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Shared wisdom

Sometimes all we need is a quick suggestion from our peers to zero in on a good story. Here we turn to front-line journalists for advice, some simple insight to add to our repository of “shared wisdom.”

What should reporters be asking about the legal sales of patient data? – Adam Tanner

Adam TannerDo patients, doctors, nurses, pharmacists and others in their community know about the trade in patient data and how do they feel about it? How are local research institutions using anonymized patient data, and what are the results? Are local companies selling in the big health data bazaar?

Reporters should also seek to document cases in which employers or marketers are using such information to discriminate against individuals.

Adam Tanner (@DataCurtain) is the author of the new book “Our Bodies, Our Data: How Companies Make Billions Selling Our Medical Records” as well as “What Stays in Vegas: The World of Personal Data – Lifeblood of Big Business – and the End of Privacy as We Know It” (2014). See his tip sheet on the patient data market.

You took a fresh angle on the Flint lead crisis by showing how a physician mined EHRs of local children to uncover the unsafe levels of lead in the local water supply. How did you take what could have been a story about a specific technology company and provide balance? – David Wahlberg

David WahlbergInitially I was leery of doing a “free ad story” for Epic Systems, the largest private employer in the Madison, Wisconsin, (my local) metro area. 

But after talking with the Flint doctor and reading a paper she wrote about using the EHRs for this purpose, I decided it was a worthy local angle to a national story.

I broadened the piece to be about using EHRs in public health.

David Wahlberg is the health and medicine reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal. He has won multiple AHCJ Awards for Excellence in Health Reporting and was a 2015 AHCJ Reporting Fellow on Health Care Performance.

You did a long project including policy and narrative, and a patient’s family shared voluminous medical records. How did you organize those files? – Sarah Kliff

Sarah Kliff

DocumentCloud was  hugely helpful. The PDFs of the medical records weren’t searchable, but DocumentCloud let me search them, organize them and annotate them.

That helped me identify parts of record where I needed to find a medical expert or researcher to help me understand them – and it helped me stay organized when it came time to write.

Sarah Kliff is a senior editor at Vox, where she oversees policy coverage and writes about health care. She previously worked at The Washington Post and Politico, and is a recipient of AHCJ's 2015 Reporting Fellowship on Health Care Performance.

What do you do when you can’t get a hospital to talk to you? When they just don’t want to, or perhaps they can’t because of pending litigation? – Cheryl Clark

I go to one of their competitors! They are often happy to talk about what they are doing – particularly if they have a success story to tell, or a new safety strategy or innovation to share.

Cheryl Clark is a contributing writer for MedPage Today and is helping launch a new investigative journalism organization called Hashtag30. As senior quality editor for HealthLeaders Media for more than six years, Clark wrote more than 1,300 stories about hospitals' efforts to improve quality and safety and related issues. 

How do you develop sources within a hospital – and not just the PR office? - Shannon Muchmore

Be human! I let them know I have a job to do, just like they do.

I may say to a nurse, “You need to understand things at your job, so you get them right. And I need to understand them, so I get them right."

Shannon Muchmore (@smuchmore) is the health reporter at the Tulsa World. She is @smuchmore on Twitter and can be reached See her tip sheet on finding "real" people as sources.

What's a good starting point when you are looking for sources on a new topic or aspect of the beat? - Joyce Frieden

The Alliance for Health Reform has a great resource called "Covering Health Issues: A Sourcebook for Journalists", which gives an overview of subjects ranging from health IT to dual eligibles; each chapter ends with a list of sources. The latest one is from Fall 2013 so some of the source information may be a little out of date, but it's a good place to start. 

Joyce Frieden is the News Editor for MedPage Today.

National medical groups often put out policy statements – but how does that filter down to their members at the community level? – David Pittman

David Pittman

Remember that rank-and-file doctors may not always agree with policy positions of their professional organizations (like the American Medical Association, American Academy of Family Physicians, etc.).

Talk to doctors beyond the leadership of these organizations for their perspective on important topics such as delivery system reform, scope-of-practice laws, and other topics.

David Pittman is a Washington correspondent for MedPage Today.

How do you find story ideas and how do you manage daily stories with longer-term reporting? – John Lundy

John Lundy

In the year that I've been on the health beat, I've become a regular scanner of nursing home reports. I've also learned how to "feed the beast" – do daily stories that can be done in the least amount of time but with integrity – and that allows more time to work on projects.

John Lundy is a health care reporter for the Duluth (Minn.) News Tribune. He was a 2011-12 AHCJ Regional Health Journalism Program fellow.

How do you find sources for stories? – Tony Leys

Tony Leys

Don’t be afraid to ask people about their health conditions. They love to talk.

“Find out when “pie day” is at the senior center. You’ll find lots of people to interview!.”

Tony Leys is a reporter at the Des Moines Register and he was a 2011-12 Regional Health Journalism Fellow.