On KBIA public radio, Jacob Fenston tells the story of a Missouri town faced with a brutal, impossibly high-stakes catch-22. For decades, thanks to pervasive pollution, the Doe Run lead smelter was slowly destroying Herculaneum physically. At the same time, that lead plant, the continent’s largest, was the only thing keeping Herculaneum afloat economically. Residents had to choose: fight the polluter and take their own livelihoods down in the process, or live with the pervasive, toxic lead dust and its consequences. Continue reading
If you haven’t already, take 90 seconds to read Tulsa World reporter Michael Overall’s brief, powerful account of how emergency preparedness translated to emergency action at the hospital caught in the center of the May tornado in Joplin, Mo.
Photo by Red Cross: Carl Manning GKCARC via Flickr
The staff had practiced severe weather drills and evacuations hundreds of times but, as one administrator told Oklahoma colleagues, “There’s no way you can plan for an F-5 tornado.” Nevertheless, Overall writes, the well-drilled staff of St. John’s hospital “evacuated all 183 patients in just 90 minutes with no major injuries,” a sentence you won’t appreciate until you read Overall’s narrative based on a hospital administrator’s talk at a conference for regional emergency workers.
For those of you looking for story ideas, you might look into local hospitals’ disaster plans. Have they really planned for every contingency? Certainly there are things no one can plan for, but it’s worth reading the story from this hospital and evaluating disaster plans with those events in mind.
For more, read AHCJ’s roundup and review of Joplin tornado coverage.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter (and Midwest Health Journalism Program Fellow) Jim Doyle has put together a series of stories on KV Pharmaceuticals that read like a primer on the confounding economics of drug manufacture and FDA approval. In the stories, especially the first and last installments, Doyle presents the big picture and helps readers understand why the systems work they way they do.
The first story shows how FDA approval could end up sending the price of a prenatal drug skyrocketing 16-fold and earn piles of money for a local pharmaceutical company. The second involves a U.S. District judge condemning a former head of that same company for “greed, abuse of power, recklessness.” Finally, he ends his tour of pharmaceutical avarice with a stern warning about the potential longterm costs, both monetary and medical, that could result from the fast-track approval of the drug whose approval formed the basis of the first story. For lots more about KV Pharmaceuticals, be sure to check the “Related Reading” box on this page.
If you’re looking for more on KV Pharmaceuticals and the Orphan Drug Act, check out Ed Silverman’s post on Pharmalot. There, he interviews a nonprofit advocate who helps explain how KV’s manipulations were possible, how it could happen again and how the act should be modified.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Michele Munz has found that some emergency rooms are easing the transition to electronic medical records by hiring “scribes” to enter information into the system, thus freeing up the doctor to focus on the actual patient.
Photo by MC4 Army via Flickr
Munz reports that scribes are often young, well-trained, tech-savvy pre-med types who get $8 to $10 an hour and plenty of real-world clinical observation for their trouble. The use of one California-based company’s scribes has grown sevenfold in the past two years, expansion its CEO called “exponential.”
Munz’ story shows that the growth is driven by the desire to ameliorate productivity hits that many hospitals have faced in the wake of EMR adoption.
After the switch to computer records, emergency departments have reported a loss in productivity. At DePaul, patient wait times initially increased 28 percent and patient satisfaction declined 40 percent despite additional staffing, said Dr. Stephen Larson, director of the hospital’s emergency department. St. John’s Mercy also reported a peak in wait times.
While both hospitals have seen wait times drop as doctors get past the learning curve, the emergency physicians group at DePaul decided to begin the scribe program in December “to allow us to continue to add to our gains,” Larson said.
Many thanks to Melissa Preddy for pointing out, in a post on the Reynolds Center’s businessjournalism.org, the National Conference of State Legislatures’ roundup of new laws that have already go into effect in 2011, or will soon. It’s a national list loaded with localization-ready ideas and issues that should be surfacing throughout the year. Hot-button topics include expanding medical coverage and several nutrition-related laws.
Here are a few highlights, taken directly from the NCSL’s list.
Connecticut will soon be requiring health insurance policies that cover anticancer medications to cover the oral drugs at least as favorably as it does the IV ones. The law prohibits insurers from reclassifying anticancer medications or increasing the patient’s out-of-pocket costs as a way to comply.
A new Missouri law requires all group health benefit plans to cover the diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders. Coverage is limited to medically necessary treatment ordered by the insured’s treating physician. The law also requires the Department of Insurance and other institutions to submit a report to the legislature regarding the implementation of this coverage, including specified costs.
California became the first, on Jan. 1, 2010, to prohibit oil, shortening or margarine containing artificial trans fats in restaurants and other food facilities. Beginning Jan 1, 2011, the original law will extend to other foods containing artificial trans fats, primarily baked goods.
Retailers in Minnesota will now be banned from selling cups and bottles intended for children age 3 or younger that contain bisphenol A (BPA). These same restrictions went into effect for in-state manufacturers and wholesalers on Jan. 1, 2010.
California lawmakers have also enacted a new law requiring free drinking water for students in school cafeterias or food service areas. Schools must comply by July 1, 2011.
California will soon require all children under the age of 18, including patrollers and resort employees, to wear helmets while skiing or snowboarding. Resorts will be required to post notice about the law, including on trail maps and resort websites.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch‘s Blythe Bernhard and Jeremy Kohler tell the story of an ophthalmologist to show how a convicted felon can be allowed to return to medical practice, sometimes in the same state in which he or she was convicted. The ophthalmologist in question went to prison after lying to patients, defrauding Medicare and obstructing the resulting investigation, yet now works in an Illinois clinic and has permission to reapply for his Missouri license.
The investigation is strengthened by two sidebars, one listing examples of other felons/physicians and the other explaining how and why an ophthalmologist lied to patients and Medicare about what he was injecting into their eyes.
For the record, my favorite sentence in the entire piece is “Medical boards don’t release statistics on how many active licensees are convicted felons.” It certainly would make things easier.
Earlier stories from Bernhard and Kohler document similar problems with a lack of openness of records and how disciplined doctors can still keep their records clean:
AHCJ members can read about how the pair have done much of the reporting on this ongoing project.