Tag Archives: St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Data, AHCJ article lead reporter to story on possible cuts at local hospital

St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Blythe Bernhard followed up on suggestions offered in Charles Ornstein’s recent AHCJ article about updated CMS data to produce an article about looming potential cuts in Medicare payments to St. Louis’ Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

The hospital’s problem? As Bernhard writes, Barnes-Jewish “is one of just three hospitals in the country to perform significantly worse than the national average in readmissions within 30 days for three conditions — heart attacks, heart failure and pneumonia — for each of the last three years.”

Medicare … plans to penalize hospitals with higher-than-expected readmission rates. Under health care reform, Barnes-Jewish and other hospitals could face up to a 3 percent reduction in Medicare payments, meaning millions of dollars, starting next year.

Reducing readmissions nationwide could save $26 billion over a decade, the government estimates.

Sponsored segments, hospital partnerships creep into news outlets

In the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Blythe Bernhard takes a look at the fruits of the slow, steady advances hospitals and health providers have made into local television and print news. In recent years, sponsored segments and partnered content have insinuated themselves into broadcasts, columns and news-esque advertising spaces.

According to Stacey Woelfel, news director at KOMU-Columbia, Mo., partnership offers are more likely to come from medical institutions than from other sectors. There’s no denying that cash-strapped media outlets have welcomed the extra revenue, and the numbers show that providers have come out ahead as well.


Photo by purple_onion via Flickr

Hospitals that promote their services during news broadcasts say the exposure is more effective than pure advertising. The Mayo Clinic in Minnesota launched its own news department a decade ago to distribute its “Medical Edge” stories to media outlets nationwide. A Mayo survey showed patients’ stated preference for the hospital increased about 60 percent within three years of the news service’s launch. Hospital executives said the business value of “Medical Edge” was more than 10 times the cost of producing it, according to the Columbia Journalism Review.

But media critics, including AHCJ member Gary Schwitzer, say that providing all that valuable exposure may involve ethical compromises on the part of news organizations. After all, they’re ceding some control over the content they air.

“It looks prestigious, it looks clean, it looks expert, but this is information that is coming from and being bought by one medical center source,” said Gary Schwitzer, publisher of Health News Review. “Who has vetted that to say that is the best information, and when are we going to hear from other players in town?”

And, by forming these partnerships, news organizations are allowing hospitals to become the gatekeepers for medical news, and thus indirectly allowing financial concerns to dictate what is considered newsworthy. To illustrate the quandry, Bernhard mentions a 10-month cancer prevention series that was created through a partnership between a St. Louis local hospital and a TV news station. It includes weekly news segments, regular two-minute paid ads during commercial breaks and even monthly phone banks and online chats. Cancer prevention is certainly news, but AHCJ’s president told Bernhard there may be other reasons why it’s driving this particular news and advertising blitz.

Cancer is big business for hospitals competing in a “medical arms race” to attract patients with insurance to fund hospital investments in MRI scanners and robotic surgical instruments, said Charles Ornstein, president of the Association of Health Care Journalists and senior reporter at ProPublica, a non-profit investigative newsroom based in New York.
“There’s a reason they chose cancer instead of diabetes care for the uninsured population,” he said.
Even a medical topic as seemingly straightforward as cancer prevention generates differing viewpoints and requires health reporters to reach out to multiple sources, Ornstein said.

For disclosures of the Post-Dispatch‘s own partnerships, see the final subheading, “Popular topic.”


Skyrocketing drug price is chance to examine manufacturing, FDA approval process

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.

Further reading

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.

Hospital association official confuses news reporting with lobbying

Blythe Bernhard and Jeremy Kohler have been writing in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about Missouri hospitals’ unwillingness to publicly disclose medical errors.

So, when the St. Louis Metropolitan Hospital Council released a statement opposing public reporting of medical errors at hospitals, the reporters sent the statement to Missouri legislators and asked them for their comments.

I can only imagine the surprise Bernhard and Kohler felt when Daniel Landon, senior vice president of governmental relations for the Missouri Hospital Association, sent an e-mail to health professionals that characterized the reporters’ actions as coming “close to the definition of what constitutes lobbying, which is defined by the Missouri Ethics Commission and requires lobbyist registration.”

Landon said hospital association staff members planned to raise these concerns with legislators and had considered a complaint with the ethics commission.

“We think it is useful to put the Post-Dispatch on notice that someone is watching their actions in this regard,” Landon’s e-mail said. “Otherwise, the reporters will continue to push the envelope between reporting and promoting public policy changes to support their editorial positions.”

Another representative of the association later said the message was “regrettable.”

A Post-Dispatch editorial about the incident made clear to readers the difference between the editorial page and the news department, explaining that it “maintains strict church-state separation between the editorial page and the news department.”

When newspaper reporters or editorial writers communicate with legislators, we do so as journalists, acting in what we believe is the public interest. And regardless of whether public reporting of medical errors would serve hospitals’ interests, it clearly would serve the public interest.


Kohler wrote an article for AHCJ about how he and Bernhard investigated medical errors and the lack of public information available to help consumers choose their health care providers: Public handicapped by lack of information on medical errors.