Tag Archives: referrals

Using data to track doctors’ referrals, relationships #ahcj13

About Jason Hidalgo

Jason Hidalgo is a business reporter at the Reno (Nev.) Gazette-Journal and a 2013-14 AHCJ Regional Health Journalism Fellow.

Fred Trotter

Photo by Pia ChristensenFred Trotter.

Going online is usually a great way to waste time or — for adventurous social media users — get in trouble.

For resourceful journalists, however, the Internet is a treasure trove of information that can be invaluable for reporting. These include providing access to open-source tools such as DocGraphs, which can provide crucial data that may not easily be available anywhere else.

A crowdfunded project from open source developer Not Only Dev, DocGraphs aims to shed light on the relationships between various medical providers, and make that information more accessible to the public. Examples include which doctors and medical centers a specific doctor refers patients to or which laboratories a physician group tends to use. Continue reading

Member uses data to track doctors’ referrals; AHCJ members get a first look

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

AHCJ member Fred Trotter publicly unveiled a major data set last week that could reshape how journalists report on medical professionals. At the Strata Rx conference in San Francisco, Trotter showed off data he received from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that could show the relationships among physicians, as well as their referral patterns.


Fred Trotter has agreed to let AHCJ members have access to his development website so they can look up specific doctors. To access it, click here and login to the AHCJ site.

Trotter plans to release the full data set and the search tool to the public at a later date (see below). Trotter answered some questions from AHCJ President Charles Ornstein:

Q. Tell us about the data set you just unveiled.

A. This is the social graph of medicine. It is the referral patterns for most of the doctors, hospitals and labs in the country, based on a FOIA request for Medicare data. For any given physician in the United States, there is a good chance that this data set reveals what other doctors, hospitals and labs they typically work with.

Q. How could it be useful for journalists?

A. Using the data, journalists will be able to figure out “who to gumshoe” for health care stories.

Some ideas:

●     You have a “bad doctor” story. This works for crime, fraud, etc. Who was referring patients to that doctor, what hospital was he or she working with? At the least, the people you identify would be interesting to interview. At worst, these people may be co-conspirators.

●     Who are the best doctors in your city? Who is the best local resource to interview about cardiology, neurology, etc. Specialists who have lots of inbound referrals from different doctors implicitly have the respect of other doctors in the community.

●     By grouping doctors by hospital referrals, it will be possible to see which ones are “aligned” with different hospitals. It is also possible to measure how exclusive this affiliation is. Most local health care reporters have an intuition of how the local health care market operates, but this will provide specific details.

●     By working with data scientists we can make lots and lots of pretty diagrams to support journalistic assertions. Continue reading