 48,800 inmates in 1999 to 89,900 in 2007.”
These older inmates are typically more expensive and in poorer health than their younger peers. In Georgia, Chen reports, “the state spends about $8,500 on medical costs for inmates over 65, compared with about an average of $950 for those who are younger.”
Every inmate here has a medical condition; dementia, hypertension and diabetes are the most common, the warden says. “With the elderly population, we’re beginning to run something comparable to nursing homes,” says Sharon Lewis, medical director for the Georgia Department of Corrections. “This is one of the unhealthiest populations found anywhere. They really lived life hard.”
The boom in geriatric prisoners has stressed state budgets, especially in states where money was already tight. In response, Chen writes, some states are considering softening their stance on older prisoners.
To ease budget woes in California, one bill up for debate would allow nonviolent elderly prisoners to be released into hospice care or monitored with ankle bracelets. In the past few years, Georgia officials say, the state has released more frail and dying inmates on medical reprieve than ever before. Other states, including New York and Virginia, have also allowed early release of ailing elderly inmates.
For tips about reporting on jails and prisons, be sure to read Naseem Sowti Miller’s tip sheet, Covering health care in jails, and her presentation on the topic from the 2008 Urban Health Journalism Workshop. For tips and tools on reporting on America’s graying population, check out reports from last month’s Aging in the 21st Century workshop.
CNN’s Abbie Boudreau and Scott Bronstein investigated a possible link between male breast cancer and contaminated drinking water provided at the Marine training base at Camp Lejeune between the ’60s and the mid-’80s. Twenty male Marines with breast cancer have found that the only thing they have in common is drinking the water at Lejeune, but, Boudreau and Bronstein report, “two independent studies have found no link between water contamination and later illnesses, according to the Marine Corps.”
The reports talked to seven of the cancer-afflicted men, finding that neither the VA nor the Marine Corps will pay for their cancer treatments, citing in at least one case that the cancer “neither occurred in nor was caused by service.”
The men with breast cancer are among about 1,600 retired Marines and Camp Lejeune residents who have filed claims against the federal government. According to congressional investigators, they are seeking nearly $34 billion in compensation for health problems they say stemmed from drinking water at the base that was contaminated with several toxic chemicals, including some the federal government has classified as known or potential cancer-causing agents.
In a blog post about the piece, Boudreau discusses questions raised by her research on unproven links between Lejuene water and cancer, openly wondering if the connection will ever be conclusively proven to be either true or false.
On his Schwitzer health news blog, University of Minnesota journalism professor, HealthNewsReview.org editor and AHCJ member Gary Schwitzer reminds journalists – in particular, CNN’s Howard Kurtz and Larry King – that even when you’re talking to prostate cancer survivors about screening for the disease, it’s “wrong to use a network television platform to give one-sided advice to an entire population of men without giving balancing information on harms.”
Reminding journalists that PSA screening might not always be a good thing, Schwitzer quotes the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force:
Potential harms from PSA screening include additional medical visits, adverse effects of prostate biopsies, anxiety, and overdiagnosis (the identification of prostate cancer that would never have caused symptoms in the patient’s lifetime, leading to unnecessary treatment and associated adverse effects). Much uncertainty surrounds which cases of prostate cancer require treatment and whether earlier detection leads to improvements in duration or quality of life.