A growing body of research shows a link between gender, race and ethnicity and unsafe patient care, but some experts say more comprehensive patient data are needed to better understand why certain groups are more likely to be harmed by medical error.
During the pandemic, one of the publications I relied on to answer my questions about SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) was NPR’s “Coronavirus FAQs”, which was a cornerstone of the news organization’s pandemic coverage.
The section answered the latest and most pressing questions from the public as scientists’ and doctors’ understanding about the virus evolved. Freelance journalist Fran Kritz was one of the chief writers of these deeply reported FAQs, writing about topics such as the safety of ordering take-out food in April 2020 or if it was safe to fly without a mask in early 2023.
Federal, state and local officials use risk assessment tools called “social vulnerability indices” to identify places that may be hit harder by natural disasters and public health emergencies. These indices help officials decide where to send water, food, medical personnel and supplies during those situations and their aftermath. Some indices are being applied to track disease disparities and identify unmet social needs that make some Americans more vulnerable to illnesses.
Journalists can use these resources to bring equity-related context to stories about public health and how vaccination initiatives, pollution enforcement, food insecurity and economic tax break patterns, among other factors, can influence it.
Stories about health disparities — even ones about CDC statistics — need context about the social causes that contribute to them. Five academic reports about the history of laws and policies regulating key determinants of health offer those nuances. Critically, these reports expose how intentionally discriminatory legislation and regulation in housing, education, employment and other areas have influenced poor health outcomes in Americans of color — and may continue to for many years.
Soon after Arielle Zionts, a rural health reporter for Kaiser Health News, read a press release about telehealth services for sexual assault survivors living in the rural U.S, she was inspired to pursue a story about it. Her article, published in January 2023, also addresses the shortage of sexual assault nurse examiners, also known as SANEs, in those parts of the country.
In this “How I Did It”, Zionts explains how she found the sources for her story, some of the challenges she faced in her reporting and shares story ideas.