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Tip Sheets

Journalists and experts have written about covering patient safety and presented discussions on the topic at AHCJ conferences and workshops. This is a collection of the most useful and relevant tips. Click the title of the tip sheet that interests you and you will be asked to login because these are available exclusively to AHCJ members.

McGiffert talks about progress on patient safety, offers story ideas

October 2019
Lisa McGiffert led Consumer Reports’ Safe Patient Project for 15 years, and after 27 years with the advocacy arm of the organization, she retired last year. But she has not taken off her patient advocacy hat. Not by a long shot. She’s recently co-founded a nonprofit coalition called the Patient Safety Action Network (PSAN), to continue her work.

She spent several hours talking with Cheryl Clark about the trajectory of patient safety as an issue over time, from working on health reform during the Clinton administration to today’s pushback on patient protection progress made with the Affordable Care Act. Despite major gains in awareness and prevention policies and practices, there’s still a lot more to be done. She explains, with lots of tips for story topics she hopes we will write.

How payment reform could help the U.S. reduce its high C-section rate

August 2019
America’s shameful maternity mortality rate is closely associated with its high rate of Cesarean-section deliveries. Hospitals, physicians and mothers themselves share the blame for the high C-section rate, but employers, payers and multistakeholder state-specific initiatives may be the solution.

Thus, journalists who write for business or clinician audiences can find some good stories in efforts at payment reform for maternity care. "Childbirth and newborn care is the largest or second largest (after heart care) category of hospital expenditures, and it’s by far the largest category of hospital expenditures for state Medicaid programs, so even small improvements can result in large savings,” according to the Center for Healthcare Quality & Payment Reform.

10 tips for writing about the growing number of older doctors

July 2019
Are there doctors in your city/county/state who are too old to practice? How do you tell? And who’s to say?

One option underway at some facilities is to establish a policy to regularly screen older providers for mental or physical competency before they’re allowed to see patients. Some organizations are making this a condition of medical group membership or hospital staff privilege. But at what age should testing begin? 65, 70, 75? And what should be done with them if their scores aren’t quite up to par? Should all clinicians who touch patients be tested?

Warning: This is not an easy story to tackle. But regardless of where you live or who your readers are, it’s an important one that could impact the supply of providers in your area. Veteran reporter Cheryl Clark shares some background and resources based on her reporting.

Opioid epidemic: Focus turns to how dentists are treating pain

July 2019
In recent years, officials at the federal level have made a point of including dentists in their work to stem the flow of opioids. A leader in the effort, Vivek Murthy, M.D., who served as U.S. surgeon general under President Barack Obama, urged health care professionals – including dentists – to consider alternatives to opioids when helping patients to manage pain.

As the authors of a 2016 research letter published in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded, dentists had regularly prescribed opioids to treat post-extraction pain “despite evidence that a combination of nonsteroidal medications and acetaminophen may provide more effective analgesia for post-extraction pain.”

Mary Otto runs down the latest research, alternatives to using opioids for dental pain and offers an example of how to cover the story.

In maternity care, hospitals know what to do, but most fail to do it

September 2018
For health care journalists, there’s the state and local angle involving how the hospitals you cover are doing in providing care to mothers during pregnancy and childbirth.

In some states, such as California, Massachusetts and Nevada, hospitals are doing relatively well in keeping mothers safe from harm. But in other states, such as Louisiana, Georgia and Indiana, they are not. She noted that Vermont, New Hampshire and Alaska had no data available on maternal death rates.

OTC pain relief doesn't come without risks - especially for seniors

December 2018
These days, it’s rare to open a medical journal, turn on the TV or read a newspaper without seeing one or more articles about the dreaded opioid epidemic. With government regulators, medical boards, risk managers and health plans now shadowing their practices, physicians are growing increasingly petrified of prescribing narcotics. 

So it stands to reason that many seniors with arthritic pain, neck and back aches, headaches or who are recovering from an injury may look for readily available, inexpensive substitutes they can buy without a prescription.

But while those OTC drugs may be safer than narcotics or opioids, they are not without serious — and arguably under-recognized — risks, especially for seniors whose stomach linings and ability to safely absorb pills and tablets diminish with age.

Covering hospital rating? Here's one aspect consumers need you to report

Tony Leys
Tony Leys

April 2014
Hospital-ratings agencies portray themselves as champions of transparency when it comes to information about health-care quality. But some clam up if you ask for details of their business arrangements.

Consumers should know that hospitals pay substantial fees for permission to run ads about awards they receive from services such as Healthgrades, U.S. News & World Report and the Leapfrog Group. That fact could explain why the services offer awards in so many categories.

Tony Leys explains the arrangements, including how much some hospitals pay to use the rankings in their marketing efforts and how to find out what hospitals in your area are paying. It just might change how you cover hospital awards and ratings.

Tips to keep in mind when reporting ‘best of’ hospital ratings

July 2016
Reporting on hospital ratings — the “best of,” “top ten” and other rankings designed to help consumers with decision making are not necessarily all they’re cracked up to be. So much more goes in to these rankings than just the letter or number grade. Savvy reporters should pause and consider many angles before jumping in to proclaim that their local hospital is “best,” “worst” or somewhere in between.

Ratings certainly help with improving transparency and the patient’s right to know. However, it’s important that journalist know how to read between the lines and question the methodology and potential biases.
Here’s a tip sheet based on ideas presented at an event last month sponsored by AHCJ’s New York chapter. A panel moderated by ProPublica senior reporter Charles Ornstein featured Robert Panzer, M.D., chief quality officer at the University of Rochester Medical Center and a steering committee member for the Healthcare Association of New York State; Leah Binder, chief executive of the Leapfrog Group; and Marshall Allen, a reporter for ProPublica.