Tag Archives: spreadsheets

Tips on using Excel to get a handle on large data files

Med-Studies-Excel-tipsheetIn the age of big data and large datasets available through the CDC, the NIH, and other entities, it helps to know what to do with all that information. One tool for manipulating it – especially since so much is provided in CSV files that easily open in spreadsheets – is Excel.

Consider, for example, data on vaccinations from the National Immunization Survey. The CDC has downloadable data sets going back for nearly two decades. A journalist might want to look for trends in that data, such as changes in coverage in a particular state or changes in uptake for particular vaccines. But once you get all that data downloaded, what do you do with it to look for those trends, especially if you don’t know much about Excel? Continue reading

Spreadsheet lists malpractice claims against VA

In its “FOIA Friday” feature, the Project On Government Oversight reveals a spreadsheet (XLS format) of claims against the Department of Veterans Affairs, including thousands related to medical malpractice.

The spreadsheet lists administrative claims, the first step in the VA’s process for filing claims.

Nick Schwellenbach explains more about the data:

The data provided has details on over 12,000 claims against the VA from 1989 to November 2008, although the data appears largely incomplete for the first several years. Not all of the claims are medical malpractice-related, but several thousand are. There are fields for the VA facility involved, the date the claim was received, the date of the last tort status (where the claim is in the administrative process), the date of that status, alleged negligence descriptions (none exist for non-medical malpractice tort cases), and amount paid out, if any. The spreadsheet is over two years old, so the latest tort status field may be out-of-date for many of these claims.

The spreadsheet includes 16 cases in which more than $1 million was paid out. The descriptions of the allegations are pretty vague but those 16 cases include:

  • Failure To Obtain Consent or /Lack Of Informed Consent; Improper Technique; Improper Performance; Improper Management; Delay In Diagnosis; Failure To Treat; Failure To Order Appropriate Medication; Failure To Monitor; Failure To Diagnose (i.e., Concluding That Patient Has No Disease or Condit[ion)]
  • Failure To Respond To Patient
  • Surgical or Other Foreign Body Retained
  • Unnecessary Procedure; Intubation Problem; Improperly Performed Test; Improper Management

It’s worth noting that another recent “FOIA Friday” also was related to health. It was a letter sent by the National Institutes of Health to Emory University “after the media exposed Dr. Zachary Stowe’s cozy financial relationship with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) while also receiving NIH grants to study antidepressants like GSK’s Paxil in pregnant women.”

HHS releases FOIA report in less-than-ideal format

Bob Garfield of WNYC’s “On the Media” talked to John Wonderlich, policy director at the Sunlight Foundation, about last week’s announcement of the Open Government Directive.

Wonderlich says the initiative “is the administration making a real commitment to systemic change within the government.” He also brings up the issue of how information will be made available, pointing out that spreadsheets and datasets are more valuable than paper records to journalists as well as other businesses.

He points out that government agencies report each year on how well they are responding to Freedom of Information Act requests and says that last week – for the first time – the Department of Justice released that information for 2008 in spreadsheets.

Unfortunately that’s not quite the case. The reports from most nearly all of the departments are in spreadsheet form but a few, including the report from the Department of Health and Human Services, are in other formats that may be more difficult to analyze.

There is, however, a bit of good news. The 2007 report from HHS showed that there were more than 28,000 pending requests. The agency has made an effort to reduce its backlog and the 2008 tally is just more than 19,000.