Tag Archives: Health Journalism 2011

Giffords’ surgeon credits system, multidisciplinary approach

With the news that U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head in Tucson in January, will travel to Florida to watch the final launch of the space shuttle Endeavor, which will be commanded by her husband, there may be renewed interest in her medical history and treatment.

Lemole speaks at Health Journalism 2011 in Philadelphia on April 16.

Lemole speaks at Health Journalism 2011 in Philadelphia on April 16.

Attendees of Health Journalism 2011 heard her neurosurgeon, Dr. Michael Lemole, describe his response, and that of the whole team at his hospital, in the minutes, hours and days after Giffords’ injury. In the speech, he credited the hospital’s multidisciplinary approach as well as the fact that the system worked as it was intended to on that day. He gave details about Giffords’ treatment and brain injuries in general that health journalists might find useful as Giffords re-emerges in the news.

If you weren’t able to make it to the conference, now you can watch Lemole’s keynote speech online.

Some articles about the talk:

Journalists learn more about using social media tools

By Shuka Kalantari (@skalantari; @KQEDhealth)
KQED Public Radio

Though blogging and social media have been around for some time now, some people still argue that blogging, social media and journalism should be independent of one another. Scott Hensley of NPR’s Shots blog contends that couldn’t be further from the truth.

During a panel about “Best practices in blogging and social media” at Health Journalism 2011, Hensley said bloggers and journalists are perfect matches for each other. So how does a blogger decide what to write about?

The #ahcj11 Twitter stream helped attendees share information at Health Journalism 2011.

The #ahcj11 Twitter stream helped attendees share information at Health Journalism 2011.

“I want to write the most interesting stuff online,” Hensley said. “The stuff that is burning to be done right now, then see where it goes.”

He advised journalists to check their Twitter feed in the morning as it might give you story ideas.

“Twitter and Facebook can be a booster rocket to make a post go viral.” He added that it doesn’t always work but, if the post is interesting, it’s worth a shot. Hensley says that in addition to checking news sites, he always checks his personal Twitter feed – @scotthensley – as well as the NPR’s Twitter feed – @NPRhealth – to see what’s going on in the Twittersphere.

Ivan Oransky, treasurer of AHCJ’s board of directors, is the executive editor of Reuters Health and blogger for Retraction Watch and Embargo Watch. He joined the blogosphere in 2006 for The Scientist. Oransky says that search engine optimization (SEO) is key for any blogger. If you have a subject you are covering, be sure to use key words that will attract people.

“SEO, to me, means using key words where people that were interested in that subject would want to read about,” Oransky said.

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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.

Panelists suggest stories about health reform implementation

By Sue Pondrom
Independent journalist

There are three key aspects for journalists to watch as the Affordable Care Act moves into its second year: Congress, the courts and the states, according to panelists speaking about “Health Reform: Repeal, replace of implement?”

AHCJ Resources

Affordable Care Act: The politics of health care, year two

Meeting the challenges of explaining health reform

The Affordable Care Act: What to cover at the one-year mark

Officials, health system administrator discuss challenges, Audioimplementation of the Affordable Care Act, Feb. 24, 2011 (audio available)

Health care reform has passed: What’s next? Suggestions from four reporters on how to approach the topic

Covering high-risk insurance pools: Four reporters who have covered the topic offer story tips, suggestions and resources.

What’s next? Reporting on health reform between now and 2014: Transcipt of a briefing co-sponsored by AHCJ and related resources

Toolkit: Fresh Ideas for Reporting on Health Reform: Story ideas, reform timelines, expert sources and resources to help you cover implementation.

‘Landmark:’ Behind the scenes of covering health care reform: Joanne Kenen interviews two of the authors of a book about about how the ACA evolved and how it will affect individuals, small businesses and insurers.

Noam Levy, health policy reporter for the Los Angeles Times, suggested that reporters be aware of several Republican proposals.  These include medical malpractice, high risk pools, interstate sale of insurance, association health plans, variable health premiums and individual/employer mandates.  Additionally, watch the Obama administration for its implementation on initiatives that don’t require legislative action. These include regulations for Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs), medical loss ratios (MLRs), food labeling, and patients’ Bill of Rights.  Also grants (such as for the exchanges that will be set up by states, and premium review), small business tax breaks, donut hold relief, dependent and preventive health coverage, quality/efficiency measures such as the innovation center, and health information technology.

“The exchanges won’t start until 2014, so you’ll probably see more focus on speeding implementation of ACOs” and similar areas implemented this past year, he said.

“The big issues in the next year will be Republicans proposing block grants, with a lot of discussion expected on how states can save money with Medicaid,” he said.  Additional areas are maintenance of effort, dual eligibles and managed care. For Medicare, issues include cost sharing (such as whether seniors should pay more) and vouchers.

Going forward, Levy suggested coverage of delivery system reform, whether doctors and hospitals are forming ACOs, where providers are participating in ACOs, medical homes and hospital quality. Some questions he suggested pursuing:

  • Is your state seeking a waiver from HHS?
  • How extensively does your state us managed care and how it working?
  • What has been the effect of previous cutbacks?
  • Are small businesses taking advantage of tax breaks?
  • Is your state going to restrict abortion?

Covering the Court action of health reform, Ken Jost, Supreme Court editor for CQ Press and associate editor of CQ Researcher, said an appellate court case to watch this spring includes Virginia ex rel. Cuccinelli v. Sebelius, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (in which Judge Henry Hudson ruled the health reform law unconstitutional).

In June, appellate courts should rule on Tomas More Law Center v. Obama (in which Judge George Steeh ruled the law constitutional) and Florida ex rel. Bondi v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (where Judge Roger Vinson ruled the law unconstitutional.  Additional lawsuits to watch include Liberty University v. Geithner, Secretary of Treasury (where Judge Normal Moon ruled the law constitutional), and Mead v. Holder, where Judge Gladys Kessler ruled the law constitutional).

“The three judges ruling the law constitutional were Democrats; the two ruling unconstitutional were Republicans,” he said.  “But there is no way to make a reliable prediction about how the appellate courts will rule.”

He noted that the state of Virginia has said it will ask the Supreme Court to immediately take on the law.  But, the Supreme Court “rarely does this,” Jost said.

Sarah Kliff, health care reporter for Politico, discussed the states, noting that the biggest issue is development of the health exchanges.  She said states should be on track in 2013 for a 2014 implementation.  If they aren’t, then the federal government will develop the exchange.  She noted that seven states have been given innovator grants to help them in development: Wisconsin, Kansas, Oregon, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York and Oklahoma.  But, Oklahoma just sent back its money, “under pressure from Republicans,” she said.

Story ideas around the exchanges could include the governor’s office and whether he/she supports running an exchange or leaving the task to the HHS, a profile of legislators who are pushing exchange bills or those who are obstructing, and an explanation of what the exchange will look like in your state.

Additional topics include insurance rate hikes (how are insurers reacting to the new scrutiny, and how have the 45 states who got ‘rate review’ been using it?).   Also medical loss ratio waivers is a possible topic.  Thus far, nine states have gotten MLR waivers: Maine, New Hampshire, Nevada, Kentucky, Florida, Georgia, North Dakota, Iowa and Louisiana.

“Ask if your state is applying for a waiver,” she suggested.  “Reach out to your state commissioner to find out their current position.”

Sue Pondrom is an independent journalist based in San Diego.

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. He 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.