Resources: AHCJ Articles

Audio reporting resources     Posted: 04/05/23

Check out these audio reporting resources.

AHCJ membership accepted as credential for medical meetings     Posted: 04/05/23

 Learn which organizations accept AHCJ membership as a credential.

Tips for finding ‘real’ people for your stories     Posted: 12/05/22

Journalists share tips for using social media to find "real" people to interview.

When to quote survey results: How to judge quality and recognize red flags     Posted: 11/18/22

My editor at the online magazine CQ Researcher always asks if I can include survey results in my article. I feel comfortable doing that if I can find a survey from a highly regarded group that is in the business of analyzing public opinion, such as Pew Research Center or a national news organization. Other times, deciding whether to pay attention to a particular survey can be tricky.

I turned to Courtney Kennedy, vice president of survey research and innovation at the Pew Research Center, a “nonpartisan fact tank,” for advice for reporters on how to judge the quality of surveys. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Tips for collaborating with other journalists     Posted: 08/11/22

I collaborated with another reporter only once in my career, way back in the beginning. We were all about to be let go from a television program that was closing shop, and I wanted to expand my work experience into print to flesh out my resume. My colleague and friend Katie had contacts with editors, and she generously offered to collaborate on a story so I could get a print byline.

Journalism organizations that offer networking, training and more     Posted: 10/15/21

Here is a list of other journalism organizations that AHCJ members might want to join or follow. They offer an assortment of training, networking, educational opportunities and job listings.

ProPublica journalist puts 15 years of experience into how-to book for consumers, employers     Posted: 07/01/21

Marshall Allen

By Joseph Burns

On the ProPublica site, we’re told, “Marshall Allen investigates why we pay so much for health care in the United States and get so little in return.” It turns out that those 21 words also describe Allen’s book, “Never Pay The First Bill. And Other Ways To Fight The Health Care System And Win,” which came out June 22. 

Over 15 years of covering health care, Allen has written about a wide variety of patients who suffered harm in the deeply flawed U.S. health care system. His 288-page book sums up much of what he’s learned. The multiple-award-winning journalist also explains how consumers can protect themselves by fighting back against injuries and overcharges. Included are three chapters on how employers can protect themselves and their workers and push back against high prices and patient harm. In this “How I Did It” interview with AHCJ, he discusses what led him to write the book.

Writing about wearable technology turns out to be a winning experience     Posted: 06/23/21

Andrea King Collier

In the fall of 2018, an editor at AARP approached me about doing a health and technology feature for them. The timing was perfect because I am a tech toy geek and was thinking about how I could use all the gear I have to make some lifestyle changes in the coming year.  

I jumped at the chance. The story was due in November to run in January.

Science editor talks about story ideas and combating misinformation post COVID-19     Posted: 06/21/21

Siri Carpenter

For a decade, the science non-profit journalism website The Open Notebook has been providing tips and resources to help science writers with their work. As COVID-19 unfolded, the site was one I turned to when looking for experts as well as story angles.

I talked to co-founder Siri Carpenter recently about some of the biggest obstacles science journalists have been facing and ideas for writers to pursue as the U.S. emerges from the pandemic.


Simple digital tools helped broadcast reporter track conflicting COVID-19 statistics     Posted: 05/27/21

Alex Smith

Alex Smith, a reporter for National Public Radio in Kansas City, Mo., is the 2020 second place winner of the Excellence in Health Journalism awards for beat reporting. Through dogged reporting and analysis of public health data, Smith highlighted the discrepancies in data reported by state and local public health departments in Kansas and Missouri and what actually was going in communities in both states. Many times, after his stories were published, state officials corrected their data. In this interview with Bara Vaida, AHCJ’s infectious diseases core topic leader, he talks about his work and gives advice to journalists interested in reporting on similar stories in their communities.

A freelance writer shares tips for creating — and protecting — your professional website     Posted: 05/27/21

Vanessa Ahern

Freelance writers always have to market themselves, and one way to put yourself before potential clients is to have a work website. But figuring out how to create a website can be overwhelming. Should you try to design it yourself or use a professional? And what design features will attract editors and convince them to hire you? 

About two years ago, Vanessa Ahern, a freelance writer based in Saratoga County, New York, decided her “primitive” website needed a serious upgrade. Here, Ahern discusses how she went about creating her website to more effectively showcase her work.

How do you make the most of journalism fellowship programs?     Posted: 05/13/21

Journalism fellowships tend to be either reporting or residential. The intent is to make you a better journalist either by providing funding and other assistance for reporting projects, or the space to explore and create your own learning experience.  

Whether you’re just starting out or have been in the game for a while, fellowships are a great way to build on the work you’ve already done and enhance your knowledge and leadership skills for whatever comes next. Each fellowship taught me something and opened my eyes. 

How to report on the ‘financial toxicity’ even Medicare cancer patients can face     Posted: 05/11/21

Kate Yandell

By Kate Yandell

A recent Cancer Today magazine feature I wrote on the financial difficulties faced by many Medicare beneficiaries with cancer, Learning Medicare’s ABCDs, began its life in 2018 as a failed idea for a brief web explainer.

How we reported on COVID-19 risk in multigenerational households     Posted: 05/03/21

Multigenerational households, which can span grandparents down to grandchildren, are common in communities of color, immigrant communities and low-income families. Millions of people in these households face a higher risk of contracting the coronavirus because they often include not only the elderly but also essential workers who can’t work from home. Once COVID-19 enters a larger household, it routinely and quickly infects everyone in it.

These issues received a lot of attention in the earlier stages of the pandemic last year. Many media outlets published stories about several generations living under the same roof and the potential dangers of contracting the coronavirus. A good number in these homes contain essential workers with jobs that put them at risk of infection. But as the vaccine rollout began, most states didn’t adopt policies that prioritized these households. Our story explored this gap as we analyzed county-by-county data showing that people of color — who are at greater risk of contracting the virus — are more likely to live in the same home with older relatives. This became the foundation of this story. We tried to answer this question: did state officials consider the family structures and population health issues common among people of color?

Learn from a veteran of the ‘misinformation beat’ about how to better check the facts     Posted: 03/31/21

Daniel Funke

Throughout the pandemic, the non-partisan fact-checking website PolitiFact has sought to correct misinformation about the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. Their work has become more important than ever as alarm has grown over the potential impact of COVID-19 misinformation. Efforts to end the pandemic through vaccination could stall if too many people refuse to take the vaccine because they don’t have enough facts to make an informed decision.

Here, PolitiFact staff writer Daniel Funke (@dpfunke) discusses his work and advice for other journalists seeking to get the facts out to the public and alert them to misinformation.

Science journalist talks about pivoting during the pandemic     Posted: 03/18/21

Like many reporters at the beginning of 2020, science writer Stephani Sutherland didn’t have a background in infectious diseases. When the pandemic was declared, she had to quickly shift gears and use her background as a neuroscientist to cover the topic of COVID-19 “long-haulers,” people who have technically recovered from COVID-19 but still have symptoms. Her research led to three stories in Scientific American magazine explaining what is understood about why people lose their sense of smell and experience neurological difficulties like “brain fog.”

Science-trained journalist gives advice on simplifying the genetic details around COVID-19     Posted: 02/04/21

Marla Broadfoot

With news emerging that genetic variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus have emerged globally, journalists with a deep background in genetics are in more demand.

Independent journalist Marla Broadfoot has a doctorate in genetics and molecular biology and is one of those writers well-positioned to be writing about this topic. In a recent interview for AHCJ, she talks about her coverage of COVID-19 over the past year for Scientific American and gives advice to reporters who write about the complicated topic of genetics.

Atlanta journalist finds not all struggling rural hospitals are worth saving     Posted: 01/08/21

Yamil Berard

Given all the concern about the failure of rural hospitals, it may seem counterintuitive that some hospitals in rural America may need to close. In multipart series for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, investigative news reporter Yamil Berard found last year that some rural hospitals in Georgia had serious deficiencies.

Those deficiencies included significantly low occupancy rates, stiff competition from other hospitals, dwindling populations in their service areas, poor management and faulty decision-making, she reported.

In her research, Berard also learned that some rural hospitals matter more than others. That finding may challenge conventional wisdom that rural areas need all hospitals, particularly since so many have closed in recent years and many hospitals have struggled since the COVID-19 pandemic began early last year.

Reporter digs for the details to convey deeper insights to readers during pandemic     Posted: 01/07/21

Jessica Contrera

Telling the deeply reported feature stories about COVID-19 and the impact on Americans is both more important and more challenging than ever. But doing these stories usually involves spending dozens of hours with sources in person, something journalists won’t be able to do for many months to come. So how can we report them? The Washington Post’s Jessica Contrera, who wrote a series of features in 2020, has some ideas.

Here Contrera talks about how the stories evolved, how her reporting changed and how she adapted her work approach to painting detailed and memorable stories about COVID-19. She also gives some advice on how other journalists can tell these stories in their communities too.

Getting an inside look at one nursing home’s battle against COVID-19     Posted: 12/04/20

Jason Pohl

In early March, Sacramento Bee reporter Jason Pohl took a story idea to his editor: What are California’s most problematic nursing homes doing to prepare for the coronavirus pandemic?

The idea was straightforward; the kind of story reporters often write. Inspection documents and spreadsheets are available online, and the codebook for violations is relatively easy to decipher. After a few days of analysis, a dive through the newspaper archives for past nursing home coverage and calls to facilities with the worst infection-related marks, Pohl says the story practically wrote itself. It turned out that a facility in the area had the dubious distinction as one of the lowest-ranked in California when it came to stopping the spread of infections.

Pohl writes, "I didn’t know it then, but this would be the beginning of a six-month reporting project that would help reveal the professional and personal toll that frontline nursing home employees have endured during the pandemic."

Staff writer talks about covering COVID, responding to anti-science sentiment     Posted: 12/02/20

Dana Smith

Just a few months after Dana Smith became’s only staff writer on health and wellness, the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, turning Smith’s plans for writing in-depth stories on health and wellness upside down. She quickly became an infectious disease specialist focused on COVID-19 and has been helping everyone understand the unfolding story this year with her deeply reported stories about testing, vaccines and how the immune system works.

Here Smith talks more about her journalism journey this year and advice for colleagues on how journalists can respond to anti-science sentiment and COVID-19 disbelievers.

‘Question everything:’ 3 tips for covering health when you usually don’t     Posted: 10/27/20

When reporting on the evolving pandemic, skepticism is crucial, says Apoorva Mandavilli, a science and global health reporter at The New York Times.

Official guidance and scientific consensus will inevitably shift, challenging journalists to provide new context and transparency in their coverage.  

We reached out to Mandavilli to learn how journalists can cover unfolding pandemic stories, even when health reporting is not normally their beat. 

How a Poynter veteran helps journalists generate fresh COVID-19 pitches     Posted: 09/23/20

Al Tompkins

Journalists are drowning in deadlines and information overload with this pandemic. So how are they to keep up with enterprise stories to put this moment into context? One place to look is Al Tompkins’ daily email for journalists. Each morning, Tompkins, who is a senior faculty member at the St. Petersburg, Fla.-based Poynter Institute, publishes a free email for reporters, packed with COVID-19 story ideas and angles.

To write it, Tompkins draws upon his 30 years in broadcast and investigative journalism, as well as his previous experience authoring Poynter’s (now discontinued) morning general news email called “Al’s Morning Meeting.”

In this Q & A, Tompkins talks more about his COVID-19 daily email, how he finds story ideas and his thoughts on how the pandemic could change journalism.

How a tip exposed serious flaws in rapidly testing nursing home residents for COVID-19     Posted: 09/08/20

Rachana Pradhan

Kaiser Health News’ Rachana Pradhan recently reported on the real and potential glitches with so-called rapid antigen testing for nursing home residents and staff.

While the administration is touting them as a quick way to identify asymptomatic carriers, Pradhan found out that’s not exactly how they’re supposed to work. 

Journalist describes role in helping compile, publicize national data on COVID-19     Posted: 08/31/20

Betsy Ladyzhets

Among the many challenges in covering COVID-19 has been the federal government’s lack of public standardized data on testing, hospitalizations and deaths. Several private organizations and journalists have worked to fill the void. One of the largest efforts has been the COVID-19 Tracking Project, a volunteer project.

Betsy Ladyzhets, a freelance writer and New York City-based research associate at Stacker, is one of the many journalists volunteering time at the project. She recently launched the COVID-19 Data Dispatch newsletter to put data about the pandemic into a better context for friends, family, media and the public. Here she discusses why she launched the newsletter and gives advice to journalists on obtaining and using COVID-19 data.

Award-winning journalist shows what European countries can teach the U.S. about containing opioid crisis     Posted: 08/11/20

Taylor Knopf

In 2018, Taylor Knopf used time while she was on a personal vacation to report on successful harm reduction methods Europeans use to support people who use drugs.

She had written about the opioid crisis in North Carolina and found that the drug-related death and disease statistics were grim. Meanwhile, European countries experienced a heroin epidemic a few decades ago and Paris recently opened a drug consumption room (or safe injection site).

Read about how Knopf reported and produced a six-part series called “Lessons from Abroad” on successful harm reduction methods.

Montana journalist explains how one deal years ago changed the state’s insurance market     Posted: 07/21/20

Covering health insurance in a less-populated state can be a significant challenge for journalists because most often, there’s not enough enrollment data to support robust reporting on trends that affect consumers.

Katheryn Houghton learned this lesson earlier this year when working as a daily news reporter for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle in Montana. In a new How I Did It piece, Houghton explains how she got a tip late last year that five Montana hospitals were settling a lawsuit with their employees over how much the workers had paid for health insurance. That tip led to a three-month reporting effort that culminated with this story (and awesome headline) on Jan. 26: “‘An earthquake’: the deal that changed Montana’s insurance market.”

Carving out your piece of the pandemic story can require persistence and ingenuity     Posted: 07/01/20

Katherine Eban

When President Trump declared in March that the generic antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine was a “game-changer” in the battle against COVID-19 and would be available “immediately” to treat patients, Katherine Eban, like many health journalists, was skeptical. The author and investigative journalist has written extensively about fraud in the generic drug industry, so she was concerned.

Eban began poking around and found there was worry among those who know the drug regulation process takes a significant amount of time, and were aware that there had been almost no studies to prove Trump’s claim. Eban talked to her Food and Drug Administration sources, which led her down a path to produce a series of stories for Reuters, Time and Vanity Fair about how the administration has been mismanaging the response to the pandemic.

Investigating conspiracy theories a growing part of COVID-19 coverage     Posted: 05/21/20

Marshall Allen

As misinformation about COVID-19 continues to proliferate in the digital world, journalists are challenged more than ever to debunk falsehoods and get accurate information to the public.

Marshall Allen, an investigative reporter at ProPublica, took on that challenge after some friends on Facebook and his brother, who is a pastor in Colorado, asked him what he thought about the trailer for the conspiracy theory documentary “Plandemic” when it began to be widely shared in early May.

Freelancer wins AHCJ award for beat reporting, explains her process     Posted: 05/08/20

Patricia Kime

The 2019 Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism were announced recently, and the top spot for the premier Beat Reporting Award went to Patricia Kime, an AHCJ freelancer based in Alexandria, Va. For the award application, Kime submitted a series of military health care stories she reported for prestigious outlets such as the New York Times Magazine and Military Times. In a recent phone interview, Kime talked about her reporting and writing process, as well as her freelance business.

How one reporter explored the impact of medical credit cards on dental debt     Posted: 04/24/20

Manuela Tobias

Dental patients in need of costly procedures may turn to medical credit cards to pay for the services. But these cards, which often include deferred-interest provisions, can pose risks. If consumers do not fully understand the terms or fall behind on payments, they can end up facing inflated bills and crippling dental debts, as Fresno Bee reporter Manuela Tobias explained in a recent investigative piece.

Her story, which recounted troubles with the credit cards and advocate and legislators' efforts aimed at protecting consumers, was produced in partnership with The California Divide, a statewide media collaboration that seeks to raise awareness about poverty and income inequality through in-depth storytelling and community outreach.  

In this Q and A, Tobias offers insights into her work on the piece. She also shares advice with colleagues interested in investigating medical credit cards in their states.

AHCJ freelancer reveals challenges in Georgia’s inmate health care     Posted: 04/21/20

Max Blau

For more than a year, Atlanta-based freelance journalist and AHCJ member Max Blau investigated the troublesome health care delivery in jails across his state. He filed records requests, conducted tough interviews and weaved together a series about his findings — all while reporting and writing other stories at the same time to pay his bills.

Known for his ability to juggle a freelance career with long-term investigative projects, Blau talks about the reporting process and filing records. He also offers advice to reporters, particularly freelancers, who want to tackle a similar project in their state.

Journalist finds lessons in the history of pandemics     Posted: 04/16/20

Beth Skwarecki

As the COVID-19 outbreak shows, infectious diseases consistently rear their head and disrupt human activities. Sometimes these outbreaks change the course of world power and other times, they become a blip on history’s timeline.

For some context about the history of infectious diseases and their impact on humans, it's worth taking a look at Beth Skwarecki’s book “Outbreak: 50 Tales of Epidemics that Terrorized the World.” Each chapter is about 1,000 words and deftly and succinctly tells interesting tales about infectious disease outbreaks, many of which continue to plague the world.

Here’s an edited Q&A with Skwarecki, who is the senior health editor of Lifehacker, about her book and some obstacles that she overcame.

Global reporting in the age of coronavirus     Posted: 03/23/20

Cohen Marill

The coronavirus pandemic has altered our world with whiplashing speed. It is reshaping health journalism for months, or perhaps years, to come.

Michele Cohen Marill's awakening to this reality came from an overseas reporting trip, just as the global dynamic of COVID-19 was shifting.

In March, she flew to Germany as part of AHCJ's International Health Study fellowship and spent a week traversing the German countryside, interviewing doctors, visiting health programs, dining out, and riding trains, as daily life went on as usual.

On March 11, President Trump announced restrictions on travel from Europe to the U.S. Life still seemed normal in Germany, but she cut her trip short and returned home to Atlanta on March 14.

How one series focused on what U.S. can learn from other countries’ health systems     Posted: 03/16/20

Dylan Scott, a health care reporter for Vox, and his colleagues completed a multi-part series on how other countries have achieved universal coverage. While planning for the project began in 2018, the topic has been a high-profile issue in the 2020 presidential campaign.

Lessons learned while tracking a UCSD anesthesiologist’s drug abuse and diversion case     Posted: 03/04/20

Cheryl Clark

When patients undergo surgery, the anesthesiologist usually administers more than one type of drug. Some tackle pain, so you don’t feel the incisions. Some tackle memory, so you don’t recall the experience.

But what if someone stole some of your pain meds? Would you have felt pain during the operation, but not remember it? Or what if someone stole the drugs that induce amnesia and substituted saline for some of your medications? Would you remember whirring noises from drills or surgical team conversations after you woke up? Would they haunt your subconscious? What if they substituted some of the drugs in the syringe with saline?

Those are some of the questions that emerged as Cheryl Clark worked on a story for MedPage Today about Dr. Bradley Glenn Hay, an attending anesthesiologist at the University of California San Diego Medical Center who admitted an addiction to sedative drugs he took from UCSD and its patients since his anesthesiology residency in 2003.

Leveraging in-person opportunities enabled reporter to turn out dementia series on a tight deadline     Posted: 03/04/20

Katherine Foley

Reporter Katherine Foley explains how she developed ideas for a five-story series about the cumulative costs of dementia and possible ways to curb those costs. She relied on her prior reporting about neurodegenerative diseases (a strong area of interest for her), to sketch out a concept. Since Quartz is a business publication, it wasn’t hard to determine that costs and data had to play an important role in the series.

When it comes to dementia, there are almost countless angles. So finding a single lens to tell all of these stories and create a common thread was important for continuity’s sake. Foley had received a fellowship through the Journalists-in-Aging program to attend last November’s Gerontological Society of America conference and decided to conduct the bulk of her reporting during the Austin event. She went in with a rough outline of what she hoped to cover but was flexible enough to go where the interviews took her.

AHCJ freelancers contribute to new book on science writing     Posted: 03/02/20

Siri Carpenter

Several AHCJ members are part of a new book, "The Craft of Science Writing," which was published at the beginning of February. The 300-pager, available for $10 as an ebook and $25 as a paperback, is a collection of articles from The Open Notebook, which covers the stories behind science writing.

Among the more than 35 contributors, AHCJ members include Christie Aschwanden, Jeanne Erdmann and Kendall Powell. You’ll also recognize The Open Notebook editor Siri Carpenter, Washington Post health editor Laura Helmuth, New York Times columnist Carl Zimmer, and many more.

Carpenter, the book’s editor, chatted with AHCJ freelance correspondent Carolyn Crist about what inspired the book and what readers will find inside.

AHCJ freelancer dishes on her $135K year in new ebook     Posted: 02/07/20

Jen Miller

AHCJ member and freelance journalist Jen Miller earned $135,000 from her writing in 2019, and after posting about it on social media and receiving a positive response, she decided to create a white paper to explain the details to others.

Freelance correspondent Carolyn Crist shares some nuggets about the paper and asks Miller some questions about her freelance career.

Africa-based correspondent influences the Ebola story beyond his coverage     Posted: 02/06/20

Al-hadji Kudra

Al-hadji Kudra Maliro is the eastern Congo correspondent for the Associated Press and has contributed stories published in the Christian Science Monitor, Daily Mail, Le Monde, France 24, Yahoo and Stars and Stripes. He grew up in Beni, Congo, and Kampala, Uganda, and lives in Goma, a city of 2 million, close to the border of Rwanda. Goma is in the North Kivu region of the country, an epicenter of the outbreak and the site of ethnic and civil conflict.

Maliro has been covering the Ebola outbreak since September 2018. Since there are few journalists on the ground there, his perspective has played a role in shaping how the international community gets information about the ongoing outbreak. He frequently posts on his Twitter and Facebook page about stories he is covering and the people who he is with.

Here Maliro talks with AHCJ’s Bara Vaida about what it is like to be a local correspondent on this international story.

Reporter describes how she uncovered an infectious disease nightmare     Posted: 01/14/20


Hookworm is a parasite transmitted to people through the feces of infected people. Symptoms can include itching, diarrhea, anemia and brain development problems in children. It infects as many as 740 million people a year, mostly in developing countries with poor sanitation and extreme poverty.

Before indoor plumbing, hookworm also was prevalent in the southern United States. Successful efforts funded by John D. Rockefeller in the early 1900s led many to believe the parasite had been eliminated from the country by the 1980s. But a 2017 study cast doubt on that perception. Researchers  found evidence that people living in Lowndes County, Ala., were infected by hookworm.

In 2018, Vice News reporter Arielle Duhaime-Ross decided to follow up on the study and learn whether Alabama’s department of health had done anything about it. Shockingly, the answer was no. Here, Duhaime-Ross talks more about how she reported on this groundbreaking work.

Reporter uncovers ‘painful mistakes’ in one state’s handling of dentist errors     Posted: 01/14/20

Arthur Kane

Over five months, Arthur Kane, an investigative reporter for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, immersed himself in the workings of the Nevada State Board of Dental Examiners. Kane combed through state audits and internal documents and delved into the stories of patients who were left suffering by dentists who were allowed to keep practicing. He weighed troubling allegations raised by a local dental society. In October, he emerged with a six-part series, "Painful Mistakes."

In the wake of the project’s publication, more than half of the board’s members left or lost their seats and two professional staffers were terminated. Gov. Steve Sisolak has pledged reforms.

In this Q&A, Kane describes how he tackled the reporting for the series and worked with newsroom colleagues to bring the story to life. He also offers advice to journalists who may want to take a closer look at a professional board in their state.

Editor shares tips for reporting on China's mysterious pneumonia     Posted: 01/09/20

Lisa Schnirring

On Dec. 31, 2019, a local health department in China reported a mysterious pneumonia had sickened dozens of people, setting off alarm bells within infectious disease circles. The fear is that this illness may be the beginning of a large deadly disease outbreak like SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) in 2003.

Lisa Schnirring, news editor at the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy since 2007, has been covering this story as it has been unfolding. 

Schnirring talked with AHCJ about how she has been keeping up with the news at it has been unfolding over the past few weeks, providing a valuable guide to other journalists who might be looking for resources to cover infectious disease outbreaks.

December 1994: Medical error meets journalism     Posted: 01/06/20

Michael L.

When Dr. George Lundberg, then editor of JAMA, decided to print two articles on medical error, he hoped that no reporter would notice. Fortunately, news people don’t all take off for their winter homes at the end of December. The frank talk about medical error in a prestigious journal was first picked up by a Boston public radio reporter and later by The Washington Post.

Earlier in December, a popular Boston Globe health columnist named Betsy Lehman seemingly succumbed to breast cancer, leaving behind a husband and two young children. But a few months later, a series of articles that began with an expose by Globe reporter Richard Knox revealed that Lehman had actually died from a mistaken chemotherapy overdose at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, a renowned Harvard-affiliated hospital.

Suddenly, medical error had become intensely personal in the capital of American medicine, and, given those involved, major national news. A flurry of other medical error stories followed in other publications around the country.

In patient safety, compelling stories are waiting to be told     Posted: 01/06/20

Prominent stories about medical error played a central role in the political impact of the landmark Institute of Medicine (IOM) report, "To Err is Human," which came out in late November 1999. The IOM estimated that up to 98,000 Americans die from preventable harm in hospitals each year and another 1 million are injured.

Yet, physicians did virtually nothing about patient safety for decades, despite repeated warnings about treatment-caused deaths and injuries. 

The good news is that today every hospital is doing something to improve safety. The bad news is that a commitment to reducing harm to the greatest possible extent ­­– so-called “zero preventable harm” – is still uncommon, partly because too many clinicians still wear blinders about error prevalence and preventability. Patient safety stories remain relevant and important. Patient safety expert and former reporter Michael L. Millenson offers an overview of some opportunities.

In-depth, personal reporting digs deep into consumer genetic testing     Posted: 01/03/20

Tina Hesman Saey won second place in the Consumer/Feature (small) category of the 2018 AHCJ Awards for Excellence in Journalism for her multi-part series on DNA testing for Science News.

Here she discusses how the story came about, her reporting process and the resources she used while working on the story.

For some patients, high health costs and inadequate insurance are financially toxic     Posted: 12/11/19

Two years ago, Liz Kowalczyk rotated onto the Boston Globe Spotlight team to participate in a project about race. Her role was to document segregation in the city’s health care system. During the investigation, she grew interested in writing about another type of inequality in Boston medicine: How money, and the lack of it, affects patients and their care.

As it turns out, the issue has many twists and turns.

Investigating climate change and the military heat crisis     Posted: 11/18/19

David Hasemyer reported an InsideClimate News/NBC investigative story showing more U.S. troops are falling to heatstroke and heat exhaustion as the military struggles to balance training with rising temperatures.

The story behind case No. 20160614001 was that of Sgt. Sylvester Cline, an Iraq veteran and father of five who collapsed and later died after enduring hours under a scorching sun during a field exercise at Fort Chaffee in Arkansas. Case No. 20160614001 was among the decade’s worth of data the military had gathered that showed a steady increase in the number of military personnel harmed by heat.

Here, Hasemyer lays out the background and shares his sources for similar reporting that could be done all around the country.

Finding stories in the challenges of access to oral health care     Posted: 11/11/19

Bart Pfankuch

When it comes to oral health, every state has its own unique challenges – and its own stories, too.

“A lack of access to proper dental care in South Dakota is driven by both geography and income,” writes Bart Pfankuch in a recent piece for South Dakota News Watch that takes a deep look at the issue in his own state.

In this Q&A, Pfankuch, a veteran journalist, editor and writing coach who serves as content director of South Dakota News Watch talks about his well-received story and shares some tricks of the trade he has learned in his 30 years of reporting .  

Former newspaper reporter talks about improving PIO and media connection     Posted: 11/11/19

Doug Levy

After more than decade of writing about health and science issues for USA Today, Doug Levy left journalism to become chief communications officer at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City and then moved to the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine as director of communications. In 2018, he self-published a book called “The Communications Golden Hour: The Essential Guide to Public Information When Every Minute Counts.”

Levy talks about how PIOs and journalists can work better together to reach the public with critical and accurate information, especially during a public health crisis or outbreak.

Reporter finds identifying health policy influencers is not a simple task     Posted: 11/06/19

Paige Winfield

Paige Winfield Cunningham, a national health care reporter for the Washington Post and the author of the Post’s daily health policy newsletter, explains just what it took to find out who is helping the Democratic candidates devise their health reform plans – and why it was harder than you might expect.

She persisted because she was convinced that a behind-the-scenes look at the health policy influencers would be deeply interesting – particularly because the Democratic primary has been marked by differences over how to bring the country to universal health coverage.

66 Garage: Reporter talks about finding a patients' identity, humanity     Posted: 11/05/19

Joanne Faryon

Award-wining journalist Joanne Faryon has been writing a series of stories and produced a six-part podcast on her two-year pursuit of the identity of 66 Garage, a man kept on life support for nearly two decades and whose consciousness was questionable.

She found him in a San Diego skilled nursing facility, or “vent farm.” So moved by the anonymity of his plight, she vowed to learn his name, find out how he got there and contact his relatives who, as it turned out, thought he had died long ago.

Considering the ethics of producing podcast on 'vent farm' patient     Posted: 11/05/19

Joanne Faryon produced a podcast about “Sixty-Six Garage,” a man who went unidentified in a San Diego “vent farm,” aka skilled nursing facility, for 15 years. Her gripping oral recount of how she quit her job in 2015 and spent her own money and resources to find out who he was and how he ended up this way, attached to ventilators and unable to speak or move, is chilling.

She ultimately discovered his identity through sheer persistence, although she encountered some tricky ethical questions along the way about how she herself became part of the story. She also discovered how he got that name, “Sixty-six Garage,” which reveals a lot about how hospital providers grapple with the challenge of identifying patients when they themselves can’t tell their care givers who they are.

Getting to the truth when covering measles outbreak     Posted: 11/01/19


A basic tenet in reporting is that there are two sides to a story, but in public health, that may not always be the case, says Melba Newsome, a Charlotte, N.C.-based freelance health care journalist.,

Newsome was confronted with this challenge when writing an in-depth story for CQ Researcher on the recent measles outbreak, and the story behind how the contagious disease has made a come back in the era of modern medicine. A big piece of the story is the spread of misleading information by organizations that exploit people’s fears about vaccines, and the role the media played by giving these organizations a voice in an effort to provide balance, she says.

Reporters, she says, should be more focused on the scientific evidence that shows vaccines are safe and effective, rather than giving voice to fears. To read more about her thoughts and how she reported her story on measles, read the edited interview with Newsome.

Contemplating aging and loneliness leads to podcast     Posted: 10/31/19

Diane Atwood

Diane Atwood, a former health reporter for WCSH-Maine, learned a lot about reaching broadcast audiences over the course of her career, which came in handy when she retired. Actually, not really retired, just changing gears.

Atwood now writes a blog called Catching Health and not long ago, decided to start a podcast about what it’s like to grow old in Maine — a state tied with Florida for the oldest average population. Conversations About Aging looks at how Mainers deal with the good and bad that accompany aging, and some of the unique personalities who make up the state’s older population.

Here, she tells us about how she embarked on the podcast and what she has learned through the experience.

Oral care access problems highlighted in California news collaborative project     Posted: 10/25/19

Yesenia Amaro

In the years since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, California has employed Medicaid expansion and the state health insurance marketplace – Covered California – to dramatically increase health care coverage. Yet, in spite of such efforts roughly 3 million state residents remain medically uninsured. Even more – an estimated 5.2 million Californians – are dentally uninsured.

In communities throughout the state, retirees and workers at small businesses are facing particular challenges in finding dental services, reported Yesenia Amaro of The Fresno Bee and Nicole Hayden of the (Palm Springs) Desert Sun in a recent story.

In this Q and A, Amaro offers insights into her coverage of dentally-uninsured Californians and her participation in the Uncovered California project. She also shares some wisdom with colleagues on how to explore the shortage of dental coverage in their communities.

Leapfrog reports: Reporters can check ambulatory surgery center and hospital outpatient quality data; next year by facility     Posted: 10/23/19

Joyce Frieden

Many ambulatory surgery centers (ASCs) and hospital outpatient departments (HOPDs) are following the correct patient safety protocols, but there is still much room for improvement, according to a report released Tuesday by The Leapfrog Group.

“Today, more than 60% of surgical procedures take place in an outpatient environment,” said Leah Binder, Leapfrog Group president and CEO, in a statement. “Despite this increasing shift towards same-day procedures, surprisingly little information about the safety and quality of these settings is available to the public. That’s why Leapfrog made the commitment this past year to expand our ratings to include same-day surgery.”

Book examines how mosquitoes and their pathogens have shaped history     Posted: 10/09/19


Infectious diseases have altered the course of history since the beginning of time. Until humans really understood how they were transmitted, pathogens almost always had the upper hand. Many books have been written about how diseases like plague and the flu impacted the outcomes of wars and civilization, but few have focused specifically on the mosquito and malaria.

Timothy Winegard, a history professor at Colorado Mesa University, changed that with his book, “The Mosquito: A Human History of Our Deadliest Predator” published this summer

On AHCJ fellowship to Denmark, a Politico reporter finds parallels to U.S. implementation of EHRs     Posted: 09/13/19

Arthur Allen

Arthur Allen, a health care editor at Politico Pro, was one of four veteran journalists selected for the inaugural 2019 AHCJ International Health Study Fellowship. Supported by the Commonwealth Fund, the six-month fellowship allows veteran U.S.-based health care journalists to pursue a story or project comparing an aspect of the U.S. health system to another country.  Participants were allowed to study a developed European country.

Allen's first article to come out of the fellowship is “Lost in Translation: Epic goes to Denmark." The story is a comprehensive and often critical look at what happened when some Danish hospitals adopted Epic, the leading U.S. electronic health record system, which is headquartered in Wisconsin.

Covering a controversial study: How to dig deep on a deadline     Posted: 08/22/19

From the moment I saw the study — and editorial and editor’s note — among JAMA’s embargoed studies, I knew it would be a doozy. Certain topics arouse controversy simply by their existence, and water fluoridation is very high on that list.

So when I was assigned to write about the JAMA Pediatrics study finding a link between prenatal fluoride exposure and reduced IQ in preschoolers, two things went through my mind: One, this is going to be covered horribly by some outlets and likely create unnecessary anxiety among parents, especially pregnant women (who have enough to worry about when it comes to do’s and don’ts). Two, I need to be one of those who gets it right.

I thought I’d share how I approached, reported and completed my own article at Medscape, in case seeing my process is helpful for others when there’s another potentially controversial study to cover.

Waking the public up to the threat of antibiotic resistance     Posted: 07/31/19

Matt Richtel

Until about 20 years ago, the threat of antibiotic resistance remained muted because there were plenty of new antibiotics in the pipeline to replace those that had stopped working.

Today, there are fewer than 50 antimicrobials in the pipeline and resistant bacteria are slowly but surely spreading across the planet. 

Getting the public to understand and pay attention, however, remains a challenge for health journalists. Matt Richtel, a science reporter for The New York Times decided to take on the task on of trying to get Americans to understand the growing threat with a series that began in April 2019. 

Richtel talks to AHCJ’s Bara Vaida about how he approached the story and its challenges:

Looking behind the hype — and potential — of a lifestyle approach to Alzheimer’s     Posted: 07/29/19

Linda Marsa

Journalist Linda Marsa received third place honors in AHCJ’s Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism for her December 2018 story, Alzheimer’s Under Attack, published in Discover magazine.

In this How I Did It piece, she explains how she pulled the pieces together for a look at how lifestyle therapies were succeeding for many in early disease stages, while most drugs never made it out of study phase.

How a doctor’s tip and a Facebook algorithm led to an award-winning series     Posted: 07/24/19

Cheryl Clark

This is the story of how a doctor’s tip, with help from a Facebook algorithm, led to an award-winning series about a nationwide network of diabetes clinics that some experts called a scam. The story does not end well for the network’s founder, G. Ford Gilbert, who goes to federal prison in August.

How I learned about Trina is probably what happens to a lot of journalists who stumble onto a great story. The path might be circuitous and require a lot of patience and curiosity.


Decoding upcoding: Reporter finds manipulation of patient condition severity in ER bills     Posted: 07/12/19

Jenny Deam, who specializes in reporting on the business of health at the Houston Chronicle, has been digging into health care costs – and she’s found a trove of information in billing codes. Here are her tips on how you can obtain bills, and understand facility fees and “upcoding.”

Reporter visits Cambodia, Myanmar and Thailand to cover rise of malaria deaths in Southeast Asia     Posted: 06/28/19

Amy Maxmen

Amy Maxmen, a San-Francisco-based science reporter for Nature magazine, travels the world to cover global health topics. In 2018, her work took her to Cambodia, Myanmar and Thailand to cover the rising number of malaria deaths in Southeast Asia.

Her story “Malaria’s Ticking Time Bomb,” won first place in AHCJ’s 2018 Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism for a public health story published in the small market category. Here she talks further about how she did her story.

How a team delved into childhood trauma in New Orleans     Posted: 06/27/19

“The Children of Central City” series tracked the fates of 9- and 10-year-old black children living in New Orleans, in one of the city’s most violence-torn areas. The series won third place in the public health (small) category in the 2018 Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism.

In following the lives of these boys participating in a youth football team, Times-Picayune staff – Jonathan Bullington, Richard A. Webster, Emma Scott, Brett Duke, Haley Correll – sought also to look into the minds of these children, examining how exposure to trauma can change the function of their brains.

Covering a measles epidemic with cultural sensitivity     Posted: 06/26/19


Measles is one of the most infectious diseases on the planet. Just by breathing, someone with measles can spread the disease to 12 to 18 other people. The U.S. is experiencing one of the worst outbreaks of measles since 1994 and one of the hardest hit communities has been New York City. As of mid-May, more than five hundred cases have been reported to city public health officials.

Amanda Eisenberg, a New York health reporter for Politico, has been in the middle of covering this unfolding epidemic. She and her colleagues have not only been covering breaking news stories about the outbreak, but also have found different angles. Eisenberg talks more about how she is covering the measles outbreak there.

Covering the link between environmental causes and disease     Posted: 06/24/19

Lois Parshley

Lois Parshley wrote an award-winning story for Scientific American about a collaboration to develop disease outbreak models linked to climate change. She traveled to South Africa to follow scientists as they gathered data on Rift Valley fever, a virus carried by mosquitoes that causes miscarriages and death in livestock and can sicken humans as well. The virus has been spreading along with the mosquitoes that carry it as the climate has warmed and global trade and travel have blossomed. Here Parshley explains further about why she traveled across the globe to tell this story and what it means for public health.

Reporters find dire problems with Texas’ Medicaid system     Posted: 06/20/19

Andrew Chavez

David McSwane

This year’s Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting, awarded by the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, went to two reporters at the Dallas Morning News who investigated the Texas Medicaid system.

David McSwane and Andrew Chavez spoke to the Shorenstein’s Journalist’s Resource about their series Pain & Profit,” We’re reprinting it, with their permission, as a “How I Did It” piece.

Striking the right balance when reporting on vulnerable older adults     Posted: 06/10/19

Lisa Gillespie

There’s been a lot written in Louisville about food deserts. But the thing Lisa Gillespie found missing was the “why” in those stories. Why should anyone care that grocery stores have closed, leaving large parts of lower-income neighborhoods without access to healthy food? She had read research on the impact of poor nutrition on health on older adults, and set out to answer that question. 

In her reporting, she talked to researchers who measure the impact of programs such as Meals on Wheels. But she needed to find a person to tell the story, someone who was living that food insecurity.

High-profile interview leads to a five-part series on mental health parity     Posted: 05/23/19

Yen Duong

After a lucky, hurricane-related break, reporter Yen Duong scored a half-hour interview with Patrick J. Kennedy, the former congressman from Rhode Island and mental health advocate.

That interview led to a series of stories about mental health parity – treating mental health on par with physical health. She scoured complaint records in North Carolina and was able to interview several patients and providers, though she found that insurance companies were reluctant to speak on the record.

How to make climate change and health a less underreported issue     Posted: 05/20/19

Linda Marsa

Health and science writer Linda Marsa’s 2013 book, “Fevered: Why A Hotter Planet Will Hurt Our Health – And How We Can Save Ourselves,” focused on climate change and its impact on health. Still relevant, Marsa’s work remains one of the few focused on the topic and represents an underreported aspect of climate change stories.

For that reason, journalists interested in covering climate and health should pick up a copy, which provides a roadmap for covering the issue. Marsa looks at climate change through the lens of agriculture disruption, air pollution, the spread of infectious diseases, heat waves, health system disruption, water pollution and drought. She also examines a few successful policies that have been aimed at addressing the disruptions caused by the warming planet.

Marsa recently sat down to talk with AHCJ and provided some tips to help colleagues wishing to cover climate change and health.

Science background helped student journalist’s reporting on predicting infectious disease outbreaks     Posted: 05/13/19

Prajalta Dhapte

Big data offers the promise that researchers can develop effective predictive models of infectious disease outbreaks, enabling public health leaders to better allocate resources to prevent and respond to outbreaks.

Scientist and journalism student Prajakta Dhapte became fascinated with this predictive process and decided to delve into the modeling arena for a story published in Georgia Health News.

Reporter drew on life experience to report on inadequate prison dental care     Posted: 05/01/19

Keri Blakinger

Much remains unknown about the oral health status of more than two million incarcerated Americans, but research suggests that many dental needs go unmet behind bars.

Reporting on the problem can be challenging. But in a recent project we wrote about, Keri Blakinger, who covers breaking news, prisons and the death penalty for the Houston Chronicle, found a way to document the desperate wait for dentures in Texas state prisons.

In this Q&A, Blakinger discusses her work on the stories, which culminated in the announcement by state prison officials of an innovative 3-D printing program that could bring dentures to more Texas prisoners who need them. Blakinger, who came to journalism after serving time for a drug conviction, also shares a little wisdom on the gift of rebuilding one’s life.

Advice from a reporter experienced in interviewing people in stigmatized populations     Posted: 02/20/19

Heather Boerner

Heather Boerner’s October 2018 piece at NPR examined the fate of people who live without treatment for their HIV after they leave prison. The piece was pinned to a study published in PLOS One showing that people with HIV often are lost to care once they leave the monitoring and services provided in prison.

In her article, in addition to providing an in-depth perspective from several experts, Boerner also gave the reader the story of Bryan C. Jones, who had left a prison in Ohio and almost immediately ditched his HIV drugs because he knew they were no longer working.

In response to some questions, Boerner discusses how she identified Jones and was able to include his story in her piece. As journalists covering health know, finding someone living with the condition a story covers can be difficult. The additional factors of a background involving incarceration and a period of housing instability can complicate the process even more.

Tracking down the biggest food recall of 2018     Posted: 02/05/19

Sam Bloch

The New Food Economy reporter Sam Bloch learned about many of the hidden stories about the nation’s food system from his girlfriend, who works at a restaurant.

One his beats is food recalls, which led him to his recent story highlighting the biggest food recall in 2018. The story was about McCain Foods, a multi-billion-dollar foodservice corporation, based in Ontario, which manufactures frozen foods. The story, which no one else had reported, puts a spotlight on how much of the food system is vulnerable to contamination.

He also recommends sources for other reporters and talks about why it seems we are having so many food recalls.

Chronicling America’s uninsured and their gut-wrenching decisions     Posted: 02/05/19

John Tozzi

The people with the most at stake in America’s health-care debate often have the smallest voice in it.

A year ago, John Tozzi's editor came to him with an assignment intended to change that: Find people who had decided they could no longer afford medical insurance. Follow them for a year. And show readers how the affordability crisis in U.S. health care shaped their lives.

Turned away from care: Dementia patients with signs of aggression have limited options     Posted: 01/31/19

Tony Leys

Dementia patients can essentially be blackballed from nursing homes if they’ve ever shown signs of aggression. This is especially likely for early-onset dementia patients, who tend to be relatively young and physically strong. Nursing home administrators worry that such patients could hurt staff members or other residents if they lash out because of confusion or panic rooted in their dementia. That’s why nursing homes increasingly decline to take such residents, meaning some patients wind up living in facilities hundreds of miles from their families.

Find what Tony Leys calls the worst part of the story.

Uncovering a bombshell about Zika in Puerto Rico     Posted: 01/28/19

Beth Murphy

In early 2016, Beth Murphy set out to make a series of films focused on the impact of climate change on women and children as part of a multimedia GroundTruth Project series “Living Proof: The Human Impacts of Climate Change.” 

What became clear during research is that the link between climate change and infectious disease is having serious consequences on maternal and infant health. There are a number of examples globally, but with the Zika crisis exploding in Puerto Rico at that time, she decided to focus her attention there. 

Free clinic provides opportunity for broader examination of access to care     Posted: 01/23/19

Joe Lawlor

In coverage of a free dental care day for low-income Mainers, Portland Press Herald reporter Joe Lawlor explored some of the challenges that have shaped oral health access in the state.

As he noted in his piece, new Democratic governor Janet Mills is preparing to oversee an expansion of the state’s Medicaid program. Yet, the measure, which is expected to bring health care benefits to more state residents, could fall short in addressing their longstanding dental needs, Lawlor explained in his story.  

In this Q&A, Lawlor discusses his reporting on the outlook for improved oral health care in Maine. And he shares thoughts on the value of teamwork in covering the state’s long journey toward Medicaid expansion. 

Reporting on Arkansas Medicaid work requirements – and their fallout     Posted: 01/18/19

Benjamin Hardy

Benjamin Hardy spent most of 2018 mining a fairly narrow vein of health policy: Arkansas’s first-of-its-kind work requirement for certain Medicaid expansion beneficiaries. He wrote three big stories about the work rule and related topics, along with many smaller ones. His initial plan for the year was to survey Arkansas’s Medicaid program more broadly, not just the work requirement. But he soon found that this particular policy and the human stories it generated were so complex — and so poorly understood — that it became his main health care beat.

Persistence, persuasion pays off with critical global health security story     Posted: 01/11/19

Emily Baumgaertner

New York Times reporter Emily Baumgaertner got started in health news while working on a graduate degree in public health. During her studies, she realized she was interested in people’s stories, and began freelancing about global health for media outlets. The work led her to the Washington, D.C., bureau of the Times, where she juggles covering breaking news, as well as global health topics.

Last summer she broke an important global health security story related to a dangerous flu circulating among poultry farms in China. It is a story she is continuing to report. Recently, she shared with AHCJ why she pursued the ongoing story and how she got it.

How one reporter accidentally stumbled on a state-wide prescribing investigation     Posted: 11/30/18

With “Death Certificate Project” and “opioids” in a headline, any story would — one would think — be a gold mine for page views. 

But it surprised Cheryl Clark that no media organization had published anything on this California effort when she found out about it, though it had been going on for more than three years.

Designed to identify excessive opioid prescribers, the ongoing project involves the Medical Board of California’s review of nearly 2,700 death certificates for patients with confirmed fatal overdoses in 2012 and 2013.

Reporter explores 'whisper network' of home abortion providers     Posted: 11/21/18

Lizzie Presser

Investigative journalist Lizzie Presser achieved a remarkable and difficult feat for her story about a network of about 200 home abortion providers scattered across the country and the women it supports. In her piece for The California Sunday Magazine, Presser lays bare the realities that these women face, from the “abortion doulas” who gain training in performing the procedures to the women who seek them.

In this “How I Did It,” Presser discusses, where she is able, how she navigated the fraught legal implications of writing about these women, how she managed to find them in the first place, and why she believes in the power of “slow journalism.”

Reporter chronicles refugees’ challenges in improving oral health in their new home     Posted: 11/05/18

Jiwon Choi

In recent reporting for Minnesota Public Radio, Jiwon Choi explored the oral health challenges faced by refugees arriving in her state. 

In her piece, officials from resettlement agencies described their struggles in meeting the many needs of refugees within a 90-day eligibility window for government assistance. Efforts to find timely dental care for new refugees were complicated by the shortage of dentists willing to accept refugees’ Medicaid coverage, they noted.

And as Choi explained in her story, refugees like Say Paw, a Karen refugee from Myanmar now living in St. Paul, also may have unique oral health burdens linked to the lives they left behind. In the following Q & A, Choi offers insights from her reporting. She also shares advice for journalists who might want to tell a similar story their own community.

How one U.S.-based reporter shines a light on infectious diseases thousands of miles away     Posted: 11/01/18

Lauren Weber

HuffPost’s Lauren Weber, a public health reporter who covers infectious diseases, has reported on everything from the flu to tuberculosis. More recently, she’s been covering the latest Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo with great depth and detail.

Weber shared with AHCJ how she has been reporting on the outbreak from thousands of miles away from where it is occurring and provides tips on how other reporters can cover similar stories. She also discussed how she reports on infectious diseases as a daily beat for a national news organization.

How I Did It: Reporting on surprise medical bills     Posted: 10/17/18

Chad Terhune

Kaiser Health News and NPR have been collaborating on a series called Bill of the Month – including a particularly powerful piece by KHN’s Chad Terhune about an insured high school teacher hit with a $108,951 bill after a heart attack at age 44.

In this How I Did It essay, Terhune gives many detailed and specific hints on how to identify, verify and report on these bills. 

Award-winning journalist helps students dive deep into local elder abuse investigation     Posted: 10/09/18

Tracy Breton

Tracy Breton, a Pulitzer prize-winning investigative and legal affairs reporter at the Providence Journal for 40 years, and now professor of English and nonfiction writing at Brown University, finally got the opportunity to report out the elder abuse series she’s wanted to do for a decade. She oversaw a year-long investigation by a team of Brown University students into the issue of elder abuse in Rhode Island. The project blossomed into a nine-part-series for the Providence Journal thanks to a new, nonprofit community news initiative, the Community Tribune.

Breton, (along with two of her student reporters), discussed their experiences for the Providence Journal’s “From the Newsroom” podcast. In a follow-up interview with me, Breton further detailed aspects of this significant body of reporting. 

Journalist-author provides insights on covering the next infectious disease outbreak     Posted: 10/02/18

Lara Salahi

Health journalist and author Lara Salahi partnered with scientist Pardis Sabeti to write about the devastating 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa and define the phenomenon of “outbreak culture” in their book, “Outbreak Culture: The Ebola Crisis And the Next Epidemic.” 

At the end of their book, Salahi and Sabeti offer some concrete ideas to help the world can better navigate the next infectious disease outbreak. In an interview with AHCJ, Salahi discusses how she came to write the book and gives advice for journalists covering infectious disease issues.

Investigating mental illness in America’s jails     Posted: 10/01/18

Gary Harki

After reporting on a young man with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder who died in jail, Gary Harki, an investigative reporter for The Virginian-Pilot, used his O’Brien Fellowship in Public Service Journalism at Marquette University to lead an investigation into how people with mental illness are treated in jails around the country.

Through numerous FOIAs and phone calls, Harki, and the students working with him, learned that just eight states that kept data on people with mental illness who died in jail. There were many states that tracked jail deaths in general but did not specify if the person was mentally ill. Read more about how they reported this extensive project.

Kentucky reporter shares insights on covering cuts to Medicaid dental coverage     Posted: 09/10/18

Will Wright

In a recent story for the Lexington Herald-Leader, reporter Will Wright offered a look at the human toll of Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin’s July decision to cut dental and vision benefits for about 460,000 state Medicaid beneficiaries.

In the wake of the dental and vision care cuts, Wright spent time with a local dentist and her staff, who had been left scrambling when their patients’ benefits suddenly disappeared. Wright also spoke with a patient worried about how her lost coverage would affect her ability to obtain a needed tooth extraction.

In this Q and A, Wright offers insights into his reporting on Kentucky’s Medicaid program. As other states eye work requirements and other changes to their programs, Wright shares advice with colleagues seeking ways to document the impact upon patients and providers.


Uncovering the safety flaws in IBM's Watson supercomputer     Posted: 09/06/18

Casey Ross

Ike Swetlitz

IBM enjoyed positive PR on its cancer treatment adviser, Watson for Oncology, until two reporters for Stat looked into whether the results matched the buzz.

Casey Ross and Ike Swetlitz describe that they initially got interested in IBM Watson because there were “a few chinks in the narrative“ the computing giant had been telling. Notably, one big cancer center had scrapped its project with IBM.

Ross and Swetlitz describe their reporting process, and how initial stories on Watson for Oncology generated more leads and additional sources coming forward.

Giving an emotional arc to pandemic preparedness story     Posted: 09/06/18

Ed Yong

To illustrate the state of America’s health security, Ed Yong, staff writer for The Atlantic, wrote, “The Next Plague is Coming. Is America Ready?” for its July/August 2018 issue.

The picture Yong paints is of an America that is both prepared and unprepared for a devastating infectious disease outbreak.

In this Q&A, Yong discusses the article’s inspiration, how he created an emotional arc to the story and the challenges he faced in writing it. He also talks about stories he wished he’d had an opportunity to cover and what other journalists might want to consider writing about themselves.

How Tarbell dug through layers of complexity to explain why drug prices are so high     Posted: 08/09/18

Randy Barrett

The complexity of the drug supply chain in the United States is truly daunting and a significant factor in why many medications have become so expensive. Since its founding in 2017, Tarbell has studied the problem. When reporters couldn’t find a clear diagram of how the system works, they created an interactive version, with an emphasis on how each player takes a cut in a system that protects and perpetuates high prices. The diagram was one result of a three-month investigation into the high cost of drug prices by Randy Barrett and Marilyn Serafini, with Tarbell founder Wendell Potter serving as editor.

New data set helps reporter pinpoint critical staffing concerns in skilled nursing facilities     Posted: 07/25/18

Jordan Rau

In April, Medicare began using data to rate staffing for more than 14,000 skilled nursing facilities. Data from the Payroll-Based Journal provides a much better look at the how staffing relates to the quality of care than the less precise — and too easy to inflate — staffing data Medicare had been using since 2008, which was based on two-week snapshots of staffing homes provided to inspectors. The data shows staffing and occupancy on every day. It’s an unprecedented degree of granularity that allows for new levels of inquiry.

Jordan Rau of Kaiser Health News used the new data to focus on the wide fluctuations in nursing home staffing from day to day, with staffing consistently plummeting on weekends. Here he discusses some of his methodology and how he made some decisions about how to use the data.

Digging into high prices for rabies protection     Posted: 06/28/18

Andy Miller

Brenda Goodman

This story started the way most good stories do, with a tip. Andy Miller heard about a woman in Georgia named Tamara Davis, who was facing thousands of dollars in medical bills because of a freak occurrence – she found a bat clinging to a dishtowel in her kitchen sink.

After interviewing her, he was struck by the details. Even though she didn’t think she’d been bitten, Davis owed more than $10,000 for shots. “Think about that,” Andy said on the phone. “These were injections, and this is her bill.”

There was an interesting twist to her story, too. Davis had to be in Florida once when she was due for one of her series of shots. In Florida, she learned that shots to prevent rabies were offered through a local health department and were free. But back in Georgia, she had to go to hospital ER where the shots were costing her thousands of dollars.

Safe spaces, toxic stress, child trauma: A public health take on the Stephon Clark shooting     Posted: 06/28/18

Sammy Caiola

When police officers shot and killed 22-year-old Stephon Clark in Sacramento, Calif., in March, members of the black community erupted in grief and outrage. Clark was in his grandmother’s backyard and he was not armed. The officers had mistaken his cell phone for a gun.

As a health reporter Sammy Caiola wanted to explore the systemic health issues behind the incident. Here, she shares what she learned about community trauma, mental health and emotional emancipation circles.

Reporter examines causes of infant mortality in Indiana     Posted: 06/26/18

Giles Bruce

Way too many babies die in Indiana.

In 2017, 623 children in the state died before reaching their first birthdays. Indiana has the eighth-highest infant mortality rate in the United States, with 7.5 deaths per 1,000 live births.

Giles Bruce explored the reasons behind that statistic in his six-part series, "What's Killing Indiana's Infants," for The Northwest Indiana Times.

Reporting on surprise medical bills leads Mississippi hospital to change its ER billing policy     Posted: 06/26/18

Anna Wolfe

Batson Children’s Hospital has been charging patients thousands of dollars in unreasonable emergency room facility fees that do not match the level of care received. The hospital is part of the University of Mississippi Medical Center, the only academic medical center in the state.

As a result of complaints from patients and Anna Wolfe's reporting for the Jackson, Miss., Clarion Ledger on how these high charges are calculated, the hospital changed its billing policies to make the charges more fair. 

End-of-life series educates both readers and reporter     Posted: 06/22/18

Luanne Rife

Death is not something most people want to think about, let alone read about in the local newspaper. Reporting on end of life issues takes sensitivity, sound editorial judgement, patience and tenacity to develop relationships with patients and families, to share their stories and for them to allow a virtual stranger into their lives during such an intimate time.

Luanne Rife, health reporter at The Roanoke Times, not only wrote extensively about these issues but she gave readers a close up view of the process through intimate and memorable profiles. She was welcomed with open arms by several terminally ill patients and families, in her series Final Wishes: Navigating LIfe’s Last Journey.

Explaining complex world of pharmacy benefit managers led to series for this data journalist     Posted: 05/29/18

Katie Wedell

Even though prescription drug prices had become a hot topic by late 2016 with public outrage aimed at Mylan and other drug makers for price hikes, telling the complicated story of the industry forces that control those prices was a hard sell to my editors at the Dayton Daily News.

How do you convince someone a story is necessary when they don’t understand the first thing about the topic?

'Don't believe the hype:' Carreyrou talks about reporting the Theranos story     Posted: 05/15/18

John Carreyrou
Wall Street Journal reporter John Carreyrou spoke about his award-winning investigation of Theranos at Health Journalism 2018. (Photo: Len Bruzzese/AHCJ)

John Carreyrou is a two-time Pulitzer Prize winning journalist at the Wall Street Journal and author of "Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup" (release date May 21, 2018), which chronicles the spectacular fall of blood testing technology company Theranos.

In October 2015, Carreyrou began breaking stories on the Palo Alto, Calif.-based start up, which raised questions on its claim to have revolutionized the blood testing industry. Carreyrou was a keynote speaker at Health Journalism 2018. In his talk to fellow journalists, he explained how he got the Theranos story. His remarks have been condensed here.

Bringing superbugs to life for the radio     Posted: 05/04/18

Lynn Arditi

Lynn Arditi, a health reporter with Rhode Island Public Radio recently delved into the world of antibiotic resistant bacteria with a story, "Racing to Beat Superbugs: Study Shows Promise" about promising research that could result in a new class of antibiotics.

Arditi, who was a long-time print reporter at the Providence Journal before moving to radio last year, brings a whole new dimension to reporting on superbugs and laboratory work by adding sound to what could otherwise be a dry story about a report. Arditi talked more about how she did the story with Bara Vaida, AHCJ’s core topic leader on infectious diseases.

For series on doctor shortages, reporter tackles a local health story as big as the U.S.     Posted: 05/02/18

Kerry Klein

Kerry Klein, from Valley Public Radio, won first place for Health Policy (small outlet) in AHCJ's Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism for her series “Struggling for care,” looking at the physician shortage in California's San Joaquin Valley. For every 100,000 residents, the Valley has 39 primary care physicians – 22 percent less than the state average of 64 – and an even lower share of specialists. And it needs them. It has concentrated poverty and some of the most polluted air in the country. In this essay, originally written for the USC Center for Health Journalism, Klein explains the months-long project.

Using data, reporter shows how for-profit hospitals provide much less charity care than nonprofits     Posted: 04/05/18

Sean D. Hamill

In December, Pennsylvania published a new definition of charity care that requires hospitals to notify patients of their eligibility for such care, even if the hospital determined eligibility without the patient’s cooperation.

Sean D. Hamill (@SeanDHamill), a reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, explained that the new definition is important because hospitals previously used presumptive eligibility, a practice that helped drive up spending on charity care at Pennsylvania hospitals over 10 years because hospitals were shifting patients’ unpaid accounts from bad debt to charity care.

Reporter follows hygienists' battle to treat vulnerable patients     Posted: 03/29/18

Ana B. Ibarra

Sacramento-based California Healthline reporter Ana B. Ibarra has been following a battle being waged by independent practice dental hygienists who contend that actions by the state of California are forcing them to give up their most vulnerable patients, poor and frail people covered by Denti-Cal, the state’s Medicaid dental program.

In this Q&A, Ibarra offers insights into her coverage of this unfolding story and what it reveals about the complexities and challenges of obtaining and providing dental care to disabled patients under one state’s Medicaid system. And she provides some words of wisdom to fellow journalists who might want to explore this topic in their own states.

Turning an insider beat into a feature on ‘frequent fliers’     Posted: 03/28/18

Arthur Allen

Congress, federal agencies, lobbyists and others are all very interested in where federal dollars are going and how policy is being shaped. As the editor for Politico’s eHealth, Arthur Allen found that his accumulated knowledge allows him to churn out a larger tale for the wider public that goes beyond the beat into other drivers of health care.

Recently, that resulted in "The ‘Frequent Flier’ Program That Grounded a Hospital’s Soaring Costs," a 5,000-word feature that ran in Politico’s magazine about how technology-related health programs were impacting the lives of patients and providers.

Putting a human face on antibiotic resistance     Posted: 03/26/18

Chris Dall

Reporter Chris Dall, a reporter for CIDRAP news wrote “To Save a Life, Doctors Turn to Bacteria-Killing Viruses,” which won third place in the 2017 AHCJ Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism. (CIDRAP is the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.) The story vividly illustrates a potential new avenue for treating antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Here, Dall explains more about how he wrote the story.

Consumer site taps data to estimate which states have healthiest teeth and gums     Posted: 03/16/18

Jill Gonzalez

A state's oral health status represents an interesting indicator of the overall health and economic well-being of its people. Many factors play a role in ensuring the good oral health, from the availability and cost of professional dental services to access to nutritious food and optimally fluoridated water. 

Assessing and ranking the oral health of states represents a formidable task. But for the second year in a row, a consumer finance website has taken on the challenge. In this Q&A, WalletHub analyst Jill Gonzalez offers insights into the metrics used and the data crunched to create WalletHub's 2018 States with the Best & Worst Dental Health report.

Gonzalez also shares some wisdom on how reporters might use the report card to take a new look at oral health in their state.

Nonprofits, tax breaks and getting hospitals to keep people out of the hospital     Posted: 03/05/18

Jay Hancock

Kaiser Health News and Capital News Service have been publishing a series called “Baltimore’s Other Divide” – the state of health in a city which has vast disparities in health status, and some of the country’s best known hospitals. The latest installment, by Jay Hancock, Rachel Bluth and Daniel Trielli, focuses on asthma “hot spots.” Drawing on rich hospital data, they identified the worst places for asthma in the city – ZIP code 21223. People there, like 9-year-old Keyonta Parnell, go the emergency room more often, and call 911 more often. The hospitals know that. But it’s not in their financial interest to fix it.

How creating a map drove a bigger hepatitis story     Posted: 02/13/18

Lauren Weber

It's hard to believe that in 2018, a deadly vaccine-preventable disease that is most commonly spread through poor sanitation is taking American lives. But that's exactly what has happened over the past year. In September, Lauren Weber and Dana Liebelson reported the story on San Diego's unprecedented hepatitis A outbreak — where it has sickened 576 people to date and killed 20, most of whom were homeless or drug-users.

Now Weber explains how they discovered that separate outbreaks were happening across the country, from Michigan to New York — they just weren't getting national media attention. This was more than just a local malfeasance turned deadly; it was a broader trend nationally among homeless and drug-using populations.


Author reflects on writing a book about vaccines, medical research     Posted: 02/02/18


In 2017, D.C.-based Science writer Meredith Wadman published her first book, “The Vaccine Race: Science, Politics and the Human Costs of Defeating Disease.” The fascinating book profiles key vaccine researchers, including Leonard Hayflick and Stanley Plotkin. It tells the story of how vaccines for diseases such as rubella and rabies were created and how the research led to an understanding of how and why humans age. The book also takes an unflinching look at the dark side of medical research, including the use of vulnerable populations for vaccine clinical trials, before the U.S. developed patient consent laws.

In this Q&A Wadman talks about the process of writing her book and tips for journalists who want to write a book too.

An AHCJ panel and a pitch spark story on barber shops and health     Posted: 01/12/18

Avery Schneider

In the midst of a conference, sometimes the story is hard to see – or hear. But for one AHCJ member, Avery Schneider of Western New York’s WBFO, a panel discussion on the social determinants of health helped ignite a story idea months later when contacted about a new health program in the area.

Schneider, who attended Health Journalism 2017 in Orlando, acknowledged that he might have dismissed the pitch from a local spokesperson – if it wasn’t for something he had heard at the April conference’s panel on access and a similar program highlighted by one of the speakers.

Traveling to Tennessee for a possible preview of health insurance markets     Posted: 01/04/18

Erin Mershon

During her yearlong AHCJ Reporting Fellowship on Health Care Performance, Erin Mershon reported several feature stories on the impact of the Affordable Care Act in rural areas, including this story on Tennessee Farm Bureau Insurance – an established health plan that is exempt from Affordable Care Act rules and standards.

It gives some hints about what health insurance could look like under President Donald Trump’s executive order – a system that could lead to two parallel insurance markets – one where plans follow ACA rules and accept everyone, and one where the plans may be more affordable for people who are healthy but may not be available to those who are not.

Philly journalist discusses silver diamine fluoride and other children’s health issues     Posted: 12/20/17

Anna Nguyen

A prominent pediatric dental organization recently issued guidelines for a treatment that can offer a painless, minimally invasive alternative to drilling and filling teeth.

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) has offered a “provisional recommendation” for the use of silver diamine fluoride (SDF) to halt and manage tooth decay in children.

In the following Q and A, Nguyen discusses her coverage of oral health and other topics on her wide-ranging beat. She also shares some wisdom on tapping experts to get helpful information to her audience.

Reporters’ data analysis added credibility to anecdotal evidence of hospice neglect     Posted: 12/20/17

JoNel Aleccia

Melissa Bailey

Kaiser Health News reporters JoNel Aleccia and Melissa Bailey analyzed government inspection records to reveal that although U.S. hospices promise to be on call around the clock, dying patients and their families often face terrifying delays, no-shows and unanswered calls.

How a fellowship led to a series on global emerging infections     Posted: 12/15/17

Mark Johnson

Mark Johnson, a health and science writer for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, was looking for an idea to pitch in 2015 to the O’Brien Fellowship in Public Service Journalism when he got a call from a public relations source at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The story was about a professor of epidemiology’s three-year quest to learn what in 2012 had killed a popular 5-year-old Milwaukee County Zoo orangutan named Mahal. Affection for the orangutan, plus concern that other zoo animals also might be in danger, led the zoo to send the animal’s body to the university’s School of Veterinary Medicine for an investigation lead by Tony Goldberg, a professor of pathobiological sciences. After three years of work, Goldberg determined Mahal had died from a new species of tapeworm previously only found in Finland and Japan.

Belluz talks about back pain research     Posted: 12/01/17

Julia Belluz

Nearly all people experience back pain at some point, and it’s the second most common disability in the U.S., costing an estimated $90 billion annually. It’s also the kind of chronic pain that can lead to long-term opioid use, which has exploded in the epidemic Americans read about daily in health news. But does long-term opioid use even help back pain? What about chiropractic care? Or yoga?

Vox reporter Julia Belluz took a dive into the evidence to find out what actually causes it and what can — and can’t — treat it. In this Q&A, she describes how she approached and executed the Show Me the Evidence piece on back pain.

Editor details the challenges of covering genetic testing companies that make dubious claims     Posted: 11/15/17

Charles Piller

In December 2016, Charles Piller, the west coast editor for Stat, reported that a genetic test to identify patients who could be prone to addiction lacked a firm scientific basis. The article raised important questions about the Proove Opioid Risk test from Proove Biosciences in Irvine, Calif.

It was the first of four articles about Proove that Piller wrote over eight months that questioned the validity of the test and the company’s marketing practices. In this Q&A, Piller explains how he did the stories and how he and Stat reacted to charges that the reporting was inaccurate.

Dearth of dentistry: Reporter explores how state's economic health affects its oral health     Posted: 11/14/17

Caleb Slinkard

The Oklahoma newspapers in the Community Newspaper Holding Inc. (CNHI) chain offered readers a series that examines the everyday challenges that many state residents face in meeting basic needs. In one recent installment, reporting team member Caleb Slinkard offered a detailed exploration of how a scarcity of dental care is impacting poor and rural Oklahomans.

He reflects upon what oral health can tell us about economic health and how budget decisions have influenced the availability of benefits, providers and fluoridated water in the state. He also shares tips that might help fellow journalists take a similar look at oral health access in their own communities.

Behind the investigation into former HHS secretary's travels     Posted: 11/01/17

Tom Price

It began with a casual conversation with a source – and ended with Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price’s resignation. The two Politico health reporters who broke the story described their investigation into his taxpayer-funded travels in a Politico Magazine piece.

Joanne Kenen, AHCJ's health reform core topic leader and the pair's editor at Politico, recounts how they found and pursued the story.

Taking on a story about autism that no one wanted     Posted: 10/23/17

Apoorva Mandavilli

Apoorva Mandavilli won First Place in the Consumer/Feature (small) category of the 2016 AHCJ Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism.

Here, she discusses how she came up with the idea for her story, “How ‘shock therapy’ is saving some children with autism” and how she researched and reported it.

Lessons learned from one reporter’s immersion into end-of-life issues     Posted: 09/21/17

JoAnn Mar

The End of Life radio series was made possible by the AHCJ fellowship program last year. My four-part series was broadcast in January on KALW, the public radio station where I am based in San Francisco.

I started reporting on death and dying 20 years ago and decided to revisit this topic following the death of my mother in 2015. Her death was (and still is) very much on my mind, and I thought that plunging into this new reporting project would help me process my grief and channel my energies into something useful.

Digging into data to illuminate how vaccines reduce dependence on antibiotics     Posted: 09/15/17

Vaccines and antibiotic resistance are two hot topics in health news, but they’re not often part of the same story. A conversation with a pediatrician about how he talks to vaccine-hesitant parents sparked an idea for reporter Alice Callahan.

She took on the challenge of combining the two topics in a recent piece for FiveThirtyEight: “The Fight Against Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria Might Start With Vaccines” – a piece she pitched to FiveThirtyEight at Health Journalism 2017& in Orlando in April, and it was published in August.

Reporter shares tips for covering pandemic preparedness     Posted: 09/15/17

Bryan Walsh

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, a billionaire philanthropist who has been working to eradicate infectious diseases through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, warned the global health community in February 2017 that he believes there is a “reasonable possibility” there will be a pandemic in the near future and world leaders must do more to prepare.

Freelance journalist Bryan Walsh explored pandemic preparedness in a May 15, 2017, article “The World Is Not Ready For The Next Pandemic,” for Time magazine.

Covering use of antibiotics in medicine and agriculture     Posted: 09/15/17

Maryn McKenna

Overuse and misuse of antibiotics in medicine and agriculture has led to a rise in the number of people infected with antibiotic resistant bacteria.  In the U.S., about 2 million people annually are sickened by antibiotic resistance and 23,000 of them die. If nothing changes, more than 10 million people globally could die from antibiotic resistance bugs in 2050.

Award-winning journalist and AHCJ board member Maryn McKenna digs deep into this frightening trend with her new book “Big Chicken: The Incredible Story of How Antibiotics Created Modern Agriculture and Changed the Way the World Eats.”

How one reporter advanced a hospital cyberattack story     Posted: 08/22/17

Melanie Evans

Melanie Evans has been covering hospitals for many years, but she was not an expert on cybersecurity when the WannaCry ransomware cryptoworm began making its way through computer systems across the globe in May.

Evans reached out to various sources for interviews, but when some of those did not pan out, she watched testimonies and panel discussions to fill in the gaps. She also wasn't afraid to ask sources for resources to help her better understand the rapidly evolving issue of cybersecurity.

Evans offers tips on how to give a unique angle to a story already receiving a lot of coverage, making it stand out from the crowd.

Showing health care reform’s impact on lower-income home health workers     Posted: 08/15/17

Shefali Luthra

Shefali Luthra knows that too often that press releases landing in a journalist’s inbox often can go nowhere. But working with her editor, the Kaiser Health News (KHN) reporter turned that standard media outreach into a humanizing look at how current health reform efforts may affect home health care workers, who themselves often struggle for care and coverage.

Luthra reached out to various groups to find workers willing to talk about how the 2010 Affordable Care Act affected them – and how Republican efforts to dismantle the law could impact their own health.

Minn. reporter shares insights on covering the dental therapist debate     Posted: 07/27/17

Stephanie Dickrell

The debate over dental therapists continues to roil state houses across the country.

In 2009, Minnesota became the first state to adopt the dental therapist model for use statewide. Now about 70 of the new dental workers, sometimes compared to nurse practitioners, are offering preventive and restorative care in clinics and dental offices around the state.

So how are Minnesota’s dental therapists doing so far? Are they making a difference? Reporter Stephanie Dickrell of the St. Cloud Times decided to find out. In this Q and A, Dickrell offers insights into her reporting on dental needs in her community and the challenges and rewards she finds on her wide-ranging beat. She also provides tips to fellow reporters on reporting dental stories in their states.

News brief became catalyst for series on mental health, solitary confinement     Posted: 07/17/17

Taylor Knopf

Taylor Knopf once assumed that the use of solitary confinement was necessary and reserved for the worst of the worst. But after a year of covering North Carolina’s use of solitary confinement and the fate of mentally ill inmates, she discovered that on any given day, one of every seven prisoners was in solitary confinement in North Carolina. Many were put in solitary as a disciplinary action for infractions as minor as spitting or cursing.

Here she shares what she learned while reporting a two-part series about one man who embodied the reality of the broken mental health and criminal justice systems.

Digging into nursing home data found correlation between spending, quality     Posted: 05/22/17

Kay Lazar

The Boston Globe's Kay Lazar has written about nursing homes, off and on, for years. Two of the most common sentiments she hears: nursing home operators lament a lack of money and families complain about crummy care.

Here she shares some tips she learned while reporting on how the money is spent and whether there is a link to the quality of care patients receive. She says that precise numbers sometimes were hard to pinpoint, but there still was plenty of information.

Probing court records helps uncover West Virginia opioid profits     Posted: 05/05/17

Eric Eyre

When the Charleston Gazette-Mail went to court last year to unseal records detailing pain pill shipments to West Virginia, lawyers for the nation’s largest prescription drug distributors strongly objected, accusing the paper of sticking its “intrusive journalistic nose” where it didn’t belong.

Ultimately, the judge ordered that the records be unsealed. Eric Eyre used those as a starting point to track a deluge of prescription opioids into West Virginia, following the shipments to individual counties, pharmacies and families. The search culminated with the series, “Painkiller Profiteers,” which took first place for investigations in AHCJ’s 2016 Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism and won the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting. Here he explains how he did the reporting for that series.

ACA project shows how media outlets can partner to produce significant reporting in their region     Posted: 04/13/17

The House repeal bill may have failed, but long-run risks to coverage – through later congressional or administrative action ... or inaction – remain.  This “how I did it’ essay describes how seven public radio stations collaborated to get a sense of how the loss of coverage would affect their communities, already hard hit by the heroin crisis and all the stresses and strains that rural hospitals and clinics already experience.

Kentucky-based health reporter Mary Meehan, part of the Ohio Valley ReSource collaborative, describes it.

Get beyond the hype to cover health IT at conferences     Posted: 04/04/17

Neil Versel

Health information technology came into prominence in health care with the advent of the federal “meaningful use” program in 2011 that offered Medicare and Medicaid incentives for adopting and meaningfully using electronic health records. Health IT is not a new field, however. The earliest electronic health records (EHRs) date from the early 1960s in academic medicine, with electronic billing systems and even telemedicine not far behind.

I have been covering health IT since 2001, a year after I got my first job as a health care journalist. One of the duties of the beat for a trade journalist is reporting on industry conferences because that’s where the networking opportunities are. There is no better way to cultivate sources than in person.

Finding purpose in mental health coverage     Posted: 03/30/17

Jaclyn Cosgrove, a health writer at The Oklahoman in Oklahoma City, was sorting through jail inspection reports from the state when something struck her about a significant number of them.

They were not just run-of-the-mill prisoners. Their health problems, particularly mental illness, were pervasive and hard to ignore. Instead of receiving health care from medical providers and institutions in their communities, scores of Oklahomans – particularly those with mental illnesses – had been incarcerated and were now relying on the criminal justice system to receive care.

Thus began her four-part series, “A Broken System,” which began in November 2016.

Reporter filled in gaps of a state report to provide fuller picture of hospital prices     Posted: 03/24/17

Claire Hughes

How often has this happened to you? Over the transom comes a report you believe will be the basis for a section-front story or maybe warrant page one. Many times, you’re right.

However, occasionally what you thought might be a solid report leaves important questions unanswered. That’s what happened to Claire Hughes, who covers health care for the Albany Times Union. Last fall, she received a report that she believed could be the basis for a useful article on hospital prices that consumers could use when choosing among the hospitals on her beat in the capital region.

To Hughes’ chagrin, however, the report left out what she considered to be among the most salient details for consumers: which hospitals had the highest prices and which had the lowest.


Reporter turned on-deadline account of a dental death into more than a tragic story     Posted: 03/23/17

Sammy Caiola

Sacramento Bee health reporter Sammy Caiola worked quickly to give her readers the story about the death of a young California father from complications of a dental infection.

Her reporting began at 10 a.m. on Jan. 31 when she found the kernel of the story in an email. By that afternoon, Caiola had tracked down and visited with the man's grieving widow, interviewed a knowledgeable local dentist on the causes of dental deaths and located peer-reviewed research that added depth and context to her piece. She managed to file a basic version of her story by 2:30 p.m. and turned in a longer version of the story by the 5 p.m. print deadline.

In this Q&A, Caiola walks us through that busy day of reporting and reflects on what surprised her most in her work on the story. She also offers tips to colleagues who might find themselves covering a dental death on deadline.

In a state that spurned Medicaid expansion, the recently unemployed fall through the cracks     Posted: 03/01/17

Jenny Deam

Houston Chronicle reporter Jenny Deam last year wrote an in-depth story about how a mill is closing in a Texas town cost people not only their livelihood but also their health coverage. And because the mill was so crucial to the Cuero economy, that closure had ripple effects that overshadowed the beleaguered community.

Deam now has written a “How I Did It’ story for AHCJ about how she uncovered the story. The project enabled her to provide an example of how the politics of the Affordable Care Act had made it impossible for unemployed mill workers in a “bright red corner of a red state” to obtain affordable coverage.

Reporter discusses reporting on efforts to make dental health a primary care priority     Posted: 02/21/17

Elizabeth Whitman

Millions of Americans face challenges in finding oral health care services. Creative efforts are underway to tackle the problem.

Some of the more exciting initiatives aim to broaden access by delivering dental care in community and primary care settings rather than traditional dental offices. In a recent feature for Modern Healthcare, quality and safety beat reporter Elizabeth Whitman looked at some of these approaches.

Whitman reminded readers that broadening access to dental care helps individual patients and the health care system as a whole. In this Q and A, she talks about how she tackled the story and shares tips on where reporters can find examples in their communities.

Philly news team’s lead-poisoning series prompts city response     Posted: 02/16/17

Wendy Ruderman
Wendy Ruderman

Barbara Laker
Barbara Laker

Dylan Purcell
Dylan Purcell

Philadelphia Daily News reporters Barbara Laker, Wendy Ruderman and The Philadelphia Inquirer's Dylan Purcell examined hundreds of cases of lead contamination and poisoning.

They made a startling find: thousands of children in their city still were being poisoned. In the wake of the lead water crisis in Flint, Mich., the team found a crisis in their community that was afflicting children at a far higher rate than even the Detroit suburb of Flint.

Their work not only drew gasps – it demanded attention from officials and pledges of action. Check out their new article for AHCJ to learn how they pulled together this initial piece of an on-going project.

Making it personal: Chronicling the end of life     Posted: 02/02/17

If you are terminally ill, in excruciating pain, and want a doctor to help you die, in most states you have few options. You can shoot yourself, poison yourself, pull on a hood and inhale helium. But if anyone helps you, even drives you to the store to buy supplies, that person can be held as an accessory to murder. So even if your spouse or daughter or doctor agrees you should be able to decide when to let go, they can’t help you.

Lane DeGregory wanted to explore the issue of physician-aid-in-dying, which was legal in a few states and had just been passed in Canada and California. She wondered: What options do people in other states have?

Here she tells us how she found a couple to write about, what she learned about end-of-life options and the challenges in reporting such an intimate part of people's lives.

Reporter: Oral health has become important gateway to other issues on his beat     Posted: 11/28/16

Paul Sisson

For low-income elders, dental care can be very hard to find. Medicare does not include routine dental benefits and seniors living on low or fixed incomes may lack the money to pay out of pocket for care. Untreated tooth decay causes pain and contributes to tooth loss, poor nutrition, social isolation and declining overall health.

In San Diego, an innovative nonprofit dental clinic that recently opened in a senior center is aiming to address the problem. Reporter Paul Sisson, who covers health care for the San Diego Union-Tribune paid a visit and provided readers with an engaging story that captured the spirit of the place and highlighted the deep needs it aims to serve. In this Q and A, Sisson talks about his work on the dental clinic feature and shares some wisdom on how he stays on top of his busy health care beat.

Recalculating your perspective on health, gender and the use of pronouns     Posted: 11/22/16

Christine Grimaldi

In my freelance work, fact-checking often rests with me as the reporter. I thought I had done a thorough job on my latest assignment, a Slate article about LGBTQ romance novels. My article instead prompted a flurry of criticism over citing a self-professed authority on romances pairing male protagonists.

It quickly thrust me into an issue facing many health reporters — reassessing how we write about health, gender and pronouns. The source turned out to be a woman writing under a pseudonym. I should have vetted this person’s credentials with some of my trusted sources. After updating the story, I decided to turn what was the worst episode of my professional career into a guide for fellow journalists.

Radio reporter discusses Medicaid dental coverage and how his health emergency influenced his work     Posted: 10/21/16

Andy Marso

It is a scenario that regularly plays out in statehouses during times of fiscal austerity: funding for Medicaid dental services goes on the chopping block. A shortage of Medicaid dental providers already is major problem in many communities and dentists often blame low reimbursement rates and budget cuts for making the problem worse.

Reporter Andy Marso has been ;following the problem in Kansas. He recently used the story of a dental provider’s ongoing struggle to get needed care to poor and disabled patients to capture the worries about the latest round of anticipated cuts to the state’s Medicaid dental program.

How to break down a big topic into a reader-friendly multipart series     Posted: 10/19/16

Anna Gorman

Anna Gorman says the statistics were startling: About one-third of patients more than 70 years old, and more than half of patients over 85, leave the hospital more disabled than when they arrived.

She came across these numbers while researching a potential series of stories for Kaiser Health News about how elderly patients fare in hospitals. She was curious about the reasons for a high rate of disability. After extensive research, a common theme emerged and it was clear that this wasn't simply because the patients were old or sick.

Here, she describes how she researched the series, organized her reporting and the stories, and even shares what she thinks would have made the series even stronger.

Reporter discusses what fueled her Medicaid reporting     Posted: 10/03/16

Maggie Clark

Reporters can find it daunting to cover Medicaid, the huge state-administered federal program charged with providing health care benefits to more than 70 million Americans.

Maggie Clark embraced the challenge with a series for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that delved into many aspects of Florida’s troubled Medicaid system. Stories have explored the shortage of preventive and specialty care (particularly the formidable barriers faced by poor patients in accessing dental services), the struggles faced by health care providers who work with the program and the long history of efforts to reform the state’s system.

Clark’s multi-faceted project also has featured interactive graphics, unique outreach efforts and partnerships with a range of community, media and health care organizations.

Now, Clark explains how a fellowship helped to get the project off the ground and how she and her editors worked together to plan and structure the series. She also discusses lessons learned, including tips on how she sold her bosses on taking on this major project.

How leveraging a study’s raw data can help kick up your coverage a notch     Posted: 09/29/16

Markian Hawryluk

Each week my email inbox is swamped with press releases about hundreds of new medical studies. The ones that catch my eye are generally those that I can build on in some way to make them more meaningful for my readers at the Bend Bulletin in Oregon. And that’s precisely what happened this summer with our coverage of a study on pharmacy access from one our state’s universities.

The study was conducted by researchers at Oregon State University. But more importantly for me, the researchers used Oregon-specific data to reach their conclusions. I knew I could build on the data for a story that meant more to my readers, and link it to larger trends in health care.

State budget cuts had adverse effects on patient care, leading to hospital’s decertification     Posted: 09/23/16

Last December, Megan Hart was reading the local newspaper before heading to her first day of work at KHI News Service when she came across a few paragraphs about a public notice stating one of Kansas’ two state psychiatric hospitals would lose Medicare payments within a month.

Hart recognized that there was likely more to the story because it's rare for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to ‘decertify’ a facility or cut payments.

"Therefore, I knew something serious must have happened at Osawatomie State Hospital. The issue was even more important because in eastern Kansas most people who are involuntarily committed are automatically sent to OSH. The only other state psychiatric facility covers the western part of the state, and relatively few private facilities take involuntary patients, even if the person has insurance."

Here she tells us how she pursued the story, which became a project, and who her best sources were.

Unsafe anesthesia use in dental procedures for children continues to be an issue     Posted: 09/06/16

Brooks Egerton

In the wake of the Dallas Morning News’ seven-part Deadly Dentistry series, Texas media outlets are now following the story of yet another child left dead after a dental visit.

Daisy Lynn Torres suffered complications from anesthesia while undergoing a procedure in an Austin dental office last spring, a medical examiner recently concluded, according to the Austin American-Stateman.

Now the Texas State Board of Dental Examiners has opened an investigation into the death of the 14-month-old girl.

Meanwhile a forensic dental examiner who reviewed Daisy’s records at the request of the medical examiner’s office raised questions about whether the child even needed treatment in the first place.

Brooks Egerton, who left the Dallas Morning News in a newsroom buyout since the publication of Deadly Dentistry late last year has been following the coverage. He reflected on the death and offered advice on how reporters should approach these stories.

Reporting all the angles on organ transplants and improving their odds     Posted: 09/06/16

David Wahlberg

After two insurance companies stopped referring patients to the University of Wisconsin Hospital’s kidney transplant program several years ago because of its lower-than-expected success rates, David Wahlberg learned there is much more to organ transplants than feature stories on joyful recipients.

He explored transplant policy last year through an AHCJ Reporting Fellowship on Health Care Performance, initially planning to focus on the increasing attention to success rates by private insurers and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

But, while one of his stories touched on that, his research revealed other issues, which he organized into three main themes in a nine-part series for the Wisconsin State Journal.

How one reporter helped launch his paper’s new aging section     Posted: 08/29/16

Gary Rotstein

Most reporters are multitasking experts. Not only are they reporting and writing the main story for a media outlet’s print edition and website, but they’re usually also compiling multimedia add-ons such as video, audio and photos. Then there’s the Tweeting, Facebooking, Snapchatting, Instagramming and other social media promotion they are asked to do to drive website traffic — all while getting a jump on their next story (or two).

So why would an experienced journalist approach his editor to take on even more responsibility? Gary Rotstein, a self-admitted anti-digital-anything reporter at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, realized that the online environment could actually be a place where stories about his beat — aging — could shine.

Reporter describes how she tied lead-tainted water data to children     Posted: 08/26/16

Laura Ungar

The lead-tainted water in Flint, Mich., got one national reporter wondering: What other areas could have children affected by dangerous water?

Laura Ungar, who covers national and regional health stories for USA Today and Gannett, was part of a team looking at the wider implications of the water crisis in Flint to go beyond the Detroit suburb and seek what other areas could be facing unknown risks.

For Ungar, the story also showed how so many health stories – here, it was water and infrastructure – touch on issues of access and equality, she said.

In this Q&A, she discusses how she reported the story, including getting families to talk to her and what surprised her about the story.

Project helps student reporters bring health issues to life in remote corner of Georgia     Posted: 08/10/16

Patricia Thomas

Reporting on rural health issues is no small task. There’s a question of logistics, drives are long and no one may want to talk once you arrive. Now try making a 400-mile round-trip over five days full of daily reporting excursions with nine students in tow and you’ve got yourself a real reporting adventure.

Finance editor reports on how health systems replace fee-for-service with value-based payment     Posted: 07/01/16

When revolutionary change sweeps across an industry, innovation is among the most thrilling journalism beats.

In the health care-industry revolution prompted by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in 2010 and husbanded by the Obama administration, the pioneers face a harrowing ride, with providers and payers playing the role of test pilots for a slew of new business models in the shift away from fee-for-service medicine to value-based care.

Tagging along with the pioneers to chronicle their story can be a bumpy ride, too. Health care innovators are on the cutting edge of change, often with no road map and never with historical trend data in hand. One of the oldest implements in the journalism toolbox becomes essential: finding reliable sources and trend setters who can help guide the reporting of the story through the twists and turns of an evolving marketplace.

Investigating cutbacks in Ontario's home care system     Posted: 06/27/16

The Globe and Mail's award-winning home care investigation began after Kelly Grant read local newspaper stories about home-care clients in two different Ontario cities having their care cut off or reduced because of funding shortages. Her hunch was that if it was happening in two places, chances were it was happening across the province.

She teamed up with senior reporter Elizabeth Church, a veteran scoop machine and they began to dig. 

That led to a three-month pursuit involving dozens of interviews – some with elderly clients who were afraid to talk to the media, and indeed had been warned not to – and the difficult and often Byzantine task of getting documents from the government's 14 regional home-care agencies. 

Uncovering health debt collection tactics     Posted: 06/21/16

Two and a half years ago, Paul Kiel set a broad goal to provide the first comprehensive view of debt collectors’ use of lawsuits to collect debt. He covers consumer finance for ProPublica, and was amazed that there was so little information, especially given how dire the consequences can be for the debtor: Laws in most states permit the plaintiff, after obtaining a court judgment, to garnish a quarter of the debtor’s after-tax wages or empty their bank account.

All anybody knew was that there were millions of these suits every year, although the exact number was anybody’s guess, and it seemed like there were more than ever. But there were no national or state-level statistics, so he had to find ways to fill that void.

Online reporter discusses her coverage of challenges at California’s Medicaid dental program     Posted: 06/15/16

Ana Ibarra

Denti-Cal, California’s Medicaid dental program faces ongoing challenges in getting care to its roughly 13 million beneficiaries. Only about half the children and a quarter of the adults covered by the program are getting dental services.  A shortage of participating dentists is a major problem and there are other troubles as well.

In a recent piece for California Healthline, reporter Ana Ibarra offered a look at efforts to reform the system.

In this Q&A for AHCJ, Ibarra reflects upon the future of Denti-Cal and discusses the rest of her complex and rich beat as a web reporter for California Healthline. She also shares some advice on the value of journalism fellowships in developing skills and making connections that can help reporters excel.

In nursing home investigations, a small tip can lead to an iceberg of problems     Posted: 06/14/16

Serious problems at nursing homes are often easy to conceal. That is, unless you specifically dig for patterns of fraud, abuse, or misconduct.  That’s exactly what Boston Globe journalist Kay Lazar did to uncover a pattern of high profits for the owners, while complaints and problems mounted. 

Her award-winning coverage involved trying to talk to unwilling company officials, hearing from frustrated employees and the families of people who received questionable care, public records requests and more.

In this article, Lazar explains the extensive efforts involved in pursuing a lead that still has unanswered questions.

How USA Today took a deep data dive into the lead-contaminated water story     Posted: 06/06/16

Mark NicholsNearly everyone now knows how lead contamination in Flint, Michigan’s public water system has jeopardized the health of residents. But fewer people realize that elevated lead levels in public water systems are now a nationwide problem.

Mark Nichols reached that sobering conclusion in early February when he began delving into data from the Environmental Protection Agency.

In the aftermath of Flint’s water crisis, editors at USA Today asked him to develop and analyze the data for stories that would take a national look at lead contamination in water systems. Reporters already had begun to cobble together information about incidents of high lead levels in other parts of the country. Here is his account of how he did that.

How one veteran reporter is bringing a fresh eye to the health beat     Posted: 05/05/16

David OlingerDenver Post reporter David Olinger describes himself as a “veteran reporter new to the health care beat.” Over the years, he has produced award-winning pieces on the struggles of physically and mentally wounded soldiers who were sent back to combat, the state’s foreclosure crisis and the victimization of homeowners by predatory real estate investors. He also played a key role in the Post's Pulitzer-winning coverage of the Columbine High School massacre.

These days, amid reports on teen birth rates and the implications of the theft of the powerful narcotic drug fentanyl from a local hospital, Olinger regularly picks up on stories with oral health angles.

In this Q and A, he talks about how he got interested in writing about Colorado’s dental deserts, the concerns that drove his coverage of a University of Colorado nutrition expert’s ties with Coca-Cola, and where he – and other reporters – might want to look when writing about the growing popularity of e-cigarettes.

Despite offerings, reporter finds nursing home beds and funds still lacking     Posted: 05/04/16

Rick Jurgens

Reporter Rick Jurgens started out to compare health services for low-income people in Vermont and New Hampshire because those states have similar populations and economies but noticeably different political cultures. He assumed the comparison would be doable because both states are small and geographically compact. 

He soon realized the volume of work entailed in doing such a broad comparison would be unmanageable.

Here, he shares his experience and some of the techniques he used to produce two packages comparing mental health care and nursing home care in the two states.

Real-world reminder of the dangers of a tiny study     Posted: 04/20/16

As reporters we are constantly parachuting into situations and exiting again just as quickly. A great many of our stories are written from intense-but-limited observations of a situation.

Sometimes we get lucky and are allowed to do long term projects in which we can fully immerse our professional selves for a longer time but, in today's newsroom, those times are disappearing.

Mostly we're here, we take notes, record 60 seconds of video and we're back out. Follow up is usually done via phone, emails or messaging apps.

If I had been doing a story on a recent "assignment," that methodology would have been the wrong approach and a disservice to readers and the story. Let me tell you why.

Coverage of legislative fight over hygienists spotlights work of regional health news service     Posted: 04/18/16

Through public fights, complicated amendments and rumors of passage, Andy Miller of Georgia Health News followed the drama of House Bill 684.

And when the bill recently died a sudden death in the Georgia statehouse, Miller was there to let readers know.

In Georgia, a state with roughly 150 federally-designated dental provider shortage areas, the lack of oral health services is an important topic. Miller’s coverage helped highlight the deep and ongoing debate in his state over how best to meet the care needs of many vulnerable residents.

In this Q&A, Miller offers insights into how his coverage of the dental hygiene bill unfolded, and where oral health care coverage fits into the larger mission at Georgia Health News. He also shares some wisdom on how he balances his time and responsibilities at the independent nonprofit news organization.

Document management systems can help find the story in thousands of pages     Posted: 04/14/16

After a number of media companies, including my paper, the Idaho Statesman, successfully sued for court files improperly sealed during a federal trial against a local hospital system, I went home with a thumb drive full of digitized documents. A beautiful vision greeted me when I plugged the drive into my computer: hundreds of internal memos, emails, text messages, board presentations and spreadsheets.

I knew these documents held secrets. I knew they'd help our readers better understand the inner workings of health care. But I didn’t know how to organize them and make sense of hundreds of PDFs, especially without the context lawyers provide in a courtroom explaining their importance. So, the pressing question I faced was this: How would I organize these documents into a relevant story or series of stories and still have a life?

How a one-word idea can lead to a Page One story     Posted: 03/29/16

When Amy Ellis Nutt  joined the health, science and environment team at The Washington Post, where her beat is the brain, it seemed a good time to revisit her list of story ideas. She describes her list as often being one-word suggestions rather than full-fledged concepts. One of them was “loneliness.”

She says, "The tools available today to neuroscientists have changed the research – and reporting – landscape. In recent years, scientists have found the neural correlates associated with everything from moral decision-making to murder. There are few aspects of our mental, emotional, social and physical lives that cannot somehow now be tracked back to the brain."

As she researched loneliness, she found that it seems like one of those semi-afflictions of mental well-being that hasn’t been very well studied.

There’s not one reason why co-ops are failing; there are dozens     Posted: 03/17/16

In March 2014, I scored an interview with the chief executive of a new health insurer called Maine Community Health Options.

The interview wasn't much of a "get" by any standard. MCHO was a little-known health plan that sold coverage to customers on Maine's state exchange. But it was exciting to me for one reason: MCHO was a consumer-oriented and operated plan, part of the first generation of nonprofit health insurers created by the Affordable Care Act and funded by taxpayers.

The co-op program, which consisted of 23 startups, offered an alternative to buying coverage from the traditional big insurance companies. The individual co-ops would ideally be more community-focused, friendlier and more accessible to the average consumer, and maybe even cheaper.

In health reporting, hard data provides a sound skeletal structure for good anecdotes     Posted: 03/08/16

Pesticide use by farmers linked to high rates of depression, suicides.” This story came about because I saw a federal study release from an ongoing cohort of U.S. farmers and farmworkers linking pesticide exposure to depression.

I dug a little deeper into peer-reviewed research and saw that this particular study was the tip of the iceberg. The association was quite prevalent in the literature.

Writing about mental health is challenging. Writing about suicide is challenging. These are issues that bring up a lot of emotions for the people suffering and for those around them. As part of this story I spoke with a widow whose husband, a farmer, killed himself. Speaking with her was, without question, the most difficult interview I’ve conducted as a journalist.

Rush to robotic surgery outpaces medical evidence, critics say     Posted: 03/03/16

Richard Mark Kirkner

I was flipping through AARP The Magazine — yeah, I’m of that age — in January 2014 when I came across a small news item on robotic surgery. I can’t even remember whether it was favorable or negative, but it piqued my curiosity because I had some background with robotic surgery. I had been editor of a trade magazine for general surgeons back in 2003, when the first surgical robots began appearing in hospitals. I had a close-up view of robotic surgery growing from novelty to standard of care.

After I saw the item, I went to PubMed and found a few studies that reported varied results with robotic surgery, particularly with its growing use in gynecology. I also was aware, from my aforementioned days with the surgeon magazine, that robotic operations cost more than conventional surgery and required quite a learning curve for the surgeon and operating room staff.

Reporter discusses frontline coverage of debate over expanded use of dental therapists     Posted: 02/29/16

Will Drabold

A recent news package in The Seattle Times by reporter Will Drabold took a look at how the controversy over dental therapists is unfolding in the state of Washington.

Drabold examined the challenges faced by poor Medicaid patients in seeking dental care. He spoke with health care advocates who believe that technically-trained mid-level providers could bring much-needed care to poor and isolated communities. He also interviewed tribal leader Brian Cladoosby, whose Swinomish tribe had just defied state restrictions to hire a dental therapist. And he spoke with state dental association officials, who made it clear that they ­– like the American Dental Association – believe dental therapists lack the training to perform these expanded duties.

In this Q&A, Drabold discusses how he approached the project and what he learned in his reporting. He also offers encouraging words to other journalists who might find themselves writing about the dental therapist controversy as it unfolds in their states.

When a doctor threatened to sue this California reporter, he did what journalists do best     Posted: 02/22/16

Ron Shinkman

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to face a lawsuit over a story you’ve written, you’ll want to read how Ron Shinkman responded when a source threatened to sue.

The editor and publisher of Payers & Providers, a newsletter in Los Angeles, Shinkman got the phone call we dread. On the line that day in March 2012 was Jeannette Martello, M.D., a plastic surgeon Shinkman had covered when the California Department of Managed Health Care enjoined her from balance billing her patients.

As Shinkman writes in a new How I Did It, the article was a just-the-facts brief based on a report the insurance regulator issued. With some digging, he discovered that Martello had a history of suing her own patients. In fact, Shinkman found Martello had filed 70 lawsuits in Superior and Small Claims courts in Los Angeles County against her patients. By looking through court and lien records, Shinkman uncovered many of Martello’s patients-turned-lawsuit defendants who became sources in a report he wrote for Payers & Providers.

How one slide at an AHCJ workshop led to story in The New York Times     Posted: 02/18/16

Laura Beil

Freelancer Laura Beil turned a trip to AHCJ’s Rural Health Workshop into a nearly 2,000-word feature for The New York Times’ science section last fall.

Here she reveals how she got the story idea, the challenges of pursuing a very sensitive subject and what she learned about rural mental health along the way.

Keeping longterm coverage fresh: Collaborating with multimedia to show tale of Medicaid expansion     Posted: 02/12/16

Jeffrey Young

When you write about the same subject all the time, thinking up new ways to engage readers on ongoing issues can be difficult. That's especially true with slow-moving stories you cover iteratively over a period of months and years, such as the advancement of the Affordable Care Act's Medicaid expansion.

Over the past three-plus years, Jeffrey Young has written numerous stories about the policy, political, economic, and human interest aspects of Medicaid expansion for The Huffington Post.  The stories tended to focus narrowly on one or a few states, or broadly on the overarching debate. Because the Medicaid expansion is such a crucial part of the ACA – and in particular the dramatic reduction in the uninsured rate – he wanted to come up with a new method of presenting this information that both would appeal to those who'd been following the story and attract interest from those who hadn't.

Reporting on facial reconstructive surgery offers window into how war spurs innovation     Posted: 02/11/16

Liza Gross

A 2014 medical piece for Discover on soldiers’ facial reconstruction came about in an indirect and unexpected fashion. The original inspiration came from a character in the HBO series “Boardwalk Empire” who had lost much of his face in WWI and wore a mask to conceal his injuries. 

Journalist Liza Gross wrote a short essay about the trauma associated with disfiguring facial injuries. She writes that she didn’t think too much more about it until a press conference at an American Association for the Advancement of Science conference on facial reconstruction. She decided to learn more about the state of research on facial repair. Here she shares what she learned about the field, how she reported on it and how war spurs innovations in medicine.

Attempt to ‘crowdfund’ kidney surgery prompts exploration of ethical issues surrounding coverage     Posted: 02/05/16

Jackie Farwell

When Christine Royles painted a plea for a kidney donor on the rear window of her car, she had no idea of the ethical dilemma she was about to provoke.

As we covered the hospital’s response to the crowdsourcing effort behind her surgery, I worked with Anthony Ronzio, the news and audience director at the BDN, to sort through the medical crowdfunding editorial policy questions inherent in medical crowdfunding. In so doing, we wrestled internally with the role of media coverage in Royles’ ultimately successful search for a donor.

Local stories add color to data-driven reporting on hospital financial performance     Posted: 01/22/16

Not-for-profit hospitals are required give back to their communities to justify their tax exempt status. Those efforts usually take the form of providing charity care to the uninsured or subsidizing the training of new doctors.

A number of health policy researchers and politicians have been putting hospital community benefit spending under the microscope. There are even examples of municipalities that have stripped hospitals of their tax-exempt status when they determined that these providers were operating like for-profit entities.

During Beth Kutscher 2015 AHCJ Reporting Fellowship on Health Care Performance, she looked at the impact Medicaid expansion had on hospital finances. And she spent some time reporting on how not-for-profit hospitals have to give back to their communities to justify their tax exempt status. See what she found.

Reporter explains how he wove data, human stories into compelling series on dental deaths     Posted: 01/13/16

In early 2014, a 4-year-old Dallas boy named Salomon Barahona Jr. died after undergoing sedation for a dental procedure.

The child’s death spurred Dallas Morning News reporter Brooks Egerton to embark upon what turned out to be a major reporting project – an 18-month investigation of dental safety in the United States.

Egerton sifted through thousands of records detailing patient harm and endangerment drawn from many sources: state and federal regulators, police, coroners, academic researchers, courts, litigators, insurers, dental schools and dentists themselves.

In this Q&A, Egerton offers insights into how he wrote his Deadly Dentistry series.

Health writer tells how she got the story on experimental dental treatment     Posted: 12/16/15

Andrea McDaniels

Baltimore Sun reporter Andrea McDaniels was surprised to learn about an off-label treatment for tooth decay that some dentists are using.

In the fight against decay-causing bacteria, some researchers call the agent a "silver-fluoride bullet."

They point to evidence suggesting that SDF is not only effective in halting the decay process but in preventing the development of new caries. The material is cheap and can be easily painted onto the affected tooth.

In this Q&A, McDaniels tells us more about her work on the story, and offers some insights into how she manages her busy health and medical beat at the Sun.

Batea initiative hopes to help improve Wikipedia health content     Posted: 12/14/15

Fred Trotter

It's well known that Google, Facebook and dozens of other companies mine the browsing histories of their users and use that data for advertising. But imagine what we might learn if we homed in on the browsing history of medical students browsing clinical research sites during their studies? That's exactly the idea behind a new browser extension called Batea, recently released by the company DocGraph.

Tara Haelle talked to founder Fred Trotter, an AHCJ member who has been working for years to make big data accessible about Batea and how it might serve journalists in the future.

Award winner explains how she dug into the reasons for high U.S. drug prices     Posted: 11/17/15

Roxanne Nelson

No other country in the world pays as much for drugs as the United States — not even other wealthy countries such as Canada, Germany, Japan or France. Using studies, published analyses, news stories and expert interviews, journalist Roxanne Nelson dug into the reasons for the big disparities in drug pricing between the U.S. and other countries in her Medscape story “Why Are Drug Costs So High in the United States?” (registration required).

In the following Q&A, Nelson explains her reporting and writing process for the piece, which earned second place in the Trade Publications/Newsletters category of the 2014 Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism.

Reporter’s piece targets impact of poverty on children, community     Posted: 11/11/15

Brie Zeltner

Brie Zeltner has been covering northeast Ohio’s health care industry for more than eight years at The (Cleveland, Ohio) Plain Dealer. But earlier this year her work garnered fresh attention when she became the inaugural winner of the Urban Health Journalism Prize.

Her 2014 piece took a deep dive into the effects of poverty on children’s health in the city. She combed several databases to create a critical snapshot of poverty and its impact on births, asthma, behavior and stress, among other health issues. She also took a closer look at local efforts and programs aimed at mediating the impact and addressing the city’s health gaps among its youngest residents.

Los Angeles reporter talks about how she covers the ‘megaclinic’ phenomenon     Posted: 10/30/15

Susan Abram

In a recent story for the Los Angeles Daily News, reporter Susan Abram informed readers that once again, a city sports arena was being transformed into a massive health clinic, and once again, hundreds of dentists, optometrists, nurses and other volunteers were preparing to offer free care to people in need.

In this Q & A, Abram reflects on the things she has learned covering urban "megaclinics" over the years. And she shares some wisdom with fellow reporters on returning to an old story with new eyes.

One series leads to another for Georgia journalist looking into Medicaid expansion under the ACA     Posted: 10/14/15

Misty Williams

In the spring of 2014, I began working on a series of stories spotlighting the health care “coverage gap” in Georgia amid the state’s decision not to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

An estimated 400,000 Georgians fit into this category. They make too much money to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to be eligible for tax subsidies through the federal Health Insurance Marketplace.

How one reporter re-purposed her broadcast, online work for a new audience     Posted: 10/02/15

Joanne Silberner

Joanne Silberner did a heavily reported series of radio stories and web posts on cancer in developing countries in 2013. In 2014, Robert Lott, deputy editor of the health policy journal Health Affairs, asked if she would be willing to do a version for his journal. It would be easy, he said – just update the reporting.

It wasn’t exactly easy, but re-working the stories was fun, and remunerative. Here, she tells us about the experience, and offers some tips for other reporters.

End-of-life discussions: Perspective from a nurse who is a patient     Posted: 09/30/15

Amy Berman

Amy Berman – a nurse, a nationally recognized expert in care of the aged and senior program officer at the John A. Hartford Foundation – has a fatal form of breast cancer. She recently wrote eloquently for The Washington Post about why she feels the advanced-care planning conversations she has had with her health-care team have been so important. 

CMS will soon decide whether or not to pay doctors and other health care providers for these kinds of conversations about end-of-life planning. Berman's perspective is interesting as reporters prepare to cover the decision.

Reporting at the nexus of health care and crime     Posted: 09/29/15

Reporter Tonya Alanez covers the crime beat for the Sun Sentinel, based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Just the same, there are times when her beat leads her to health care stories. Last month, she filed a story (site registration required) that offered a troubling look at dentistry in South Florida. She reported on a state investigation into two dentists suspected of fraudulently billing Medicaid for dentures and extractions that frail and elderly patients may not have needed – or even received.

It wasn’t her first assignment at the intersection of dentistry and crime. A couple of summers ago, she took a look at the problem of unlicensed dentists and their unlucky victims.

Reporter explains how he turned a troubling hospice death into an investigative series     Posted: 09/21/15

Charles Piller

“An Unquiet Death,” my five-part investigative narrative that appeared in August in The Sacramento Bee, looked into the death of Jerome Lackner, former maverick leader of California’s Department of Health, one-time personal physician to Cesar Chavez, and a savior of countless addicts. Jerome passed away in 2010 during hospice care in his Davis, Calif., home. His primary caregivers had been his second wife, Rebecca, then 72, from whom he was legally separated; and Joseph Poirier, a 51-year-old recovering addict who friends and family would claim later was having a clandestine affair with Rebecca.

Telling the stories of health care providers on the road     Posted: 08/31/15

Sara Schilling of the Tri-City Herald in Kennewick, Wash., recently offered her readers the story of local dentist Bart Roach, who combines his love of travel with his devotion for helping others.

When Roach is not taking care of his own patients and pitching in at a local clinic for the poor, he is often journeying to remote communities in faraway places to help children suffering from tooth decay and infection.

In this Q&A, Schilling offers insights into how she created her widely-read profile of an “Adventure Dentist.” She also shares a little encouragement for other reporters who might consider looking for a similar story in their own communities.

Making an investigative piece about ‘preventable harm’ accessible to readers     Posted: 08/27/15

Sarah Kliff

Sarah Kliff's story,“Do No Harm,” began with a simple question.

She is one of AHCJ's 2015 Reporting Fellows on Health Care Performance and, while writing a series on fatal medical errors, she wanted to understand why preventable harm happens. Why do errors that we know how to stop persist?

Her attempt to answer that question became one of the largest projects she's undertaken as a journalist. “Do No Harm,” published on Vox, took about four months to research, report, and write. Kliff learned a lot about how to manage big projects — and find good sources for long narratives. Here she shares few lessons she took away from the experience.

How to wrap your arms around a topic as broad as poverty and aging     Posted: 08/17/15

Suzanne Travers

This series in City Limits on aging in New York City began with a musing from my editor, Jarrett Murphy: how will the growing number of seniors make ends meet as they age?

Despite some national trends, it’s a question with very local answers. In New York City, it turned out that many seniors are struggling financially: one in five are poor, and senior poverty rates, which are dropping across the country, are on the rise.

Reporter explains how she cultivated sources for story on senior dental care     Posted: 07/30/15

Millions of seniors in America struggle to find dental care. Hanah Cho met a few of them who were grateful to find care at a clinic run by the North Dallas Shared Ministries.

The patients’ frank accounts of their pain and relief, included in a recent feature by Cho, brought the issue home for readers of The Dallas Morning News.

Using evidence, FDA reports and legal documents to explore robotic surgery’s risks and benefits     Posted: 07/23/15

A few years ago I did a story for Men’s Health on proton beam radiation. If I learned one thing, it was that if you want to promote a new technology, sell it to men worried about bladder and sexual function after prostate surgery. So the first time I saw a billboard for robotic surgery making just those claims, I had to wonder whether I was seeing an advancement in marketing but not medicine.

Spotlighting sepsis: How one journalist reported on 'dirty little hospital horror'     Posted: 07/16/15

As senior quality editor for HealthLeaders Media, Cheryl Clark wrote more than 1,300 stories about hospitals' efforts to improve quality and safety and related issues. The story she wrote for the June 2014 issue of HealthLeaders, about how U.S. hospitals are improving recognition and treatment of sepsis — which is diagnosed in 750,000 patients a year and kills 40 percent — won the 2015 National Institute of Health Care Management prize in the trade print category.

Rates of sepsis seemed to be one more dirty little hospital horror to explore, one that the Joint Commission said cost hospitals about $16.7 billion annually. Yet hospitals' efforts to tackle it seemed hidden behind improvement initiatives attracting more attention, such as reducing hospital-acquired infections, and preventable readmissions, lowering emergency room wait times and raising patient experience scores.

Here, she explains how she did her reporting, despite a lack of data and sources who didn't want to talk.

Reporters’ digging reveals one of the largest scandals in Texas Medicaid program     Posted: 07/15/15

Byron Harris

The tip about troubles in Texas’ Medicaid dental system was part of a routine conversation. But it was enough to make Byron Harris start digging.

He and his colleagues at WFAA-Dallas spent nine months scrutinizing data, wearing out shoe leather, following up on leads and trying to get people to talk.

Their 11-part investigative series aired in 2011. The “Crooked Teeth” stories raised profoundly troubling questions about oversight of the Medicaid dental program in Texas; the millions upon millions spent on orthodontic services for beneficiaries; the suspect billing practices of many providers. The project uncovered the largest Medicaid scandals in the history of Texas. Government audits, reform efforts, lawsuits followed in its wake.

Finding solid steps to prevent disease in central California     Posted: 07/02/15

Barbara Anderson

When longtime health reporter Barbara Anderson’s editors presented her with a month-long, front-page opportunity, she knew she had to grab the chance to showcase major illnesses for readers of The Fresno Bee in California. But just how to spotlight serious chronic conditions without treading over old ground presented a challenge.

The result? Anderson, who has covered health care for the Bee since 1999, offered four fresh looks at programs tackling the four top diseases – asthmadiabetesheart disease and obesity – affecting a five-county wide area of the state’s central San Joaquin Valley.

How a fellowship helped one journalist cover the business of oncology     Posted: 06/24/15

Lola Butcher

I cover health policy and the business of health care for Oncology Times, a twice-monthly news magazine, and I started gathering string for a hazy story idea in 2010 after writing this piece on the financial problems oncology clinics were facing.

What captivated me was this paradox: Private oncology practices are being driven out of business because of Medicare payment policy, but cancer care delivered at hospital-owned practices actually costs the Medicare program more than if the same services were delivered by private practices.

If I were a staff reporter, I would have bugged my editor to give me time to dig into this topic. But, as an independent journalist, I could not justify the time needed for the just-checking-this-out interviews and to wrap my arms around a hazy topic that might not lead to anything worth publishing.

Covering infant mortality’s grip in South Carolina     Posted: 06/15/15

Doug Pardue and Lauren Sausser

Journalists Doug Pardue and Lauren Sausser of The Post and Courier in South Carolina almost saw their story tackling the perpetually high infant deaths in their southern state slip away when officials released updated statistics that appeared to show the problem ebbing. But a closer look at the data — and its geographical divide — showed that the overall numbers weren’t really what they seemed.

What resulted when Pardue, part of the paper’s Pulitzer Prize-winning team this year, and Sausser, also an award-winning reporter, teamed up was a powerful investigative series on the tight hold of South Carolina’s infant mortality rate and a deeper look at where the state was getting it right, and where it wasn’t. Here’s how they did it.

Covering the e-cigarette controversy     Posted: 06/11/15

Sonya Collins
Sonya Collins

Atlanta independent journalist Sonya Collins has carved a niche for herself covering the controversial world of e-cigarettes. Her feature, “When the Smoke Clears,” which appeared in Georgia State University Magazine was recognized by the Association of Health Care Journalists in the 2013 Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism. Attendees at Health Journalism 2015 might have heard her speak on the panel "Cutting Through the Haze of E-Cigarettes.”

Here, Collins offers some insights into how she researched and wrote that first big story and where her reporting has led her since. While there still is a lot that is unknown about the safety of these products and their use – often referred to as “vaping” – Collins shares some thoughts on how to craft informative stories about the evolving culture, research and regulations surrounding e-cigarettes.

Reporting on the confusion over medical tests and the consequences     Posted: 06/08/15

Beth Daley

A question nagged at me a year after I had finished a story about suspect Lyme disease tests: Who was in charge of making sure any diagnostic test was accurate?

There are two types of medical tests that a person might undergo: a screening and a diagnostic test. The results of screening tell a patient how likely they are to have a particular condition; screenings are about risk. A diagnostic test, however, actually diagnoses a condition.

Covering the ACA state subsidy issue     Posted: 06/03/15

Lauren Sausser

Lauren Sausser of The Post and Courier in South Carolina was surprised by an email from a reader asking her to write more about Medicaid expansion in South Carolina – specifically, this state’s refusal to expand the low-income health insurance program under the Affordable Care Act.

This year, health insurance subsidies have played a much more prominent role in The Post and Courier’s health care coverage. Like other news outlets, her newspaper is waiting to find out what the Supreme Court decides in King v. Burwell. If the court rules in favor of the plaintiffs, subsidies will end in states using the federal exchange.

In South Carolina, a King victory would mean that coverage will become unaffordable for an estimated 200,000 people who have purchased subsidized policies through the federal insurance marketplace. It’s been a big story. Meanwhile, Medicaid expansion, with a few exceptions, is relatively stagnant here.

Journalist turns six months of research into eight-part series on hepatitis C epidemic     Posted: 05/21/15

Kristin Espeland Gourlay
Kristin Espeland Gourlay

While working on a documentary about opioid addiction, Kristin Espeland Gourlay, the health care reporter for Rhode Island Public Radio, discovered there was another story waiting to be covered: Hepatitis C.

New drugs had hit the market with reported cure rates of 95 percent or more, but they cost upwards of $90,000 for a full course. The arrival of these new drugs coincides with another trend: millions of baby boomers who contracted the disease decades ago are just now showing up in doctors’ offices and emergency rooms, sick with something most didn’t know they had.

Add to that a wave of new infections, spreading among younger injection drug users – people who got hooked on opioids and then turned to heroin – and you’ve got a unique moment in the history of an epidemic.

In this AHCJ article, she shares what she learned, what sources she used, as well as a list of potential story ideas. As she points out, this epidemic will impact many lives but also state budgets.

Print, radio reporters team up to expose a fraying mental health system in Idaho     Posted: 05/20/15

Audrey Dutton
Audrey Dutton

Emilie Ritter Saunders
Emilie Ritter Saunders

Last fall, The Idaho Statesman newspaper and NPR member station Boise State Public Radio ran a series titled, “In Crisis,” that explored Idaho's fragmented and underfunded mental health care system. Statesman business reporter Audrey Dutton and Emilie Ritter Saunders, who was then BSPR's digital content coordinator, collaborated on the series, producing stories for print, radio and online.

Dutton and Saunders found that Idaho's threadbare mental health care system does not serve well the many Idahoans who need quality, timely and appropriate behavioral and mental health care.

Their work could serve as a blueprint for journalists covering this challenging story in any state. Read about how they focused on Idahoans who lack insurance, or can't find adequate services and end up getting care only in crisis. They looked at emergency room visits, involuntary commitments, jails, homeless shelters and emergency response teams of police and social workers.

Sociologist offers insights on health navigators, finding wider lessons in personal stories     Posted: 05/12/15

Elizabeth Piatt
Elizabeth Piatt

Trying to help her sister Veronika, who is disabled, with a dental emergency, Elizabeth Piatt found herself negotiating a labyrinth of personal feelings and Medicaid paperwork. The job of getting Veronika the care she needed was fraught with challenges. Piatt emerged from the experience with new insights into the Medicaid system that serves America’s poor, and a new sense of compassion for the patients who struggle within that system.

Piatt, an assistant professor and chair of the Sociology Department at Hiram College in Hiram, Ohio, also came out of the experience convinced of the need for a better network of health navigators to help Medicaid patients find care and services.

Piatt shared the story of her journey in a  piece entitled  “Navigating Veronika: How Access, Knowledge and Attitudes Shaped My Sister’s Care” that was featured in February’s Health Affairs.

Reporter covers dental care challenges faced by people with disabilities     Posted: 02/18/15

Elizabeth Simpson
Elizabeth Simpson

 Finding dental care for people with special needs can be tough.

Dentists with the willingness and skills to treat them are often scarce. Medicare and Medicaid benefits are frequently inadequate. Patients who need to undergo general anesthesia in a hospital because they are frightened or physically unable to lie still in a dental chair often face particularly high barriers to getting dental treatments.

Elizabeth Simpson offered readers of The Virginian-Pilot a detailed look at this issue in a January story that centered on the experiences of a local woman and her family.

“Going to the dentist used to be a simple, routine task for Lauren McAllister, one her family took for granted since she always had good insurance,” Simpson wrote.

Following doctors on the path to primary care     Posted: 02/09/15

Karen Brown
Karen Brown

When I started following a group of residents in a primary care training program, I expected to produce a lively radio documentary on idealistic young doctors who are bucking the trend against frontline medicine. After all, pay and prestige is much lower in primary care than specialties, while workload and stress is generally higher. It must take a special kind of person to go into the field anyway.

To be sure, they were all lovely people, compassionate and clearly committed to medicine. But by the end of my year of reporting, two out of the three had changed their minds about primary care, deciding instead on more lucrative specialties. Their decisions may have been disappointing for the field, but they did make for a more compelling story. I was able to use their personal dilemmas, unfolding in real time, to illustrate the crisis in primary care.

I had help in doing this – a year-long fellowship from the Association of Health Care Journalists that paid for travel expenses and some production help. But I believe this kind of long-term project is do-able without a fellowship, as long as you have a forward-thinking editor and the patience to let the story reveal itself slowly.

Reporter shares lessons learned about questioning conventional wisdom     Posted: 02/06/15

Elise Oberliesen
Elise Oberliesen

"The decision to remove wisdom teeth often seems like a routine part of young adulthood. But more people are starting to ask whether it's always necessary," Elise Oberliesen told readers of the Los Angeles Times in a recent story.

In her reporting Oberliesen sought out numerous experts and combed through peer-reviewed research and insurance data. The resulting story provided an in-depth look at an important question young people and their parents routinely face.

In this Q&A, Oberliesen offers some insights into how she tackled this project. She also shares advice on navigating the twists and turns of a complex story.

Reporting on why a huge nonprofit with a healthy endowment would sue an uninsured patient     Posted: 01/21/15

Dianna Wray
Dianna Wray

Houston journalist Dianna Wray found that one of the largest nonprofit hospitals in Texas was not functioning as a nonprofit. Instead, it was suing the people it was established to help: the poor and uninsured.

She first heard about Memorial Hermann Hospital's practice of suing uninsured patients when a local lawyer who specializes in health care lawsuits contacted her about a case he was undertaking on behalf of Ignacio Alaniz.

In January 2012, Alaniz was rushed to Memorial Hermann in the Texas Medical Center after he was run over by his own car. He had emergency surgery and was in the hospital for weeks. He also didn’t have health insurance. He'd been vaguely assured by hospital personnel that the hospital would work something out under its charity arm, but his medical bills were more than $400,000 by the time he was released. Then Memorial Hermann, the largest nonprofit medical system in Houston, sued him for failing to pay the bill.

Reporting on how, why hospital superusers account for bulk of health-care spending     Posted: 01/09/15

Tim Darragh
Tim Darragh

Tim Darragh, when he was with The Morning Call, of Allentown, Pa., reported and wrote a four-day series of stories about a local effort to find ways to improve care and individual health while reducing expenditures for so-called “super-utilizers.” These patients constantly use expensive emergency departments for their health care needs – in many cases, poorly controlled chronic and mental health illnesses, coupled with social isolation, unhealthy living environments and poverty.

Your community might not have a federally-funded pilot program to address super-utilizers as Allentown has. But your community has superusers and it has similarities with Allentown that you can explore in your own reporting. Read about how Darragh approached the reporting and key issues he found.

Tips for covering efforts to establish licensing for dental therapists     Posted: 01/06/15

Rosalie Rayburn

A bill in New Mexico would establish a licensing and practicing framework for midlevel oral health providers in that state. Rosalie Rayburn has been covering the efforts for the Albuquerque Journal. In this Q&A, she shares some insights into how this story is unfolding and some key information that other reporters should keep in mind.

How a secretive committee recommends how much physicians should be paid     Posted: 12/19/14

Journalists Dan Keating and Peter Whoriskey of The Washington Post explain how a secretive committee of doctors makes decisions about how much Medicare should pay physicians.

Figuring out the politics of patient harm     Posted: 12/19/14

Michael L. Millenson

Patient safety is a critically important topic for health care journalists. Yet collecting the data needed to report on it thoroughly can be frustratingly difficult, as  former journalist Michael L. Millenson discovered when he and colleagues embarked on an effort to analyze patient safety by congressional district.

“In health care, cooking up answers to what look like simple questions can quickly get complicated,” he writes. Surprisingly, it was difficult just to determine how to define the term “hospital” because there are so many different types of hospitals. Just distinguishing a local hospital’s performance from that of another hospital miles away was challenging because multiple hospitals owned by one system may share a provider billing number, he explains. 

In this “How I did it” article, Millenson explains the challenges of collecting and reporting the data needed to compare one congressional district against others.

Covering the soda tax in Berkeley and San Francisco     Posted: 12/17/14

Tom Lochner

In the weeks leading up to the Nov. 4 elections, Tom Lochner covered the debate over soda tax questions on the ballots in Berkeley and San Francisco. When the results became clear, he reported on the outcome for the Contra Costa Times.

In this Q&A, Lochner offers his insights into how the historic vote in Berkeley unfolded and he shares a few words of wisdom with reporters who may find themselves covering soda tax debates in their own communities.

A personal journey with Alzheimer's     Posted: 12/12/14

Pieter Droppert
Pieter Droppert

Putting personal issues on public view can be tricky and even downright awkward for journalists. It is often difficult to maintain a level of objectivity when the focus of your effort concerns a loved one – particularly if that person has a condition like Alzheimer’s.

But it can be done. Pieter Droppert, a UK journalist now based in Miami, explains how he went about reporting and producing his radio documentary, "Living Well with Dementia – a personal journey."

How two nodding women prompted a hard look at Florida’s elder guardianship system     Posted: 12/11/14

Barbara Peters Smith
Barbara Peters Smith


This series that looks at the insular world of adult guardianship began for me more than two years ago, at a fairly lame seminar on elder fraud.

As attorneys and officials on the panel spoke about how relatives prey on older Floridians to separate them from their money, I saw two sweet-looking ladies nodding vigorously at each other. 

They were sisters-in-law, and in June 2013 we published the story of their unsuccessful legal struggle to rescue their husband and brother, a former county judge, from a guardianship they believed was depleting his finances and his health. The attorneys and guardians I spoke with insisted that this case was an outlier in a system that works well to protect vulnerable elders. Then I started to get calls and emails from others who felt trapped and frustrated by this same well-intended system.

Putting a human face on Maryland’s unique all-payer system     Posted: 12/02/14

Sarah Gantz
Sarah Gantz

Maryland is the only state with an “all-payer” hospital system – a system in which every health plan and every payer pay about the same rate to a given hospital for a given procedure or treatment. That includes Medicare, under a waiver from the federal government.  A commission sets the costs and there’s a lot less cost-shifting in the system if everyone is playing by the same rules.

I have been fascinated with Maryland’s Medicare waiver for a little more than two and a half years. That’s when the Baltimore Business Journal hired me to write about health care and I first learned about the policy that is the lifeblood of Maryland’s $15 billion hospital industry.

Director of journalism center reflects on students' coverage of dental clinic     Posted: 10/28/14

The Journalism Center on Children & Families (JCCF), formerly the Casey Journalism Center, is scheduled to close at the end of this year. Over the past 20 years, JCCF, based at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, has pursued its mission of helping reporters do a better job of telling the stories of vulnerable people, young and old. 

Journalism Center for Children & Families

Julie Drizin
Julie Drizin

Now funding is running out, as JCCF’s director Julie Drizin explained in her announcement. “The College has concluded that this Center is not sustainable in the current economic climate,” she said. “Indeed, these are very challenging times in the worlds of journalism and education.”

Over the years, the center has offered grants, fellowships and other resources that have resulted in deeper coverage of health, justice and economic issues as they relate to children and families. In keeping with the center’s mission, Drizin has also been teaching an undergraduate class at the college of journalism. Just recently, she gathered a team of student reporters to cover a free two-day dental clinic sponsored by the University of Maryland School of Public Health’s Center for Health Equity as part of a larger Health Equity Festival. The dental clinic, which was held on the university’s basketball court with support from organizations including Mission of Mercy and Catholic Charities, aimed to provide $1 million in dental care to poor and uninsured adults.

Covering the potential effects of hospital consolidation in Yakima, Wash.     Posted: 10/24/14

Molly Rosbach
Molly Rosbach

When my editor and I first discussed the idea of a hospital consolidation project, I felt my eyes glaze over at the thought of all the spreadsheets and 990 forms I would have to sift through. Consolidation is a largely financial decision, so I assumed that numbers would provide the driving force for the story.

Instead, I found that while the numbers do add weight to hospitals’ claims of desperation, the bulk of the story lay elsewhere.

Here’s the gist of it: In Yakima, Wash., the one remaining independent, nonprofit community hospital announced a year ago that it’s looking for someone to partner with to stave off financial uncertainty in the future. It reached out to several larger Seattle organizations, but only one is still engaged in talks.

Calif. reporter finds dearth of public records on assisted living homes     Posted: 10/09/14

Deborah Schoch
Deborah Schoch

I knew next to nothing about the fast-growing assisted-living industry when I started reporting in early 2013 on problem homes in San Diego.

For example, I did not know that many seniors in today’s assisted-living homes are so frail and medically needy that they would have been in nursing homes 20 or 30 years ago. Many live in facilities with no medically trained staff.

Most astonishing to me was the lack of public access to state regulatory reports revealing the quality of care in homes, not only in California but nationally. We’re so accustomed to NursingHomeCompare and HospitalCompare – whatever their flaws – that the hoops families and journalists must leap through to judge an assisted-living home’s quality seem downright primitive.

With serious effort, important records can be tracked down, as my U-T San Diego reporting partners and I learned while working on “Deadly Neglect,” an investigative series produced by the U-T and the CHCF Center for Health Reporting.

Journalists have to make big choices when writing about their own health drama     Posted: 09/19/14

Randy Dotinga
Randy Dotinga

I’m paying $430 a month for health insurance for just myself now, and it’s totally awesome. And yes, I’m grading on a curve.

Since the year 2000, I’ve been jilted by a grand total of seven insurance companies. The eighth — the one covering me now — comes courtesy of Obamacare and looks like it might actually stick around for a while. Expensive? Yes. A relief? Absolutely.

My long-running tale of woe, which features several twists and turns and a dose of irony, isn’t that unusual in the grim world of 21st-century health insurance in the United States. What’s unusual is for a journalist who covers health and medicine to be so open about his own experiences.

Making information on dental complaints accessible in California     Posted: 09/11/14

Rachel Cook
Rachel Cook

Reporter Rachel Cook’s “Dental Dangers,” series, published this summer in The Bakersfield Californian, explores a long history of complaints and lawsuits against Robert Tupac, D.D.S., who, as a board-certified prosthodontist, specializes in the restoration and replacement of teeth.

Over three decades, more than a dozen of Tupac’s patients claimed his shoddy work left them with troubles ranging from bone loss to drooling, Cook recounted in her project. Yet her reporting – done as a 2013 California Health Journalism Fellow – uncovered a state dental board system that allowed the alleged problems with the dentist to pile up outside public view. “A potential patient searching for competent dental care would never know about many of Tupac’s alleged professional shortcomings — or those of any other California dentist — without undertaking extensive and often difficult research,” Cook wrote.

Rx for the Bronx: Radio series looks beyond medical care for New York’s least healthy county     Posted: 08/19/14

Amanda Aronczyk

The Bronx has ranked as the least-healthy county in New York State for several years running. The prevalence of heart disease, diabetes and asthma are unusually high in the borough, where people also struggle with high unemployment and poor housing. The news team at WNYC wanted to find out if the Affordable Care Act or other recent policies were having any impact.

WNYC reporter Amanda Aronczyk was new to health reporting when she got the assignment. We asked Aronczyk to share how she juggled all the moving parts to sustain the deeply reported series that aired in June.

Covering Medicaid’s orthodontic benefits     Posted: 08/19/14

Sheila Hagar

After a hint from her own dentist, Sheila Hagar started looking into concerns about the rising numbers of Medicaid kids getting braces in Washington. Hagar, who is medical and social services reporter for the Union-Bulletin, in Walla Walla, sought sources and found statistics that made her jaw drop.

“We should be taking care of people who really have a need,” a frustrated Walla Walla orthodontist, Thomas Utt, D.D.S., told her. “While his office – Walla Walla Orthodontics – is authorized to treat Medicaid-eligible children with braces,” Hagar wrote, “Utt grits his teeth at what he sees as misuse of funds and a lack of clarity over just what ‘medically necessary’ means when it comes to correcting kids’ teeth.”

Building transparency in health care costs     Posted: 08/18/14

Lisa Pickoff-White

Joel Withrow

Jeanne Pinder

Anybody who has ever built software knows how tricky it can be (hello,!).

So what’s it like to build software when the partners are in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Bialystok, Kiev and Tahiti and you’re journalists and developers working against a fierce deadline?

A team describes how they went about building a public, non-proprietary database where users can easily contribute and look up costs.

Papers collaborate to explore effects of hospitals fleeing inner cities     Posted: 07/28/14

Lillian Thomas

Hospitals in the U.S. have been abandoning inner cities for years. By 2010, the number of urban hospitals still operating in 52 big cities had fallen to 426, down from 781 in 1970.

Meanwhile, hundreds of medical centers built with cathedral-like grandeur have opened for business in affluent suburbs. A hard-hitting series produced by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel laid bare the consequences of this trend for people in neighborhoods where hospitals closed.

Lillian Thomas, an assistant managing editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, talks about how they did it.

How one reporting team used public records to find questionable Medicare Advantage spending     Posted: 07/21/14

Fred Schulte
Fred Schulte

Medicare billing records are all the rage. Almost every day, it seems, there’s a new article about doctors cheating Medicare, based on billing data released earlier this year by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

But there’s a lot federal officials don’t want the public to see when it comes to Medicare Advantage, a type of Medicare plan administered by private insurance companies. Federal officials refuse to disclose detailed financial records of these health plans – even though these plans are growing fast and insure almost one in three people eligible for Medicare. That’s nearly 16 million people, at a cost to taxpayers likely to top $150 billion this year.

Dominated by some of the nation’s mightiest insurance carriers, Medicare Advantage has faced little scrutiny from lawmakers or the media despite years of audits and research papers showing that overbilling is widespread. So while it’s open season on “fee-for-service” charges by doctors and hospitals, Medicare Advantage data remain under wraps. One government official called it a “black box.”

Tennessean reporter investigates complaints over Medicaid dental provider     Posted: 07/18/14

Tom Wilemon
Tom Wilemon

Quite a few folks in Tennessee are upset right now with DentaQuest, the  dental benefits company contracted to provide childrens' oral health services under the state’s Medicaid program.

Two hundred black dentists are riled that they were cut from the provider network. The state dental association has withdrawn its support. Some consumers are saying the company is making it harder for patients to get the care they need.

Company officials defend their performance, saying that screenings have increased and that the state network of 864 providers – one for every 857 patients – exceeds nationally recommended standards.

The Tennessean’s Tom Wilemon has been working to find out what's really going on and, in this Q&A, he gives an update and some additional insights into his reporting. He also shares some wisdom with others who might find themselves tackling a similar story.

Extensive document requests yield true cost of Illinois’ PR campaign for insurance coverage     Posted: 07/02/14

Carla K. Johnson
Carla K. Johnson


Carla K. Johnson, an AHCJ board member and Chicago-based Associated Press medical writer, describes the steps and documents requests that helped her dive deeply into the deals and contracts behind the state of Illinois’s multimillion dollar promotional campaign for the Affordable Care Act. Read her stories and see the highlights of the documents she amassed and shared using Document Cloud.

Reporter takes listeners to charity dental clinic to hear from patients     Posted: 06/26/14

Katie Hiler
Katie Hiler

KBIA Mid-Missouri Public Radio listeners were recently offered an insightful report on the problems poor adults in the state have been facing in getting dental care.

Nearly a decade ago, Missouri eliminated funding for all Medicaid beneficiaries except children, pregnant women and the disabled. The move “left a lot of people with only bad options,” reporter Katie Hiler explained, borrowing a quote from the film “Argo.”

To illustrate the point, Hiler invited her audience along on a visit to a rare charity clinic called Smiles of Hope, run out of a converted church attic. Here Hiler offers some thoughts on what got her started on this story and how her work unfolded. She also shares some wisdom on what it takes to make a radio story come alive.

Undocumented immigrants struggle for access to health care     Posted: 06/17/14

Tammy Worth
Tammy Worth

When the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010, there was a lot of talk about who would be covered under the legislation. Medicaid would expand in some states and more individuals would have private insurance coverage. But there were a few groups that were exempt from the requirement to purchase insurance including Indian tribal members, individuals eligible to opt out because of religious beliefs, and undocumented immigrants.

In fact, undocumented immigrants were ineligible for both of the main provisions of the law meant to extend coverage to 32 million Americans, the Medicaid expansion and the state insurance exchanges. Tammy Worth investigated how the law would affect care for this population as well as the providers who treat them. 

Reporting on the ACA in rural Kentucky     Posted: 06/13/14

Laura Unger
Laura Ungar

Kentucky received national attention when it became the only Southern state to fully embrace the Affordable Care Act by creating its own health insurance exchange and expanding Medicaid to cover hundreds of thousands more residents.

But, in impoverished rural areas that stood to gain the most from the greater access to care that the ACA promised, many residents remained fiercely opposed to the law and the president who pushed it.

Against this backdrop, a team from USA Today and The Courier-Journal in Louisville decided to launch an in-depth examination of how the law is beginning to play out in Appalachian Kentucky. Courier-Journal medical writer Laura Ungar shares how they did it. 

Explaining the connections between poverty, health     Posted: 06/06/14

Olga Khazan
Olga Khazan

It didn’t sit right with Olga Khazan, an associate editor at The Atlantic, seeing so many people focus on individual behavior as the root cause of public health problems such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease. She had come across too many studies revealing how health is shaped by external factors such as educational opportunity, the physical environment and social quality of neighborhoods, and the corrosive effects of prolonged exposure to stressful living conditions.

In “How Being Poor Makes You Sick,” Khazan came up with an appealing lede to draw readers into a deeply reported story about the complicated, nuanced realities of the social determinants of health. And she found an efficient, compact way to frame the story to make it highly readable. Read about how she did it.

Using data to expose the risks of home births     Posted: 06/06/14

Markian Hawryluk

Markian Hawryluk, a health reporter with The Bend (Ore.) Bulletin and an AHCJ Regional Health Journalism Fellow, describes how he took advantage of new data collected by the state of Oregon to shape an article that revealed high mortality rates for home births in his state.

While beauticians and tattoo artists are regulated in the state, midwife certification is voluntary in Oregon, and even then, the hurdles for certification are rather minimal.

But with midwives largely operating outside of the established health care system, there was little more than anecdotal evidence about the safety of home births to go on. That changed last year.

"If home birth were a drug," he wrote, "it would be taken off the market."

Covering Medicaid fraud and overtreatment     Posted: 06/02/14

Becca Aaronson
Becca Aaronson

For the past two years, Texas Tribune health writer Becca Aaronson has been covering the state’s Medicaid orthodontic scandal. A 2012 federal audit found that the Texas Medicaid and Healthcare Partnership (TMHP), a Xerox subsidiary under contract with the state Health and Human Services Commission, was “essentially rubber-stamping” dental claims. The office of the Texas Attorney General is now suing Xerox in hopes of reclaiming hundreds of millions of dollars the company allegedly paid out for medically unnecessary Medicaid claims.

Aaronson's most recent stories offered readers an update on the state investigation into allegations of widespread fraud and unnecessary treatment. Here, she shares how she covered those issues and offers tips for reporters who might want to cover possible Medicaid fraud or overtreatment in their areas. 

Kansas reporter shares rural perspective on dental care     Posted: 05/01/14

Larry Dreiling
Larry Dreiling

Along with coverage of everything from Congressional wrangling over the Farm Bill to livestock management to wildlife conservation, High Plains/Midwest Ag Journal’s senior field editor Larry Dreiling finds time to tackle health stories. He sees access to health services as essential to sustaining rural life.

His neighbors in rural America may live many miles from a needed specialist or emergency room. Or, as he points out, they may need to drive two hours to get to a dentist.

The dental therapist model is being explored in Kansas, as Dreiling has reported. As in other places, the idea has drawn strong opposition from some leaders in the state’s dental association who contend that only dentists should be allowed to perform procedures such as drilling and extracting teeth.

Dreiling was kind enough to take some time recently to talk about his coverage and to offer advice to other reporters about telling health care stories in rural America.

Making sure patients aren't surprised by hidden hospital fees     Posted: 05/01/14

Daniel Chang
Daniel Chang

Daniel Chang wrote a piece for The Miami Herald on some of the hidden hospital fees that can take patients by surprise – and which insurers don’t necessarily cover.

These hidden fees are coming about because hospital executives have been  preparing their institutions for payment reforms  they see coming as a result of the Affordable Care Act – particularly the way the law shifts financial risk away from patients, private insurers and government payers, and to the caregivers themselves, namely hospitals, physicians and other providers.

Here's what Chang learned while reporting this story.

Analysis looks at which consumers get better deal in the health insurance exchanges     Posted: 03/24/14

MaryJo Webster
MaryJo Webster

Chris Snowbeck
Chris Snowbeck

When writing about health insurance premiums under the Affordable Care Act, MaryJo Webster and Chris Snowbeck at the St. Paul Pioneer Press found significant premium disparities among rates in the Twin Cities, Rochester, Minn., and nearby western Wisconsin.

These discrepancies raised two big questions: Do such disparities exist throughout the entire United States? If so, who gets the better deal – consumers in the Twin Cities with low premiums and little chance of getting federal tax credits, or consumers in the higher-cost places who benefit from the subsidies?

Maine moves toward using dental therapists to extend care     Posted: 03/24/14

Image by U.S. Pacific Fleet via Flickr.
Image by U.S. Pacific Fleet via Flickr.

Technically trained dental auxiliaries known as dental therapists have been providing care in many countries around the world for decades. 

Dental therapists already work in Alaska and Minnesota, where advocates say the new providers will help get a range of needed services including routine care, fillings and simple extractions to poor and rural communities.

Dentists’ groups have fiercely opposed the idea, saying no one but dentists should be allowed to drill or pull teeth. Now the debate is playing out in Maine, and as the state legislature mulls the dental therapist question, Joe Lawlor and his colleagues at the Portland Press Herald have been keeping readers informed.

Investigation: Officials sent sick, dying homeless people to unlicensed facility     Posted: 03/19/14

Michael LaForgia
Michael LaForgia

Will Hobson
Will Hobson

"A home, but no help" was the fifth story in a seven-part investigative series on Hillsborough County's Homeless Recovery program. Earlier in 2013, Michael LaForgia and Will Hobson of the Tampa Bay Times  had been tipped off that the chairman of the Tampa Port Authority was running an illegal slum trailer park.

That story turned into an investigative project when they learned some of the people living there had been sent there by Homeless Recovery, a government agency that paid their rent with public money. As the reporters started to amass records, it became clear the Port chairman's slum was one of dozens the county had subsidized for years with a steady stream of homeless people, including families with children and veterans, and tax dollars.

Mixing medical evidence with a personal health experience     Posted: 03/18/14

Karen D. Brown
Karen D. Brown

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer following a routine mammogram, my first response definitely wasn’t, “I bet I can get a story out of this.”

Of course, my very first response was not something we can print on a family-friendly website.

But even after I started to gracefully (sort of) accept what I was facing, I wasn’t anxious to write about it. There is a rich literature of illness narratives, and I didn’t feel my own emotional experience was going to add much to what many excellent writers had already contributed to the canon. (See: Barbara Ehrenriech, Joyce Wadler, Peggy Orenstein, to name just a few.) Plus, my own diagnosis – a stage 0 noninvasive cancer called ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) – had an excellent prognosis, which thankfully took much of the pathos out of my story.

Questions arise about oversight of pediatric dentists     Posted: 03/18/14

Alia Wong
Alia Wong

The state of Hawaii continues to investigate the death of a three-year-old girl who went into a coma after visiting a dentist’s office. Reporter Alia Wong has also been following the tragic story of the death of Finley Boyle and weighed in with a long Jan. 21 piece for the Honolulu Civil Beat.

Wong brings us up to date on the kinds of questions that are being raised in the wake of the child’s death. She writes in her piece that questions are being raised about whether dentist Lilly Geyer, who was treating Finley, should have been advertising herself as a "children's dentist." She explains that “pediatric dentists do a rigorous and competitive two-year residency program in which they get training in specific skills such as child sedation while general dentists aren’t required to do a residency program.”

Using state exchange data, Chicago journalists estimate the true cost of health insurance     Posted: 03/04/14

Kristen Schorsch
Kristen Schorsch

Andrew Wang
Andrew Wang

When purchasing health insurance, we’re basically buying blind. At the point of purchase, we have no way to know what the total cost will be at the end of the policy period. We know the monthly premium and what we might incur in deductible and co-insurance charges. But the total will be unknown until year end when we can add the premium and out-of-pocket charges together.

So, what is the true cost of one year of health insurance coverage? This is the question Andrew L. Wang and Kristen Schorsch, health care reporters for Crain’s Chicago, set out to answer. It’s a question health care journalists are trying to answer as well because the premium is only one part of a complex calculation that actuaries make for each consumer buying a health insurance policy.

The resulting analysis shows that the average total cost of coverage for a consumer for one year could be more than triple the monthly payments to an insurer.

Use state public records laws to cover these aspects of health exchanges     Posted: 03/04/14

Katie Kerwin McCrimmon
Katie Kerwin McCrimmon

Colorado health reporter Katie Kerwin McCrimmon is a relative newcomer to AHCJ and she shared some of her experiences in covering Colorado’s state health exchange on AHCJ’s electronic discussion list recently.

She used the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) “to pry information out of our exchange since I dealt with obstructive PR folks and exchange managers for most of 2013.”

Not all states have the same records laws. Not all the states have structured the exchange governance in the same way. And of course, not all the states are running their own exchanges. But her experiences in Colorado are still instructive in trying to get information released.

Reporter focuses on chronic pain for series on opioid use     Posted: 02/14/14

Lisa Bernard-Kuhn
Lisa Bernard-Kuhn

When The Cincinnati Enquirer set out to look at the societal costs of the deadly opioid crisis, reporter Lisa Bernard-Kuhn was assigned to look at the role of chronic pain.

During more than eight months of reporting, she looked into how doctors measure pain, how effect opioids are at treating pain, patients’ expectations and more.

Here, she explains how she was able to get doctors and patients to talk on the record and shares some of her most useful sources and lessons learned.

Follow-up on dental reconstruction reveals the importance of a healthy smile     Posted: 02/13/14

Marc Ramirez
Marc Ramirez

Marc Ramirez of The Dallas Morning News recently offered readers an update on a story he began to write more than two years ago.

Robina Rayamajhi, a legally blind college student, had not let her visual disability stop her from excelling at the University of North Texas and setting her hopes on a law degree. Yet her crooked teeth were having an impact on her self-confidence. When a group of caring health care professionals from the community joined forces to help her, Ramirez documented the transformation of Robina’s smile.

Here, Ramirez shares some thoughts on how he embarked upon the story and how he developed it. He also offers some good advice to other reporters who might find themselves revisiting a story over time.

Movement away from fee-for-service reimbursements has begun     Posted: 02/11/14

René Letourneau
René Letourneau

Among health plan executives, there’s a lot of talk about moving from volume to value. But identifying what this expression means in practice can be challenging because health plans all define value differently and they are developing ways to deliver more value to their employer and consumer customers.

Despite the challenges, some payers and providers are in fact shifting away from volume-based payments, commonly known as fee for service, and adopting value-based payment methods, as René Letourneau, a senior finance editor with HealthLeaders Media, reported in a recent cover story, Restructuring Reimbursements. She found, for example, that a group of hospitals contracting with a health plan had agreed to have 15 percent of their income based on patient outcomes. As the health plan executive explained, “If you want to change behaviors, you’ve got to change incentives.” Letourneau explained that the risk of not being paid 15 percent of their contracted reimbursement rates if they do not meet certain outcome measures appears to be motivating hospitals to find ways to deliver better care. Here’s Letourneau’s explanation of how she reported this story.

Personal story helps illustrate physiological effects of stress     Posted: 01/14/14

The idea that chronic stress can change how your body and brain work fascinated Dan Gorenstein, a radio reporter at Marketplace, and it sparked the idea for an affecting, memorable piece about poverty and health.

The report pivots on the story of a woman with a troubled past and a painful confession. How did Gorenstein find her, and persuade her to go public? How did he balance her interests with his potentially conflicting interest in pursuing a good story?

The piece also distills a lot of complicated research about chronic stress, decision making and health. But it remains a tight, fast-moving narrative. Here’s how Gorenstein did it.

Finding compelling stories about a fraying safety net in a fast-changing insurance marketplace     Posted: 01/13/14

Jim Doyle, who covers the health care industry for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, has been working on an ongoing multi-part series on health care access and the fraying safety net. What he found when he traveled around rural parts of Missouri and Arkansas is that while the Affordable Care Act will bring changes in the health insurance marketplace to these area, it only goes so far in helping the poor get access to care. “If you report on rural hospitals, you'll soon recognize the parallels between the health care disparities the poor face in rural areas and in the inner cities and that health insurance reform only goes so far, causing many safety-net organizations to struggle,” he writes. Of particular interest to health care journalists is Doyle’s impressive list of resources he uses to inform his reporting and his willingness to tap a wide variety of sources for his work.

New dental coverage may strain access to care     Posted: 01/13/14

Michael Booth recently wrote about the worsening shortage of dental care in Colorado for The Denver Post, explaining that “hundreds of thousands of Coloradans will have new dental care benefits in 2014 under twin health-reform efforts, but state leaders now must scramble to find providers who will care for them.” It is expected that 335,000 adult Medicaid beneficiaries will gain access to dental care in the spring and that tens of thousands more will join Medicaid rolls under the Affordable Care Act expansion. In addition, thousands of children could get new dental benefits when their parents buy coverage on the state’s insurance exchange, Booth wrote.  But health advocates warn that, if just a quarter of the newly enrolled Coloradans start using their dental benefits, the system will be strained. Here, Booth offers some insights into how things may play out in Colorado, as well as advice to the rest of us who are watching this issue.

Reporting on how Catholic hospital mergers affect patient care     Posted: 12/06/13

Nina Martin
Nina Martin

Nina Martin of ProPublica recently wrote about the growing number of health care mergers involving Catholic hospitals – and how that affects care involving reproductive health services including fertility treatments, genetic testing and, in certain states, assisted suicide.

Here’s her story about how she got interested – and how you can get started tracking similar stories in your own communities.

Delving into cost reports reveals financial health of hospitals, amount of charity care they provide     Posted: 12/06/13

Clifton Adcock
Clifton Adcock

Oklahoma Watch, a nonprofit investigative journalism team, recently published a two-part series on hospitals based on financial data obtained for every hospital in the state. The series revealed that between half and three-fourths of small general hospitals in Oklahoma were losing money, and that hospitals had spent only small fractions of their net patient revenues on charity care.

Reporter Clifton Adcock explains how he got the data, with some specific tips on how to find alternative sources for data when government officials are uncooperative and how to make sense of daunting hospital cost reports.

How I did it: Reporting on delays in newborn testing     Posted: 12/06/13

Ellen Gabler
Ellen Gabler

The investigative team of Ellen Gabler, John Fauber and Mark Johnson at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel used data to uncover a national tragedy: infants dying or becoming permanently disabled because labs don't process their newborn blood tests in time to save them.

The national investigation was based on an analysis of nearly 3 million newborn screening tests from babies in 31 states. They requested records from all 50 states and the District of Columbia

Here, Gabler describes how she got the numbers that led to the multi-part series.

Investigation finds improper spending among organ procurers     Posted: 11/21/13

Andrew Conte

Luis Fábregas

Every reporter knows the stories that organ recovery nonprofits pitch to media outlets, about donors’ families receiving praise from recipients at annual events with flowers, medals and teary speeches.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review has covered these stories for years, often reporting some heartwarming stories of turning loss from death into life for someone else. But investigative reporters Andrew Conte and Luis Fabregas started wondering what happens at these organ procurement organizations the rest of the year.

The national investigation, “Donor Dilemma,” revealed that the nonprofits collected $1.2 billion in 2011 from recovering more than 80,000 organs, bones and other tissue. They paid top executives $320,000 a year on average and, in some cases, hired family members to work at their nonprofits. Other nonprofits rented a private jet, threw large retirement parties, bought Rose Bowl Tickets and held a retreat at a five-star oceanfront resort – with the federal government and taxpayers picking up part of the cost.

Halloween a natural time to write about oral health     Posted: 11/15/13

Halloween candySome dentists give out toothbrushes for Halloween. Culberson Boren, D.D.S., in Tyler, Texas, offered to buy back kids candy for a dollar a pound. Melissa Daigle, a reporter for CBS affiliate KYTX paid him a visit.

"A lot of people are trying to get guns off the street," Boren told her. "We're trying to get candy off the street."

Daigle took a break from her work to share a few insights into her piece, which was fun, and at the same time managed to incorporate some useful oral health information.

'Critical access' designation may be in danger for hospitals in your area     Posted: 11/07/13

David Wahlberg
David Wahlberg

In rural areas, the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services designates more than 1,300 hospitals as being “critical access hospitals.” These facilities get higher reimbursements to ensure that Americans outside of cities and suburbs can get the care they need without having to travel too far. In August, a report from the Office of Inspector General of the federal Department of Health and Human Services recommended that many of these facilities be decertified.

When he learned of the report, David Wahlberg, a health/medicine reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal, interviewed administrators at critical access hospitals in Wisconsin and found that the administrators believed closing these hospitals would have a detrimental effect on care for Medicare patients. The issue of payment for these facilities is important in every state, but particularly in Wisconsin, which has 58 critical access hospitals. Wahlberg also found that, while critical access hospitals will not be decertified soon, they could be in the future.

Wahlberg points out some important issues journalists should be looking into that involve patient care, the local economy and screenings and care for more vulnerable populations.

Reporter follows epidemiological investigation of dental practice     Posted: 10/23/13

When genetic testing concluded that a former patient of W. Scott Harrington contracted hepatitis C at the Tulsa oral surgeon’s office, Tulsa World reporter Shannon Muchmore was there to file the latest installment in an unfolding story she has been covering since the spring.  

The case turned out to be the first documented report of patient-to-patient transmission of the hepatitis C virus associated with a dental setting in the United States, according to Oklahoma state and local health officials. In March, officials started testing thousands of Harrington’s former patients for hepatitis and HIV after an office inspection turned up lax sanitation practices and other violations of the state’s Dental Act. Since then, more than 4,200 people have been tested at free clinics.

Muchmore took some time out from her work on this story to offer AHCJ members an update on what she has found.

Reporter looks at why, how clinic banned drug reps and their samples     Posted: 10/15/13

Markian Hawryluk

Six years ago, a clinic in Oregon made the decision to ban representatives from the pharmaceutical companies. The doctors and staff say goodbye to free samples of expensive drugs, lavish lunches, pens, notebooks, mugs, toys for children and other "benefits."

Markian Hawryluk, a health reporter with The Bend (Ore.) Bulletin, picked up on a recent journal article about the transformation and used that as his inspiration to write about how the clinic made its decision and how it changed the way doctors there practice medicine, as well as how the move impacted the community.

As data is collected under the Physician Payments Sunshine Act, a part of the Affordable Care Act that will require pharmaceutical companies to disclose the money and gifts given to physicians, reporters may start noting similar changes in their area.

Story on 'diaper need' brings a medical study to life     Posted: 10/14/13

Eryn Brown

Medical research can often seem far removed from a local health beat. All the statistics, the jargon, the complicated graphs can make it easy to forget that behind every number there's a real person. In fact, medical studies can be great jumping off points for local stories. The key is finding the people who are at the heart of the research.

We asked health reporter Eryn Brown to share how she recently turned a medical study from Yale University into a poignant local story for the Los Angeles Times. In bringing the research home, she shined a light on the heartbreaking ways low-income mothers have to stretch diapers when they can't afford a steady supply.

The story is part of a recent push in research to "operationalize" poverty by documenting the concrete ways income impacts health and quality of life. These kinds of studies are starting to give us a glimpse into the hardships faced by people on the fringes of society.

Covering pediatric dental benefits     Posted: 09/05/13

Chad Terhune

Pediatric dental benefits are among the 10 essential health benefits included in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

But offering them on the new health insurance marketplaces scheduled to open Oct. 1 holds challenges for states. Should kids’ dental benefits be sold as standalone plans, separate from medical insurance as they usually are? Should they be bundled with other benefits? Embedded into policies? Is everyone required to buy them? Are parents required to buy them? Will they be affordable?

As I wrote in a recent blog post, Chad Terhune of the Los Angeles Times has done a good job of writing about the complexities of fitting pediatric dental benefits into California’s exchange, “Covered California.”

He was good enough to share his insights into the unfolding story and to offer advice to AHCJ members who might want to see how this issue is playing out in their own states.

Poor oversight of Medicaid managed care programs takes toll on patients     Posted: 08/22/13

Jenni Bergal
Jenni Bergal

When Kaiser Health News hired Jenni Bergal as a freelance contractor, she was given only one assignment: Write about Medicaid managed care. It’s an important topic, with millions more people expected to be enrolled as Medicaid expands under the Affordable Care Act starting next year.

She set out to find out how well the states are overseeing and monitoring the quality of care provided by the managed care plans they contract with, and how states compare with each other. In this article for AHCJ, she explains the challenges in doing so. She also reminds us that even policy stories are about people and shows us how problems in one state's managed care program have affected its residents.

Reporter finds surprising stance on smokers' surcharge     Posted: 08/06/13

Stephanie O'Neill
Stephanie O'Neill

Stephanie O’Neill, a health care reporter for Southern California Public Radio, tells the back story of her report on why California – a state that has taken the lead in combating tobacco – had second thoughts about whether to charge smokers higher insurance premiums as permitted under the Affordable Care Act. The issue put anti-smoking groups, such as American Cancer Society and American Lung Association, in odd alignment with tobacco companies on this matter.

It’s a topic you can explore with legislators, insurers and public health advocates in your state.

Covering the science of water fluoridation     Posted: 07/03/13

Kyle Hill
Kyle Hill

Around the country fights over water fluoridation have made news in recent months.

Public health officials and dentists can show years worth of evidence that fluoride, when present at optimum levels in community water supplies, reduces tooth decay. But opponents protest that fluoride at any level is dangerous.

Late in May, Portland voters rejected a decision to fluoridate the city’s water.

Kyle Hill quickly weighed in on his Overthinking It blog for Scientific American in a piece titled "Why Portland is Wrong about Fluoride."

Hill, a freelance science writer who tackles a wide variety of topics, was good enough to share a few thoughts about his coverage.

Covering health reform's effect on addiction treatment     Posted: 06/20/13

Carla K. Johnson
Carla K. Johnson

Carla K. Johnson, an Associated Press medical writer and AHCJ board member, recently did an insightful piece on how the coverage expansion under the Affordable Care Act would affect treatment for substance abuse and addiction.

She analyzed several sets of federal data to find the current capacity of the addiction treatment system and the number of possible new patients. Armed with the data, she then did another round of interviews with addicts, their families and their treatment providers.

Here she shares how she got her story – and provides tips and sources that can help you explore this topic in your own community.

Geotagging CMS Medicare discharge data to highlight cost differences     Posted: 06/20/13

Tyler Dukes
M. Tyler Dukes

Less than 24 hours after CMS released its Medicare charge data, AHCJ member Rose Hoban and data journalist Tyler Dukes analyzed the data and developed a comprehensive story on cost differences for several of the most prevalent conditions across the state.

Dukes used the statistics to code a map with different colored informational pins so readers could see the numbers for themselves. He explains how he went about creating this interactive tool.

Reporter shares experience covering investigation into dental clinics     Posted: 05/07/13

Shannon Muchmore, health reporter for The Tulsa World, has been leading the pack in covering allegations of lax sanitation practices at the office of oral surgeon Scott Harrington. Amid a steady stream of reports, she took the time to share some of her insights into the complexities of the unfolding drama.

Complaints to attorneys general yield sources for dental investigation     Posted: 04/30/13

David Heath
David Heath

Dollars and Dentists, a joint investigation by David Heath of the Center for Public Integrity and Jill Rosenbaum of PBS Frontline captured a first-place Award for Excellence in Health Care Journalism.

The report, which aired last summer, explored the dearth of care for millions of poor children and adults and raised serious questions about the business practices of dental chains that serve Medicaid children and the elderly.

Mary Otto, AHCJ's oral health topic leader, caught up with Heath at Health Journalism 2013 in Boston and he shared some reflections on the making of the project.

Paying careful attention yields story on business, marketing of dental practices     Posted: 04/12/13

Amy Jeter
Amy Jeter

Amy Jeter of The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot, looked at the impact of the financial downturn on dental practices and how the practices were working to counteract that.

She found people are getting phone calls, texts and emails from dentists to not only remind them of appointments but also to wish them a happy birthday and offering awards for referrals and deals through Groupon. Jeter shares with AHCJ a few insights on how the story evolved.

Readmissions, the drug store and a sleep-deprived patient     Posted: 04/04/13

Eric Whitney
Eric Whitney

Colorado Public Radio's Eric Whitney recently reported on a new program involving Walgreens pharmacists that is intended to help hospitals reduce readmission rates. It seemed like a straightforward story about improving patient care and new business opportunities created by the Affordable Care Act.

Not so straightforward was the improvising Whitney had to do when things started going awry. He writes about the challenges of putting together a piece for radio, what went wrong and how he was able to pull it all together.

As Whitney writes, there are innovative strategies being tried across the country. Broad reporting on the topic will help audiences better understand one place where health care is failing, and why solutions aren’t always simple.

Focus on freelancing: Keys to negotiating fair contracts     Posted: 03/28/13

Irene Wielawski
Irene Wielawski

There’s no shortage of war stories among freelancers about the kinds of contracts they’ve been asked to sign. Some go on for pages, others are marvels of straightforward simplicity. The worst ones demand – in addition to a well-researched, cogently written and accurate story – guarantees against any error that could possibly occur along the road to publication.

Veteran freelancer Irene Wielawski says it took her years to figure out how to build into standard contracts the tools she needed to protect the integrity of her work. Now she uses that experience to advise other freelancers on what things to avoid when negotiating a contract and why.

When the study’s not the story     Posted: 03/07/13

Salynn Boyles
Salynn Boyles

Writing about medical research can be a pretty straightforward task. But then there are times when a study that doesn't tell the whole story. These studies share common red flags – they're usually funded by drug or device manufacturers, they're eagerly promoted, and they typically ignore other studies with conflicting results.

Award-winning freelancer writer Salynn Boyles shows us how she spotted one such study and did the legwork to add background and balance. The end result was a story she says took more effort, but ultimately reflected told a bigger truth about one kind of weight loss surgery. Another bonus: It was more fun to write.

'A Life Hijacked:' Long-term project documents man's saga with Alzheimer's     Posted: 01/30/13

Gary  Rotstein
Gary Rotstein

Gary Rotstein, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s age beat reporter, has been following and writing about Alan Romatowski, a man with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease since July 2008. His series, updated each Thanksgiving weekend, is a long-running chronicle of Alan's experiences, his decline, the impact on his family and others, to show what so many American families increasingly experience among the 5 million-plus dementia cases.

Rotstein writes for AHCJ about how the project got started, how he's handled telling the family's story sensitively and the kinds of stories he has written about Romatowski and his family.

Deadline management for medical research news     Posted: 01/11/13

Daniel J. DeNoon
Daniel J. DeNoon

Deadline in a few hours? “Don’t panic” is bad advice. It’s not even possible when deadline looms and nobody has called you back. Managing that hot little ball of panic is key. Think of it as a controlled nuclear reaction from which you can draw energy.

Award-winning health reporter Daniel J. DeNoon shares his strategy for writing a news story about a journal article on deadline.

Reporter chases down cost of new tax break for investor-owned hospitals     Posted: 11/27/12

Carla K. Johnson

When Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law a tax break for investor-owned hospitals last spring, there was no official analysis of how much it would cost the state in lost revenue. Carla K. Johnson, a medical writer with The Associated Press, thought that was odd and that the tax break itself was unusual.

When she asked aout the cost of the tax break, a spokesman for the Illinois Hospital Association met her questions about the cost of the tax break with answers like, "That's difficult to say." The Illinois Department of Revenue spokeswoman said that department was never asked for an official estimate.

Johnson, determined to figure out the cost, delved into records to calculate the amount of the tax break and discovered that, during a time of fiscal crisis, legislators had passed a bill that costs the state millions of dollars. Read how she arrived at the estimated cost and how it informed her reporting on the tax break.

'Dollars and dentists:' Investigating the dental care crisis in the U.S.     Posted: 09/18/12

Jill Rosenbaum

Jill Rosenbaum

Dollars and Dentists” a joint project of PBS Frontline and the Center for Public Integrity, looked at the consequences of a broken dental care system.

The project reveals the consequences of a ruptured dental care system and investigates how a new breed of corporate dental chains are filling the gaps. Reporters counted at least 14 major chains, owned by private equity groups. But, they discovered that because they are largely owned or backed by private equity firms, there is little publicly available information about them.

In this piece, Frontline Producer Jill Rosenbaum shares how the investigation got started, where they found data, who the key sources were and some ideas of stories that are ripe for coverage.

Reporters can use hospital readmission data to explore key issues     Posted: 09/06/12

Jordan Rau
Jordan Rau

The Affordable Care Act honed in on hospital readmissions because many health policy experts believe they’re symptomatic of the broad dysfunction of the health care system where providers don’t work with each other as patients pass from one setting, like a hospital, to another, like a primary doctor’s oversight or a nursing home.

Readmissions penalties that begin in October are intended to prod hospitals to start making sure patients get the care they need after they walk out the door. It’s a nice window into many of the most important issues in health care, including cost, access and disparities.

Jordan Rau, of Kaiser Health News, explains the penalties, the readmission data and offers tips on how to use the data to write about hospitals with specificity and authority.

Author makes transition from print to blogging     Posted: 08/23/12

Howard Gleckman
Howard Gleckman

Howard Gleckman, formerly a senior correspondent in the Washington, D.C. bureau of Business Week, explains his metamorphosis into a blogger who focuses on long-term care, health policy and tax policy. While at Business Week, he covered two beats that seemed disconnected but were not – tax and budget policy and health policy. But, as Gleckman points out, we’ve all learned in recent months that tax and health policy turn out to be closely linked.

Gleckman discusses the range of topics he covers, the value of feedback he receives through his social media efforts, how much time he spends on various projects and more.

Documentary reveals struggles of aging LGBT community     Posted: 08/16/12

Stu Maddux
Stu Maddux

For a generation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender adults now in their 60s, 70s and 80s, silence was, for a long time, a way of life. Often they struggled with fear, shame, and isolation, along with a deep-seated distrust of authority and a dread of discrimination.

Growing old and becoming ill and dependent can stir up painful feelings. Am I a worthwhile person? Will others stay by me or abandon me if I show them who I really am? Can I trust that I won’t be judged? Will I be treated well if I display my vulnerability, or do I have to put up my guard?

Filmmaker Stu Maddux, a former television journalist, anchor and producer, takes us inside this world in Gen Silent, a film that profiles six LGBT seniors and the issues they’re facing as they age. Maddux recently spoke at length with AHCJ topic leader Judith Graham about making this film and we share highlights of that conversation.

Tracking antipsychotic use in nursing homes     Posted: 07/17/12

Kay Lazar
Kay Lazar

Research published in 2010 found that patients newly admitted to nursing homes with some of the highest rates for prescribing antipsychotics were significantly more likely to receive the drugs than patients entering homes with the lowest prescribing rates – regardless of whether they had conditions that warranted use of the drugs.

The Boston Globe project, “A rampant prescription, a hidden peril,” aimed to pull back the curtain on a long-running but shrouded practice in many nursing homes of using antipsychotic drugs to sedate residents, particularly those with dementia who often have challenging behaviors.

Reporter explores difficult end-of-life questions through father's death     Posted: 07/13/12

Lisa Krieger
Lisa Krieger

It took months for Lisa Krieger to decide to write about her father’s death and minutes for readers to begin responding after her article appeared in the San Jose Mercury News.

At the center of Krieger’s unflinching account of her father’s last days is an uncomfortable question: “Just because it's possible to prolong a life, should we?”

Hundreds of readers wrote in to thank Krieger for sharing her story and going beyond the “death panel” rhetoric that so often stifles honest discussion of end-of-life concerns. Her work demonstrates that reporters can sometimes tell the story from an unusual perspective – their own – and touch readers in a different way than would be possible with more traditional coverage.

Health care blessing or blueprint for a scandal?     Posted: 07/10/12

Frederik Joelving
Frederik Joelving

The risks and benefits – both physical and fiscal – of cancer screening have become a burning topic, and have been absorbed into the endless political controversies surrounding the health reform law.

Are certain tests "essential benefits" or a boondoggle that can actually do more harm than good? And if they are deemed "unessential," then someone who disagrees inevitably uses the "R" word (rationing.)

We asked Reuters Health reporter Frederik Joelving to share how he reported on a high-profile doctor touting a new screening test. The test may be quicker and cheaper than the standard procedure, but hasn’t been proven to help anyone.

N.C. hospitals make big money while suing vulnerable patients for rising costs of care     Posted: 07/04/12

In 2009, as the debate about health care reform picked up steam in Washington, D.C., an editor at The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., posed a question: Should the newspaper take a deep look at the cost of health care?

A series of interviews and some database work led to a memo directing the coverage to concentrate on hospitals and a key decision: Ask colleagues at The Charlotte Observer to join. North Carolina's two biggest hospital systems were based in Charlotte. The biggest, Carolinas HealthCare System, was suing thousands of its patients each year for payment. If the two papers worked together, they could pull off a series that could run statewide, with more reach and impact.

Here, investigative reporter Joe Neff from The News & Observer, investigative reporter Ames Alexander and medical writer Karen Garloch from The Charlotte Observer share how they reported the five-day series, the most useful sources and their reporting strategies.

How Britain’s new health law got through Parliament     Posted: 06/27/12

Most health care professionals vociferously opposed Britain’s new Health and Social Care Act in the final few months as the House of Lords debated its fate.

Opposition was especially strong from family doctors (GPs), who, on the face of it, should have seen themselves as beneficiaries of new powers and control, but most of whom have seen the proposals as a threat to them and to the National Health Service.

Britain passes NHS reforms amid controversy     Posted: 06/27/12

The British government’s highly controversial “Health and Social Care Act” finally completed its bruising 15-month journey through the Houses of Parliament in March, in the teeth of opposition from doctors, nursing unions, public health professionals, and mounting public concern. The debate on the merits and implications of the proposals is far from over.

John Lister, AHCJ's European web coordinator, explains the restructuring of the publicly funded National Health Service, which will shift the pool of taxpayers’ money used to purchase services.

Columnist writes about intersection of finance, aging and health     Posted: 06/22/12

Mark Miller
Mark Miller

What is it like to be a columnist covering the aging beat?

We asked Mark Miller, who writes twice weekly for Reuters and monthly for

Miller is an experienced business and financial journalist who examined demographic trends several years back and realized that writing about aging would be an in-demand specialty.

Since Medicare is such an important issue for anyone age 65 or older, Miller gave himself a crash course on that government health care program. His columns on Medicare are some of his best-read pieces.

Miller know that writing about health will be an important part of his work going forward and recently joined AHCJ to connect with other journalists and pick up story ideas. We welcome the voice and experience that he brings.

Health beyond prayer in faith-based congregations     Posted: 06/20/12

Health professionals gave examples and perspectives on how religion and health intertwine at the annual conference of the Association of Health Care Journalists, held recently in Atlanta.

Miriam Burnett, M.D., M.Div., M.P.H., the connectional medical director of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, discussed conducting research several years ago on the influence of African traditional beliefs and its influence on African American health practices today. She said that people who don’t have health insurance and have low self-esteem often feel like they are non-beings.

At Blue Skies Ministries in Marietta, Ga., the approach to ministering to children with cancer and their families is a one-week respite from the physical, financial and emotional difficulties to a retreat at the beach for hope and healing through spiritual renewal.

Embedded reporter takes multifaceted look at end-of-life issues     Posted: 06/05/12

The Toronto Globe and Mail treated readers last year to an unusually intimate look at issues that arise at end of life. Lisa Priest, lead reporter for the newspaper’s series, spent 10 weeks embedded in a critical care unit at a local hospital, where she tracked the experiences, thoughts and feelings of patients, family members, doctors and other medical staff. Here she describes some key questions that arose as she embarked upon this multimedia project, and the inspiration that she felt at being privy to some of life’s deepest, rawest moments.

Freelance: Managing workflow and workload     Posted: 06/01/12

The freelance life offers many perks: no commute, the freedom to adapt your workload to your lifestyle, job security and freelancers can’t get laid off – if you lose one gig, another will come along.

Those advantages are tempered by changing compensation schemes. Now, writers are “paid” in the currency of influence. Platforms such as blogs offer high visibility and perhaps the opportunity to exercise your passion but with less payment than other opportunities.

Freelancers not only need to find, research, and write stories, they need to promote their work on social media, all tasks that are uncompensated financially.

Health Journalism 2012 panelists Maryn McKenna, Paul Raeburn, and Irene Wielawski offered ways to cope with heavy workload of paid and non-paid gigs.

NASA collaborations bring medical innovations down to earth     Posted: 06/01/12

You might know about the culinary delights – everything from Tang to freeze-dried ice cream – the space program has added to the American lifestyle. But NASA's Glenn Research Center, just outside Cleveland, has been making significant contributions to health care innovation and medical device development since 1977.

Astronauts’ experiences in space have led to medical innovation, ranging from cataract detectors to a special harness – specifically designed with the anatomical needs of women in mind – used for treadmill workouts in the zero gravity of space.

Jerry Myers Jr., Ph.D., chief of the bioscience and technology branch at the Glenn Research Center, explained many of these devices and innovations journalists on May 22, at an event hosted by the Association of Health Care Journalists' new Cleveland-area chapter.  The Cleveland chapter of SPJ co-sponsored the event.

Food safety: Getting beyond the annual food scare     Posted: 05/28/12

Food is making people sick more and more often. Last year, there were three major outbreaks from contaminated food, including Listeria in cantaloupes, E. coli from organic sprouts and Salmonella from ground turkey meat. Combined they resulted in 46 deaths. 

The article addresses the severity of food safety problem, including consequences, factors relating to the problem and possible approaches to resolve the issue.

New understandings in the science of addiction and treatment     Posted: 05/28/12

Could your brain be making you fat? Actually, it's a possibility. According to panelists, there are physical, chemical and biological differences in the brains of people with addictions versus people without. The article introduces some of new understandings in the science of addiction and treatment. 

Gone without a case: Suspicious elder deaths rarely investigated     Posted: 05/21/12

A.C. Thompson

A.C. Thompson

At the end of last year, ProPublica turned a spotlight on seniors who perish from abuse, neglect, or other forms of mistreatment – deaths that are almost never investigated by coroners or medical examiners.  

Who knew that doctors can fill out death certificates in most states without ever seeing an elderly patient’s body and determining what actually happened to the person?

Experts told ProPublica that the failure to examine suspicious senior deaths reflects denial as well as prejudice.

"We're where child abuse was 30 years ago," said Dr. Kathryn Locatell, a geriatrician who specializes in diagnosing elder abuse. "I think it's ageism -- I think it boils down to that one word. We don't value old people. We don't want to think about ourselves getting old."

Here, ProPublica’s A.C. Thompson describes how reporting for this story evolved and how it fits into the news organization’s broader investigation of coroners and medical examiners, a joint project with PBS “Frontline” and NPR.

Moves to address access to dental care     Posted: 05/15/12

When asked to list the top challenges in rural health care, almost all respondents to a survey listed dental care in the top three, according to David Wahlberg, a reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal who moderated the Health Journalism 2012 session on “Moves to address access to dental care.”

Panelists explained the reasons behind the shortage of dental care, as well as looking at models that may prove effective at increasing access to care.

Adults with autism face options, barriers     Posted: 05/15/12

A panel explored employment models for adults with autism and techniques to reduce workplace challenges during “Is the Workplace Prepared for an Increase in Adults with Autism?” at Health Journalism 2012.

Panelist Arni Klin, Ph.D., director of Atlanta’s Marcus Autism Center, said roughly half of autistic adults possess the intellectual capabilities “to attain paid employment” and that “a sizeable group” possesses special skills to make important contributions to society. “Individuals with autism function best in predictable, supportive, rule-governed environments,” such as those that require technical or computer expertise, he explained.

Future of artificial intelligence in patient care     Posted: 05/15/12

Banish any notions of artificial intelligence fueled by sci-fi films. One day soon, doctors will use artificial intelligence to diagnose and treat disease.

That was the crux of the “Future of Artificial Intelligence in Patient Care” panel at Health Journalism 2012.

Identifying disparities in diagnosis and treatment     Posted: 05/15/12

People traditionally think of health disparities in terms of race. But numerous other factors contribute to the sharp differences in life expectancy and disease rates in the United States, said speakers at Health Journalism 2012 in Atlanta.

The panelists discussed recent innovations that have the potential for reducing inequalities and offered a list of questions that reporters should ask about any new technology. One panelist emphasized looking beyond the common myths to find the real reasons that some groups are under-represented in clinical trials.

Freelance: Mapping successful business plans and models     Posted: 05/15/12

Successful freelancers often travel very different paths to find their distinct pots of gold.

At the same time, the three panelists from the Health Journalism 2012 panel “Mapping successful business plans and models" all shared a common theme: find the path that works for your unique personality and business. The panelists not only offered useful tips for running a business but were forthcoming about what they make and how they decide what to charge for their work.

Explosion of hospital quality data creates opportunities for journalists     Posted: 05/15/12

An explosion of hospital quality data initiatives gives health care journalists unprecedented opportunities to report on the quality of care provided by hospitals in their communities, with more such programs anticipated in coming months.

Ashish Jha, M.D., M.P.H., professor of health policy and management at Harvard School of Public Health, and Charles Ornstein, president of AHCJ’s board of directors and a senior report at ProPublica, reviewed some of the major quality reporting initiatives, with their pros and cons for health care journalists at a Health Journalism 2012 panel.

Diabetes' impact on diverse populations     Posted: 05/15/12

The statistics on diabetes are staggering. The disease already affects 8.3 percent of Americans, and that number could climb to one in three by 2050, according to experts on a Health Journalism 2012 panel.

The panelists discussed the economic toll of diabetes, risk factors, prevention and screening pregnant women for gestational diabetes, as well as community outreach efforts to educate and help diverse populations.

Economic determinants of child health     Posted: 05/14/12

One of every five kids in the United States is living in poverty and families with children under age 6 are more likely to be poor than those without. In our economic climate, this isn’t news. The connections between poverty and health also have been covered, so how can journalists find fresh angles on the topic?

One way is to look “upstream” at how communities are addressing socioeconomic factors that contribute to health problems.

Pitches that are a hit with editors     Posted: 05/14/12

Stalking an editor or a story, making clear and concise pitches, showing your knowledge of a subject and demonstrating you know your targeted publication well are all tips that editors had for independent journalists at a Health Journalism 2012 panel.

Evaluating medical evidence for journalists     Posted: 05/14/12

Journalists Gary Schwitzer and Ivan Oransky, M.D., had many examples to illustrate that the media too often exaggerates the benefits of drugs or medical therapies, while downplaying the harms, during the panel “Evaluating medical evidence” at Health Journalism 2012.

Hepatitis: New battle lines in a war on a silent killer     Posted: 05/14/12

What if you were sick but didn't know until it was too late? That's the case for more than 3 million Americans who have hepatitis C, a viral disease that causes swelling of the liver, which can lead to liver cancer.

Panelists at Health Journalism 2012 discussed why health professionals are seeing an increase in the disease, why it is going undiagnosed and the economic impacts of the disease.

Covering Medicare for the man on the street     Posted: 05/10/12

As our population ages and health care costs rise faster than inflation, health policy experts fear that Medicare costs will outpace funds.

At the 2012 meeting of the Association of Health Care Journalists, panelists addressed the future of Medicare during the session “Will Medicare Survive the Decade?” moderated by Trudy Lieberman, a fellow at the Center for Advancing Health and a contributing editor at Columbia Journalism Review.

A reporter's guide to medical decision making     Posted: 05/09/12

Today, patients are often faced with life-altering medical decisions. A woman with early stage breast cancer may be asked by her doctor to decide whether she prefers a complete mastectomy or a breast-sparing lumpectomy followed by radiation treatment. A man with early prostate cancer might get a similar question: Would he rather have radiation therapy, surgery to remove the tumor, or do nothing but monitor the situation?

In medical situations like these where there is no single best treatment, making sure that patients are involved in decisions makes room for individual preferences and priorities, and puts treatment in line with the patient's values. But people faced with such decisions frequently lack the resources, support, and expert coaching that they need to make a truly informed choice, said the participants at Health Journalism 2012 panel, “A reporter's guide to medical decision making.”

Medicaid: Covering cost-cutting efforts and impact of health reform     Posted: 05/08/12

“Conflict makes a good story, and there’s nothing quite like Medicaid for conflict,” Matt Salo, executive director of the National Association of Medicaid Directors, told reporters at a panel discussion during AHCJ’s annual conference in Atlanta. Salo and other panelists pointed to several story ideas and resources for reporters to follow up on.

Debates over screening, comparative effectiveness research lead to compelling reporting     Posted: 05/02/12

Rochelle Sharpe
Rochelle Sharpe

This is one of the key questions reporters will try to answer as they cover the Obama administration’s efforts to promote comparative effectiveness research. Rochelle Sharpe, a Pulitzer Prize-winning freelance writer, has written about comparative effectiveness research that is designed to determine the most effective ways to treat disease and fill gaping holes in our medical knowledge. Here, she shares sources and questions that reporters should be asking about the topic.

Is earlier diagnosis of Alzheimer’s around the corner?     Posted: 05/01/12

The two most feared words in the English language arguably could be “Alzheimer’s disease.”

“People are still incredibly afraid of it,” said Dr. Allan Levey, chairman of the Department of Neurology at Emory University School of Medicine, during the Health Journalism 2012 session about potential ways to identify changes in the brain before symptoms of the dementia become obvious.

Right now, there is no cure and no long-term treatments that can arrest or reverse the decline. Still, the race to identify people at risk of Alzheimer’s or with the disease is because “we’re all very clearly aware that our chances of making an impact with treatment will depend on making a diagnosis as early as possible,” Levey said.

Who is caring for undocumented immigrants?     Posted: 04/30/12

The rules about when and where the undocumented can get care are a complex thicket. For that reason, plus misinformation, cultural and language barriers and fears of deportation, these immigrants tend to avoid getting care until they reach a crisis. It's also very hard to get good data on undocumented immigrants, as national surveys and health care providers generally don't ask about immigration status (exception: the Pew Hispanic Center has some data).

The speakers in this session at Health Journalism 2012 outlined the rules about care for the undocumented and offered up a wrenching case study of one adolescent girl.

Google tools for health reporters     Posted: 04/21/12

Katherine Leon has a problem with SCAD, the Savannah College of Art and Design. Leon has her own SCAD – spontaneous coronary artery dissection. Leon has been fighting to create more awareness about the disease but when someone looks up SCAD on Google, the first results are almost always that other SCAD.

So on Thursday, in a panel called “Google tools for health reporters" at the Health Journalism 2012 conference, she pleaded with Sandra Heikkinen of Google: Can’t you do something about that other SCAD. Heikkinen’s response? Put a minus sign before Savannah and it eliminates results with that word in it.

That search tip and others were part of the panel on Google as Heikkinen extolled different tools for health journalists to explore the world that is Google. She used the minus sign  herself recently when she was looking up cruise options for her mother.

Former president, first lady kick off conference with discussion of global health, mental health     Posted: 04/20/12

Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter discussed their work to improve mental health care and their global health efforts.
Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter discussed their work to improve mental health care and their global health efforts. (Photo: Len Bruzzese/AHCJ)

Former President Jimmy Carter and first lady Rosalynn Carter welcomed AHCJ back to Atlanta for the first time in 11 years during Thursday night’s kickoff session, “A Conversation with the Carters.”

The founders of the Carter Center sat down with independent journalist and former AHCJ president Andrew Holtz and more than 300 conference attendees for a candid discussion of mental health parity in the United States and disease eradication in developing nations.

Whistleblower suits form basis for reporting on for-profit hospices     Posted: 04/11/12

Jordan Rau
Jordan Rau

Jordan Rau of Kaiser Health News has turned a sharp eye on for-profit hospices during the past year, writing about allegedly abusive practices detailed in whistleblower lawsuits.

The whistleblowers – former company insiders – claim that some operators are enrolling patients in hospice care inappropriately in an attempt to maximize Medicare revenues. Lawsuits have been settled out of court, and companies haven’t admitted any wrongdoing.

Here, Rau explains how he came upon the trail of his New York Times story and pursued it, with a few twists and turns, over the course of several years.

Reporting on 1-800-GET-THIN clinic highlights regulatory issues     Posted: 03/15/12

Michael Hiltzik, a business columnist at the Los Angeles Times, has spent more than two years writing about the company behind 1-800-GET-THIN, advertising Lap-Band surgery in Southern California. His work has triggered a warning from the FDA, investigation from insurance regulators and, finally, action from Allergan, the maker of Lap-Bands. In this article, he discusses his work and the pushback and lawsuits he faced as a result of his reporting.

Reform will require nonprofit hospitals to assess charity care; reporters can evaluate it now     Posted: 02/20/12

Tony Leys
Tony Leys

One little-known element of the health care reform law sets new rules for nonprofits. They are required to assess community needs, and inform patients of charity policies. Some legislators want tougher rules and oversight to make sure they are providing enough service to the community to justify the tax break.

Reporter Tony Leys, of the Des Moines Register, describes how he examined how much charity care is provided by hospitals in Iowa in return for the substantial tax breaks they get for operating as nonprofit organizations. Leys, a 2011-12 Regional Health Journalism Fellow, was able to compare local hospitals, using new IRS reporting requirements for nonprofit hospitals, and estimated how local property tax revenue was affected by the tax-exempt hospital properties in those areas.

Parting thoughts: Berwick shares views on media coverage of health care and reform     Posted: 02/09/12

In a Newsmaker Briefing at Health Journalism 2011, CMS Administrator Don Berwick unveiled a website on health data.
Berwick appeared at a Newsmaker Briefing at Health Journalism 2011.
(Photo: Len Bruzzese)

He has worked with reporters as part of his jobs at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement and, most recently, at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Having left CMS in December, Berwick agreed to share his thoughts with AHCJ President Charles Ornstein about media coverage of CMS, health reform and his tenure.

Controversy over breast implants spreads across Europe     Posted: 02/07/12

Europe focus

British clinics delivering cosmetic surgery were thrown into crisis by the decision last month of the French government to fund the removal of thousands of breast implants manufactured by the now-closed French company Poly Implant Prostheses (PIP). The implants were found to have used industrial grade silicone made for use in mattresses.

In the story, John Lister explores the controversy of these breast implants in Europe, including the lack of data on how many women in the United Kingdom received the implants, how the UK's National Health Service has been drawn into the business of removing the implants and the regulatory system that allowed the implants in the first place.

Investigating patient safety at a Dallas institution     Posted: 01/27/12

Ryan McNeill
Ryan McNeill

For two years, a team of reporters at The Dallas Morning News has written stories of breakdowns in patient care at one of Texas’ most important medical institutions, Parkland Memorial Hospital.

In story after story, News reporters showed how systemic breakdowns in care left patients maimed or dead. Officials from Parkland and its academic partner, the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, were highly critical of the News’ coverage. Here, reporter Ryan McNeill reveals some of the reporting that went into the effort to investigate patient safety in Dallas hospitals.

Tip points reporter to troubled assisted-living facility     Posted: 01/08/12

Mary Kate Malone
Mary Kate Malone

The South Bend Tribune recently broke the news that state officials were considering yanking a license from an assisted-living center where troubling care deficiencies had been documented.

This topic – problematic conditions in assisted living facilities – is receiving a considerable amount of attention across the country and may well be one that health reporters are asked to look into.

We asked Mary Kate Malone, author of the South Bend piece and a staff writer at the newspaper, how she came upon the story and fleshed out details. We also asked her to tell us a little bit about herself.

Boomerangst: Series helps explain what the aging of the boomers means     Posted: 01/08/12

Cover of the Bommerangst projectReporters in Canada have done some pretty spectacular reporting on aging issues.

The largest effort, Boomerangst, came from The Province in Vancouver, British Columbia. The Province has a weekday circulation of about 157,000 and Sunday circulation of 171,000. The weekly readership in print and online is 957,500.

The first piece in the newspaper’s 14-part series ran in mid-October; follow-up stories are ongoing.

Ros Guggi, deputy editor at the paper, describes how this exceptional effort came together and the community’s strong response.

Investigation: Falsified charts in nursing homes linked to patient care     Posted: 12/08/11

Marjie Lundstrom
Marjie Lundstrom

Sacramento Bee reporter Marjie Lundstrom recently wrote a two-part series on the falsification of patient records in nursing homes. Her investigation turned up a narrow aspect of nursing home care that has gotten little public attention.

She used public records, court records and patients' stories to document false record-keeping and blatant cover-ups that went right to the heart of patient care. She found cases of altered records to minimize blame and legal liability; filling out charts en masse, out of laziness or necessity because of under-staffing; improperly dispensing medications and therapists that continued to bill Medicare for high-priced therapy for patients too ill to participate.

Finding the patterns linked the falsification issue directly to patient care. In some instances, vulnerable nursing home residents died because their medical charts failed to reflect their true conditions.

Group effort documents effects of cutting services to seniors     Posted: 11/30/11

Services that mean a world of difference to needy seniors – everything from meals on wheels to specially equipped vans that take older people to doctors’ appointments – are threatened as financially-strapped states take a knife to over-extended budgets.

The California HealthCare Foundation Center for Health Reporting has undertaken one of the most extensive explorations of this trend in a series called Home Alone, a look at the impact of planned cuts to a program that funds California adult day care centers. The project was executed with nine other partners, some of which publish in languages other than English.

Richard Kipling, managing editor of the Center, describes how this project came together and what was involved in making it work.

Reporter investigates high rates of elective procedures     Posted: 11/03/11

Emily Bazar
Emily Bazar

One of the goals of the health reform law is to change the payment incentives to get rid of some of the unnecessary or overly aggressive care This is not rationing, proponents point out, but it is getting patients the care they need without getting them the care they don't need, whichoften carries risks, side effects and big medical bills. That's been part of the message from the Dartmouth Atlas.

Reporter Emily Bazar, of the California Health Care Foundation Center for Health Reporting, found some extemely high rates of elective heart surgery in one California community. She took data availability in California, some of the Dartmouth framework, and her own reporting and endeavored to reveal the meaning behind some surprising statistics: Citizens in one Central Valley town were five times to six times more likely to undergo elective heart surgery than other Californians.

Bazar analyzed the study to determine if external factors influenced the data, or if Clearlake residents were really receiving unnecessary (and expensive) operations.

We asked Bazar to share her experiences reporting on this data and to shed light on how journalists can transform statistics into a compelling story. While Bazar’s investigation is based on California data, all or nearly all states collect similar data that can be analyzed. Here is what Bazar learned from reporting this story.

How young reporters put together a comprehensive look at aging     Posted: 10/25/11

Brave Old World is a fascinating multimedia look at aging produced by News21 fellows from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.

The site debuted in September after a team of 13 young reporters spent 10 weeks interviewing older adults, their families and a wide variety of experts. On-the-ground research took the group to eight states.

The resulting stories, told through text, audio, photographs, interactive graphics and video, provide a nuanced look at aging trends unfolding across the country. Parts of the project appeared in The Washington Post, on The New York Times website, on and in Kaiser Health News.

Paula Span, the project leader, and some of her students discuss their contributions to Brave Old World and what they learned from this endeavor.

Access Denied: Looking at a lack of health care availability     Posted: 10/20/11

Shannon Muchmore
Shannon Muchmore

The 2010 health reform law is supposed to dramatically expand coverage of the uninsured. In the meantime, there are still some 50 million uninsured people. And questions remain about how underserved areas are going to absorb millions more people when they get covered.  The  Tulsa World Reporter Shannon Muchmore recently completed a three-part series about access to health care in Oklahoma, finding a shortage of physicians, particularly specialists, contributes to an underserved population.

"Access Denied" looks at how it affects all Oklahomans and what can be done to improve access to care. Here, she provides some tips (including some tools that can walk you through some simple data analysis) for journalists interested in pursuing similar reporting in their areas, accompanied by a number of resources about rural health care, disparities in access to care and workforce issues.

Investigating North Carolina's system of housing people with mental disabilities     Posted: 10/06/11

Rosemary Hoban
Rosemary Hoban

Rosemary Hoban, a reporter with North Carolina Public Radio/WUNC, compared North Carolina's system for treating the mentally ill with those in place in other states and how cuts have affected the systems of care.

After her series ran, the U.S. Department of Justice concluded that the state was in violation ofthe Americans with Disabilities Act in in its housing of people discharged from state psychiatric hospitals, and also violated the Supreme Court's Olmstead decision, which says states need to house people with mental health disabilities in the most integrated community setting possible.

In this article for AHCJ, she explains what she found was wrong with the system and outlines many of the useful resources she used in her reporting.

Reporting on why some patients are stuck in hospitals     Posted: 09/29/11

Yanick Rice Lamb
Yanick Rice Lamb

Patients typically complain about being released from the hospital sooner than they would like. So Yanick Rice Lamb became intrigued when when she heard about patients languishing in hospitals weeks and even months after being medically ready for discharge. This can happen to uninsured and underinsured patients who need long-term care.

Given the recent downturn in the economy, this could potentially happen to anyone who loses a job and the health coverage that came along with it. When she learned about AHCJ's Media Fellowships on Health Performance, she found that delayed discharge was an ideal topic: It was an underreported topic and information was fragmented and spotty, at best.

Find out what she learned from her 10-month look at this narrow slice of the population – the sickest, poorest and most invisible patients. She includes an extensive list of story ideas and angles for other reporters to look into.

Public reporting of patient harm is a potent force     Posted: 09/22/11

Marshall Allen
Marshall Allen

The Las Vegas Sun series "Do No Harm: Hospital Care in Las Vegas" identified cases of preventable harm that occurred in each of the city's 13 hospitals.

The series was rooted in the belief that people have a right to know about the quality of care provided by their local hospitals. That seems like common sense, but it's considered revolutionary in American health care. Hospitals, nursing homes and doctors are accustomed to operating with little outside accountability for their performance. In most states, you can't find out an individual hospital's rate of deadly infections or injuries to patients. Or, what you can find out is carefully controlled by hospital lobbyists.

In this article for AHCJ, reporter Marshall Allen, now with ProPublica, explains how transparency may have the power to transform health care systems. He examines the myths surrounding transparency and looks at the outcomes of programs that have been instituted. 

Focus on freelancing: Tips for buying liability insurance     Posted: 08/30/11

Liability insurance folderSome publishers and media outlets don't provide liability coverage for freelance writers' articles, and freelancers may blog or publish their own material, leaving many troubled by their exposure to possible legal problems – and the resulting financial impact.

Separate media liability coverage is available for writers, with policies covering libel, trademark/copyright infringement, defamation, invasion of privacy, and errors and omissions. But most writers don't buy it because coverage can be expensive, ranging from $500 a year to more than $1,500.

Independent journalist Andy Miller has some tips to consider if you are looking into your insurance options.

Reporter Q&A: Duluth News Tribune exposes malpractice allegations     Posted: 08/25/11

Brandon Stahl
Brandon Stahl

In May, Duluth (Minn.) News Tribune investigations editor Brandon Stahl and courts reporter Mark Stodghill published a major story about how a local neurosurgeon, Stefan Konasiewicz, had amassed a record of malpractice allegations despite praise and high pay from his hospital.

Stahl followed up with additional pieces this month about the money the hospital reaped from Konasiewicz's surgical department and the growing list of patients complaining that they were harmed by the doctor.

In an e-mail conversation with AHCJ board president Charles Ornstein about how the story came together, he reveals how he got local doctors to publicly discuss their complaints about Konasiewicz and the resources he found most helpful.

Updated hospital data allows reporters to identify ongoing problems     Posted: 08/16/11

Open quote mark for pull quote After several years, a surprising number of hospitals can't seem to improve – and an elite group has been able to maintain its excellence.Close quote mark for pull quote

The release this month of federal data on hospital quality is a good reminder for reporters to give their local hospitals a checkup.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has been reporting patient survival rates for hospitals across the United States for four years now and hospital readmission rates for three. While some journalists may have a been-there-done-that reaction to yet another round of data, the latest release has important information for your readers, viewers and listeners. After several years, a surprising number of hospitals can't seem to improve – and an elite group has been able to maintain its excellence.

Reporter offers advice on avoiding embarrassing incident     Posted: 08/03/11

A call from the medical examiner to my editor the morning of Friday, July 22, started the worst day of my 22-year journalism career.

A patient featured in my front-page story about a new treatment for brain aneurysms, whose photo appeared above a quote saying she felt "fantastic" after having the procedure at a local hospital, died six days before the article was published.

How did this happen? I hope my explanation allows this unfortunate episode to yield lessons for other journalists who cover health care.

Follow the numbers to report on hospital executives' compensation packages     Posted: 07/28/11

IRS Form 990 from Emory Healthcare showing compensation.The tax-exempt status of not-for-profit hospitals has received heightened scrutiny over the past few years as policy makers across the country and at every level of government try to ensure their communities receive tangible benefits in exchange for the millions of dollars in lost tax revenue.

One factor encouraging policy makers and the public to treat tax exempt hospitals less like charities and more like for-profit businesses is the compensation packages of hospital executives.

M.B. Pell, of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, recently wrote about compensation packages, including perks such as country club memberships, first-class air travel and free housing, that hospital executives in the Atlanta area receive. In this article, he explains how he got the information – which is public information – and how reporters everywhere can look into executive compensation.

Reporters find heart devices skipped FDA's more rigorous approval process     Posted: 06/30/11

Tricuspid valve in a model heartDeborah L. Shelton and Jason Grotto of the Chicago Tribune couldn't help but wonder: How does a medical device get implanted into patients without first getting FDA approval?

That question led to their two-day series in late May that reported for the first time that certain heart valve repair devices had been "down-classed" from class III to class II, a regulatory category that required that they undergo less scrutiny, even though the devices are permanently implanted and life-sustaining.

One of the annuloplasty rings had been stitched into the hearts of at least 700 patients in Chicago and elsewhere without going through proper channels. In fact, even though the company could have submitted both rings for clearance through a less rigorous regulatory pathway, it didn't even do that. In these two cases, the process was skipped in its entirety.

Beat reporter uncovers FDA's failure to take action about contaminated products     Posted: 06/22/11

Shanoop and Sandra Kothari of Houston, claim the wipes led to the death of their son, Harrison Kothari, 2.
Shanoop and Sandra Kothari of Houston claim tainted alcohol prep wipes led to the death of their son, Harrison Kothari, 2. (Photo courtesy of

What happens when health care products that are supposed to protect against infection and illness turn out to be contaminated with potentially deadly bacteria?

Even worse, what happens when the federal agency that's supposed to oversee the safety of the products concludes that shoddy sterilization and known contamination don't pose "an imminent health hazard?"

JoNel Aleccia, an health reporter, unraveled the dual threads of human harm and regulatory mistakes.

In this article, she shares with AHCJ members how she covered each step of the story as it unfolded, including what documents were useful and how she got them.

Jewish health issues, community are focus of new initiative     Posted: 06/20/11

A new public health initiative in Northeast Ohio, the Jewish Community Health Initiative, hopes to take advantage of a cultural or religious community – in this case, Cleveland's 80,000 Jews – to disseminate public health messages and encouraging healthier behavior.

Jewish health care is not only about diseases that specifically attack Jews, such as Tay-Sachs, Gaucher and Niemann-Pick, Singer noted. The health problems that affect the highest numbers of Jews are the same ones that predominate among non-Jews in America: heart disease, diabetes, obesity and cancer. Thus, the Initiative focuses on reducing health problems common in the population at large.

Health Journalism 2011: From pee wee to pro: Head injuries in sports     Posted: 04/27/11

Matt Grady, M.D., a pediatric sports medicine specialist at Children's Hospital in Philadelphia, Jack Jallo, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Division of Neurotrauma and Critical Care at Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals, and Margot Putukian, M.D., team physician and director of athletic medicine at Princeton University, explained the symptoms, diagnosis and recovery from concussion.

Concussions are a concern for all age groups, the experts said. But children, either at play or in organized sports, are at high risk. Grady said that emergency room data showed that 65 percent of concussions occurred in people younger than 18, and most happened in the 11- to 14-year-old age group.  

Considering the data, it seemed surprising to many in the audience that concussions have not been extensively studied among pediatric patients.

Health Journalism 2011: Panelists share stories from the frontlines of military trauma care     Posted: 04/27/11

If the audience wasn't fully awake yet for the morning session entitled "Lessons of war: Advances in medical science and technique," the pictures of soldiers' blast injuries – one of them extending from the back to the front of a leg-should have captured their attention.


Michael S. Weingarten, M.D., M.B.A., F.A.C.S., professor of surgery and chief of vascular surgery at Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia, was explaining how the military transports critically injured patients across continents while, at home, he worries about moving a patient downstairs a few flights.

There is a lesson in all of this for trauma care in the U.S. Only about 10 percent of Americans in rural areas live within 45 minutes of a trauma center. And nationwide, hospitals are dealing with surgeon shortages. "The problem will be exacerbated," Weingarten said. By 2015, it is estimated that there will be only 21.6 surgeons per 100,000 people by 2015.

Health Journalism 2011: Can the FDA ensure food safety?     Posted: 04/27/11

Food safety experts discussed the impact of the Food Safety Modernization Act, signed into law on Jan. 4, and the Food and Drug Administration's potential to prevent  future contamination  and related disease outbreaks.

Michael Taylor, J.D., deputy commissioner for food at the FDA, emphasized that the law will move his agency's focus from reaction to prevention and  partnership with industry, consumers, and agencies ranging from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to state and foreign governments.

There are still questions about how the increased vigilance will be funded and how to improve the safety of meat and poultry, which are not under the purview of the FDA.

Health Journalism 2011: Future of nursing: Blueprint for health care reform     Posted: 04/27/11

Using registered nurses to their fullest educational potential to provide primary care for communities is working in one new open-access clinic run by a variety of health care providers.

Panel members agreed that nurse-led models of health care will help solve the primary care shortage many communities face. But at the other end of the perfect plan is a shortage of nursing professors which could put that in jeopardy.

Health Journalism 2011: Experts dubious about an HIV vaccine     Posted: 04/27/11

The public will not see any HIV vaccine or its human trial in the near future. This is the disappointing message that a panel of experts concluded at Health Journalism 2011 on April 16.

In the 1990s, when HIV was discovered, scientists were optimistic that a preventive vaccine would be developed soon to end the HIV pandemic, just like it was for polio. However, 30 years later, with the failure of the Thai trial and more understanding of the characteristic of the virus, doctors have realized that they are nowhere near that elusive goal.

Health Journalism 2011: End-of-life planning a 'fertile area' for storytellers     Posted: 04/26/11

People are eager to have honest discussions about end-of-life alternatives.

But in many ways, such conversations have been "engineered" out of today's health care system, said speakers at Health Journalism 2011 in Philadelphia, meaning that patients and families need to engage in such discussions before an acute illness occurs.

Speakers pointed out that journalists and health professionals can assist by informing people about the burden of suffering that comes with some treatments and helping them understand the alternatives.

Health Journalism 2011: Experts weigh in on ethics in clinical trials     Posted: 04/26/11

An eclectic expert panel considered "Clinical Trials: Intersection of ethical, practical and financial"  - a topic rife with undisclosed financial perks, conflicts of interest and potential benefits for participants, academic researchers, drug companies and patients.

The speakers included academic physicians Carl Elliott, M.D., Ph.D., and Jason Karlawish, M.D.; Robert (Bob) Helm, a former professional research subject; and John Fauber of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Fauber, who has reported on problematic aspects of medical device research and FDA approval, organized and moderated the at-times intense discussion.

Health Journalism 2011: Debate over health reform continues     Posted: 04/26/11

The Affordable Care Act, which recently celebrated its first birthday, is now the law, and parts of it are slowly being implemented. But the debate is as strong as ever.

Congress and the White House are putting on "a show," said Noam Levey, a health policy reporter for the  Los Angeles Times. On one side, President Barack Obama and the Democrats want the law pretty much as is, while the other side has the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and its Senate GOP counterparts, who want either to change or repeal it, he added.

Panelists emphasized that the real issue for journalists to cover is the implementation of the law and how states are reacting to the law.

Health Journalism 2011: Is enough being done about health care-associated infections?     Posted: 04/22/11

William Marella, P.J. Brennan, Kerry O'Connell and Marshall Allen discuss health care-associated infections.Dr. Patrick J. Brennan didn't waste time answering the main question of a panel assembled to discuss health care-acquired infections: Is enough being done?

"We should just stipulate that not enough is being done," Brennan said.

About 1.7 million Americans get health care-acquired infections each year and at least 99,000 die. That is the equivalent of everyone in the city of Philadelphia being infected, and those who die could pack the Phillies' stadium two times, said William Marella, director of the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority's statewide safety reporting program.

Health Journalism 2011: Going mobile: The new telemedicine     Posted: 04/22/11

The practice of medicine is evolving in ways that make use of smart phones and mobile devices, and even though your doctor's office doesn't yet have the patch or the pill or the Kinect, a new breed of doctor/geek is busy crafting the technology. And regulators in the United States are scrambling to keep up.

Reporting finds 'alarm fatigue' to blame in patient deaths     Posted: 04/21/11

Life support monitor
A life-support monitor. (Photo: RambergMediaImages via Flickr)

In January, a patient at one of the country's best hospitals suffered a fatal heart attack while 10 nurses on duty did not respond to repeated alarms from his cardiac monitor. They told investigators that they did not recall hearing the beeps warning of the patient's falling heart rate.

State and federal health investigators, in part, blamed a phenomenon that is little known outside hospitals: alarm fatigue. The hospital workers were desensitized to alarms after hearing them constantly throughout the workday.

Boston Globe reporter Lizbeth Kowalczyk decided to look at how often alarm fatigue is a factor in patient deaths, on a national level and in Massachusetts. The sources and techniques she used to report the stories, which she shares in this article for AHCJ members, could be used by other reporters to write about alarm fatigue in their states, but also may be applicable to other topics.

Health Journalism 2011: What editors wish writers knew     Posted: 04/21/11

Amanda Moon, Scientific American Books, (right) discusses how she works with writers as's Linda Dahlstrom looks on.We love writers, declared all three panelists at "What Editors Wish Writers Knew," a well-attended freelancers' session at Health Journalism 2011. They shared some harsher facts, too. "I feel like what I do for a living is keep writers waiting," confided Sarah Austin, Self's news and health features director.

The panelists also explained some of the realities of the organizational structure of magazines, how to get their attention when you pitch a story and the need for writers to do some research about a publication's audience.

Health Journalism 2011: The intersection of highway safety and health     Posted: 04/20/11

If a disease killed nearly 33,000 Americans each year and was the No. 1 killer of Americans younger than 35, it would surely be a topic covered by most health reporters.


Substitute "fatal traffic wrecks" for the word "disease" and reporters have "all the elements of a great public health story" that's not being reported as much as it needs to be, said Jacob Nelson, director of traffic safety policy and research for the American Automobile Association.


Nelson and his fellow panelists, journalists Robin Schwartz and Andy Miller, urged journalists who attended the "The intersection of highway safety and health" panel at Health Journalism 2011 to examine whether public health leaders, traffic safety officials and lawmakers were doing enough combat traffic deaths.

Health Journalism 2011: Panelists suggest stories about health reform implementation     Posted: 04/20/11

There are three key aspects for journalists to watch as the Affordable Care Act moves into its second year: Congress, the courts and the states, according to panelists speaking about "Health Reform: Repeal, replace of implement?"

Noam Levey, health policy reporter for the Los Angeles Times, suggested that reporters be aware of several Republican proposals, including those concerning medical malpractice, high risk pools, interstate sale of insurance, association health plans, variable health premiums and individual/employer mandates. 

Other reporters noted court cases that could affect implementation of the new health care law, as well as state actions and regulations that should be closely monitored.

Health Journalism 2011: Neurosurgeon reflects on time in the media spotlight     Posted: 04/20/11

Lemole spoke to health journalists at AHCJ's annual conference.For G. Michael Lemole Jr., M.D., it's simply his job to save the lives of patients who have suffered from life-threatening traumatic injuries.

Lemole, chief of neurosurgery at the University of Arizona Department of Surgery and University Medical Center, found himself in the national spotlight after he performed brain surgery on U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords after she sustained a gunshot wound to the head in Tucson on Jan. 8.

As the keynote speaker at Health Journalism 2011, he retraced the treatment of the congresswoman earlier this year and his experience working with the media.

Health Journalism 2011: Collins focuses on molecular basis for diseases to develop therapeutics     Posted: 04/20/11

NIH Director Francis Collins spoke at a Newsmaker Briefing at Health Journalism 2011.At the start of his Newsmaker Briefing at Health Journalism 2011, Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., director of the National Institutes of Health, told a tale of discovery. The tale began with an observation made in one HIV-positive person who was cured of the virus following a bone marrow transplant for leukemia. The tale continued with the discovery that a rare gene variant may protect people from AIDS and ended with a small trial of HIV-infected people in Philadelphia using discoveries stemming from that research.

The story underscored Collins's desire for research efforts that bring together an assortment of approaches to help understand health and disease. Knowing the molecular basis for disease offers the greatest potential for therapeutics, he said.

Health Journalism 2011: Reporting on effectiveness of autism treatments     Posted: 04/20/11

The mother of a child with autism, along with medical experts, helped unravel the complicated information about treating the condition during a panel at Health Journalism 2011 in Philadelphia. They discussed complementary and alternative treatments, the unusually high placebo effect found in autism treatments and some therapies that have less evidence to prove their effectiveness.

The panelists also offered a useful list of suggestions for reporters who are covering autism and the treatments available.

Health Journalism 2011: Localizing national health care investigations     Posted: 04/19/11

Maurice Tamman of The Wall Street Journal talks about quest to get the Medicare claims database.Not every journalist or media organization has a budget to back up long-term and expensive investigations into health care or other issues. Not anymore. Yet all can take information found in national stories and create a story relevant for local audiences, according to panelists at Health Journalism 2011.

And doing so will help make positive change for a health-care system that is "very fundamentally broken," noted Charles Ornstein, senior reporter at New York-based ProPublica, board president of Association of Health Care Journalists and moderator for Friday's session of "Localizing national health investigations."

Health Journalism 2011: What you need to know about accountable care organizations     Posted: 04/19/11

Accountable care organizations, a key component of federal health reform, may be unsustainable and not financially viable, but some examples show the method has the potential for success.

Regardless, ACOs are a complicated, important topic that health care journalists should take time to explain and investigate, according reporters and health professionals said in a panel titled "What you need to know about accountable care organizations" at Health Journalism 2011.

Health Journalism 2011: Best practices in blogging and social media     Posted: 04/19/11

Though blogging and social media have been around for some time now, some people still argue that blogging, social media and journalism should be independent of one another. Scott Hensley of NPR's Shots blog contends that couldn't be further from the truth. 

During a panel about "Best practices in blogging and social media" at Health Journalism 2011, Hensley said bloggers and journalists are perfect matches for each other.

Health Journalism 2011: Officials, reporters offer conflicting advice on getting public documents     Posted: 04/16/11

The fight by journalists to obtain public documents isn't likely to get any easier, according to the four speakers on the standing-room-only panel Right to know: Getting information from government agencies as part of Health Journalism 2011.

While one government official suggested reporters should "be friendly" in their requests, a reporter on the panel said a reporter's personality shouldn't matter. She also said she's never made an FOI request, despite having done an award-winning investigation into nursing homes. 

Health Journalism 2011: Berwick debuts website featuring health data     Posted: 04/15/11

Journalists have a key role to play making health care safer and informing the public, Medicare chief Donald Berwick told reporters attending the annual conference of the Association of Health Care Journalists in Philadelphia on Thursday.

To help them do their job, Berwick unveiled a government website, the "Health Indicators Warehouse," and offered a live demonstration. He said the site offers "a treasure trove of data," including information never released before in an easily accessible form, including patient safety data, preventive health care indicators, Medicare payment claims and hospital performance at the state and hospital referral region level. Information is searchable by topic, location, health outcomes among other factors.

Team investigates region's high infant mortality rate     Posted: 03/18/11

Milwaukee has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the nation and a persistent, troubling gap in birth outcomes for African Americans when compared to whites.

Milwaukee has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the nation and a persistent, troubling gap in birth outcomes for African Americans when compared to whites.

In late 2010, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel decided to do something about it by launching "Empty Cradles," a yearlong effort by a team of journalists. The reporting effort, which began with a package of stories in January, is being done by a team of reporters who cover children's issues, health, economics and more, as well as a database reporter, a photographer, a graphic artist and a multimedia producer.

The project's editor, Greg Borowski, explains their approach to the project, how they have worked on it and what they hope to accomplish.

Officials, health system administrator discuss challenges, implementation of the Affordable Care Act     Posted: 03/03/11

Bruce Japsen, moderator, and panelists Chiquita Brooks-LaSure of the Office of Health Reform at U.S. Health and Humans Services and Illinois Department of Insurance Director Michael McRaith discussed the Affordable Care Act.Support for health reform has been complicated by political rhetoric and the general public's lack of knowledge about the Affordable Care Act, according to officials who spoke at last week's AHCJ Chicago chapter meeting. Twenty-five journalists and students gathered at Columbia College Chicago for the discussion of the health care overhaul as the law nears its first anniversary. Bruce Japsen, a Chicago Tribune health care reporter, moderated the panel.

AudioAudio of this panel is available for AHCJ members.

A new government in Ireland might bring health care change     Posted: 02/18/11

Dr. Muiris Houston

Ireland's latest election might lead to the adoption of a universal health care model that prioritises medical care by need rather than by ability to pay.

"If the health manifestos of Fine Gael and Labour, the two political parties most likely to form the next government are serious, then the time has come to adopt a universal health care model, "Dr. Murius Houston says.

Reporter runs into wall requesting FDA's public records of financial disclosures     Posted: 02/16/11

AHCJ and its Right to Know Committee have been advocating for better and faster access to information and experts in the federal government. One agency – the FDA – has repeatedly been a focus of our efforts. Journalists have been concerned over the agency's embargo policy, constraints on newsgathering and refusals to answer queries from reporters.

Here, John Fauber of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel describes another disturbing incident: his months of fruitless efforts to obtain public records from the FDA.

Medical-legal partnerships: Tackling the social causes of health disparities     Posted: 02/09/11

Medical-legal partnerships are increasingly being used to help aging patients.Since the first formal medical-legal partnership was set up in 1993 by Barry Zuckerman, M.D. and lawyer Ellen M. Lawton, physicians and lawyers have been working together to help patients combat non-medical issues that exacerbate minor health issues such as living conditions that are below health codes and navigating the health care system.

Although such partnerships started in pediatrics, the number of MLPs focused on the elderly is growing, a phenomenon explained by the growing number of elderly citizens and increased life expectancy.

DocumentCloud opens a window into inspection reports for readers     Posted: 02/03/11

Readers can see source documents and reporters' notes in DocumentCloud.While doing a comprehensive investigation of the quality of care in hospitals for the Las Vegas Sun, Marshall Allen wanted to show the breadth of inspectors' findings, including those that may not grab headlines but are just as important to the public.

To do that, Allen used DocumentCloud to share the inspection reports with the public, including notes about specific violations. In this article for AHCJ members, he explains the advantages of using DocumentCloud and how journalists can use it to help readers understand the news.

VA's new position on Agent Orange an opportunity for more coverage of veterans' health issues     Posted: 02/02/11

Vietnam veterans can now seek health care benefits for illnesses related to exposure to Agent Orange as the result of a recent court decision. Veterans are seeking the benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in increasing numbers. One expert says the VA is reviewing about 17,000 claims. For health care journalists, that means more coverage of veterans' health issues and challenges may be on the horizon.

Behavior modification for 'White Coat Myopia'     Posted: 01/06/11

Overcoming Find powerful, relevant stories that don't begin and end with doctors

Every year end brings a flood of stories about the "Top Medical Breakthroughs." Over the rest of the year there is no shortage of front page headlines announcing new drugs, devices and clinical trial results. But independent journalist Andrew Holtz thinks the intensive cultivation of medical news reports leaves fertile acreage of health stories untilled. In this article he suggests fresh stories and approaches to health coverage for the new year.

NICE official: Rumours of demise greatly exaggerated     Posted: 01/05/11

Kalipso Chalkidou
Kalipso Chalkidou

Andrew Lansley, the United Kingdom's health secretary, recently announced plans to reorganize the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), which was established to vet the cost-effectiveness of new drugs and treatments and give national guidance on whether they should be prescribed by doctors within Britain's National Health Service.

The announcement set off concerns among some about the potential for unequal access to drugs from one district to another. The British press warned of cases in which patients denied a drug by a doctor will shop around until they find a physician who will give them what they want.  

John Lister recently sat down with Kalipso Chalkidou, the international director of NICE, to find out what the changes really mean for the agency.

NICE loses power to control availability of drugs     Posted: 11/29/10

U.K. Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has announced plans to strip the key powers from The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence or NICE.

The institute was set up under Tony Blair's government to vet the cost-effectiveness of new drugs and treatments, and give national guidance on whether they should be prescribed by doctors within Britain's National Health Service.

Top reporters share their tips on health care investigations     Posted: 11/11/10

Associated Press reporter Stephanie Nano helped host the chapter event, which featured New York Times reporter Duff Wilson.
AP reporter Stephanie Nano and New York Times reporter Duff Wilson.

Two award-winning health care reporters offered tips and story ideas to help other journalists dig into financial reports, legal documents, and databases that the average consumer can't navigate and present the information in a useful way.

Charles Ornstein, a senior reporter at ProPublica and AHCJ president, and Duff Wilson, New York Times reporter, discussed their work and offered tips on mining hospital data, spotting conflicts of interest, understanding publicly available financial reports, and persuading patients and families to share their stories.


Listen to what they had to say, what sources they suggest, see their presentations and tip sheets and start finding the hidden stories in your community.

Turkey opts for costly hospital finance scheme     Posted: 11/10/10

The Turkish government has begun to select bids for the first of a "large number" of major hospital projects, estimated at $5 billion over the next five years. But the Turkish government has opted for a system of financing based on a model that is causing major problems for hospitals in the United Kingdom.

London-based journalist John Lister writes that the British experience with hospitals funded through Private Finance Initiatives or  Public-Private Partnerships presents a cautionary tale for the Turkish government and others considering this model.

Federal stimulus money invigorates medical research     Posted: 11/04/10

Are you looking for a surprising source of economic power to report about in your community? How about a story with a health care hook to the federal stimulus spending and jobs creation?

Attendees at a recent AHCJ chapter event in San Francisco learned that academic medical centers – especially ones that have a track record of funding from the National Institutes of Health – are a good place to look for such stories.

Irish protests continue over hospital cuts     Posted: 10/01/10

Protests over the €1.23 billion spending cuts for health and children’s services imposed last year to combat a massive government deficit are growing in Ireland and even causing some ministers to rethink their positions.

Two Teachta Dálas, members of the lower house of the Irish Parliament, angered by health cuts are threatening to withdraw their support for the ruling coalition government. Mattie McGrath, a maverick TD for Tipperary, said his future support for the Fianna Fáil/Green/Progressive Democrat coalition for which he was elected would depend upon the future of South Tipperary General Hospital in Clonmel.

McGrath’s political break followed a similar announcement from the west coast, with Galway West Independent TD Noel Grealish announcing at a protest in Galway attended by some 350 people that he was withdrawing his support for the coalition.

Medical errors and the movement toward transparency     Posted: 09/23/10

The Chicago chapter of AHCJ recently hosted David Mayer, M.D., co-producer of the award-winning film, "The Faces of Medical Error ... From Tears to Transparency: The Story of Lewis Blackman," and a leader on transparency in health care. Mayer is associate dean for the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine, co-executive director for UIC's Institute for Patient Safety Excellence and a practicing anesthesiologist.

Mayer described changing the culture of "deny and defend" in hospitals to a culture free of "shame and blame," in which health care providers acknowledge mistakes that are made. In such efforts, providers are encouraged to learn from mistakes and they explain the errors that do harm to patients and their families.

Reporters urged to insist on response from government agencies     Posted: 09/16/10

FDA headquarters in White Oak, Md. (Photo by thisisbossi via Flickr)
FDA headquarters (Photo by thisisbossi via Flickr)

When the FDA would offer only "no comment" on a notorious incident last summer, Felice J. Freyer, a medical writer at The Providence (R.I.) Journal, was disappointed but not surprised. She published her story about an FDA matter (the use of unapproved IUDs) without the agency's input.

But Freyer became concerned when, four days after her story came out, the FDA posted on its website a "consumer update" that answered some, but not all, of the questions she had posed to the agency.The web-only consumer advisory left questions unanswered and probably reached few consumers.

Freyer, who is an AHCJ board member and chair of AHCJ's Right to Know Committee, complained about the incident, pursuing the matter up the chain of command. She eventually received an apology, but little by way of explanation. She is sharing her experience and her advice in the hope of encouraging other reporters to persist in seeking information from the federal government.

The real challenge for Italian health care     Posted: 09/13/10

Changes are on tap for the Italian health care system. Standard health care costs will be defined, which means determining the amount necessary to keep Italians healthy, starting with what "virtuous regions" spend, (meaning those regions with their balance sheets in order: Emilia-Romagna, Lombardy, Tuscany and Veneto). A saving on standard costs of at least 4 billion euro is expected.

However, AHCJ member Gianluca Bruttomesso raises some questions about why the system should be subjected to limits and  deceleration in development.

Public handicapped by lack of information on medical errors     Posted: 09/09/10

CMS Statement of Deficiencies

Who protects the patients?

That’s what reporters at  the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wanted to know – and it’s the title of an occasional series on health care. Jeremy Kohler and Blythe Bernhard found a paucity of information available to patients to help them choose hospitals and doctors. What they discovered was that "When 'never events' occur, the public has virtually no way to find out about them, at least in Missouri and many other states without reporting laws." Here, Kohler tells AHCJ members what they did find and how they found it.

'Landmark:' Behind the scenes of covering health care reform     Posted: 07/22/10

 Landmark book coverAfter passage of health reform, a Washington Post team wrote "Landmark: The Inside Story of America's New Health-Care Law and What It Means for Us All."

In this piece for AHCJ, member Joanne Kenen interviewed two of the authors, Ceci Connolly and Alec MacGillis, who offer some of the high and low points of the passage of health care reform, as well as stories reporters should cover in the coming days.

Medicaid data yields details on prescribing habits     Posted: 07/01/10

Prescription medicationsOne psychiatrist in Chicago was prescribing a risky psychiatric medication to more patients than all the doctors in Texas, based on Medicaid prescribing data.

That sentence is simple and evocative. Reporter Christina Jewett says she never could have written it if she hadn't navigated the world of Medicaid data. Doctors who bill the health insurer to the needy leave a mighty paper trial, and states vary in their ability and willingness to reporters follow it. For the valiant, though, the rewards are great. You can learn about prescribing, services rendered to patients and payments denied to doctors. Jewett shares some of what she learned with AHCJ members.

No More McAllens     Posted: 06/01/10

A handful of the nation's brainiest healthcare economists and policy analysts looked beyond obvious geographic variations in Medicare spending to explore why the federal health program for seniors pays considerably more to treat beneficiaries in some healthcare markets than others.

What the VA faces with Iraqi Freedom/Enduring Freedom Vets     Posted: 05/13/10

A group of AHCJ members were treated to a tour of the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center and presentations about the center's care on April 22, 2010, as part of Health Journalism 2010. Attendees learned about the changing demographics of VA patients, the effect a struggling economy has on veterans, the system's electronic medical records and developments in prosthetic limbs.

Can reporters raise health literacy in the community?     Posted: 05/05/10

In a panel about health literacy at Health Journalism 2010, panelists looked at how journalists might communicate about health and medicine better. One speaker said that making complex scientific information understandable takes work, but studies show that even highly educated people prefer simple and "clean" language. Another suggested that journalists use summaries in articles, "what you need to do" points, and direct patients to useful web resources. A third expert said that full financial disclosure by researchers and limiting reporting to prospective, double-blind studies would be steps toward improving the quality of medical reporting.

Hands-on experiences highlight AHCJ field trip     Posted: 05/05/10

Her eyes blink, her pupils dilate and, yes, doctors, she has a pulse. She also can have a seizure and complications giving birth - on command. Her name is NOELLE® and she's one very busy childbirth simulator at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine. Under the direction of John Vozenilek, M.D., director of Simulation Technology and Immersive Learning, an eager group of field trip attendees in mini-med school at Health Journalism 2010 helped deliver her "baby," aided by silent commands from a nearby wireless PC. 

Journalists not only got to walk through emergency scenarios with NOELLE and infant, but their calm and cool were further tested in a high-fidelity simulation that involved rescuing a patient from a near-fatal asthma attack. Next, they cautiously replaced a ventral venous catheter under ultrasound guidance and revived a patient from cardiac arrest while demonstrating aptitude in CPR and automatic defibrillation.

Contaminated foods pose threat to public     Posted: 04/28/10

Contaminated foods sicken and kill Americans every year. Though the stories receive wide coverage in the U.S. media, the danger hasn't lessened. That's because of weaknesses in the regulation and inspection of foods, panelists said during a discussion about the safety of the food supply.

Speaking at Health Journalism 2010, Michael P. Doyle, a microbiologist who directs the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia, said there are two major – and increasing – threats to the U.S. food supply: imports and animal manure.

Experts acknowledge difficulty of writing about preventive health guidelines     Posted: 04/28/10

When it comes to clinical practice guidelines, Americans have, no pun intended, developed a healthy skepticism.

"It's as complicated as you think it is," panelist Len Lichtenfield, M.D., deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, told the roomful of journalists attending the panel discussion, "Guidelines for Writing about Preventive Health Guidelines" at Health Journalism 2010 in Chicago.

"You have a difficult job," Lichtenfield said. "You're trying to take something that's complicated, that's mired in science and trying to make sense of that. If you think it's difficult, you're right. In a soundbite environment, these are complicated issues."

TBI, PTSD among war-related illnesses veterans face     Posted: 04/28/10

More than 2 million service men and women have served overseas in support of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some 15 percent of those have deployed three or more times since 2001. The Department of Veterans Affairs notes significantly increased incidence of psychological and physical problems in these multiple-tour vets.

Medical personnel outlined key issues facing the nation's newest veterans during a "Mounting physical and mental health needs of returning vets" panel at the annual Association of Health Care Journalists conference in Chicago.

Untold stories remain in nursing homes     Posted: 04/27/10

Many reporters reject doing nursing home investigations because they assume all the best stories have already been done.

But serious problems remain and many untold stories exist in institutions that serve some of the most vulnerable members of our society, said speakers at Health Journalism 2010 in Chicago.

Women's health an important topic for the next decade     Posted: 04/27/10

"Women became a topic in the nineties, and all we could hear about was pregnancy. Women's health was considered to be about our reproductive system, but we it's more. We are not an organ, we should be seen by a whole and we need to cover the biological needs and reactions by sex and gender," said Janine Clayton, M.D., deputy director from the Office of Research on Women's Health, during a panel about women's health research at Health Journalism 2010.

The panelists agreed there is a need to make distinctions between sex and gender and that both should be considered while covering and studying women's health issues and emphasized the importance of gender roles in treatment.

Addressing racial and ethnic disparities     Posted: 04/27/10

Despite spending more money on health care each year than any other country, the United States' quality of available care and measured health outcomes remain low when compared with other high-income nations worldwide, said Christopher Murray, M.D., D. Phil, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. The disparities in care provided by our nation's health care system and the overall health of our citizens also continue to widen, he said.

Several speakers, during an hour-long discussion at the Health Journalism 2010 conference in Chicago, explained how journalists could use available statistics on racial and ethnic health disparities to raise awareness of underserved and unhealthy populations. The panelists emphasized that journalists should give attention to these disparities because health reform alone will not fix the gaps in local health care.

What can we learn from superagers?     Posted: 04/27/10

There's more than one recipe for becoming a superager, including well-known ingredients such as environmental and behavioral aspects, as well as research into the genetics and brain anatomy that enhances healthy aging.  One researcher has found that superagers, individuals 85 and older, have a passion they pursue with an outlook that is empowering.

High hopes, limited regulation a dangerous formula for 'functional foods'     Posted: 04/27/10

Journalists covering nutritional supplements and so-called functional foods should compare the marketing messages of manufacturers to the science behind those claims, said panelists at a Health Journalism 2010 session on the topic.

Consumers spend billions of dollars annually on supplements and functional foods, said Marilyn Marchione, medical writer for the Associated Press. Although such products face lower regulation than pharmaceuticals, many consumers seek "drug-level effects," she said.

Looking for docs in all the wrong places?     Posted: 04/27/10

In the wake of health care reform ,more patients will go in search of medical care. The question is, will there be enough doctors to handle the need? By the year 2016 the number of retiring physicians is expected to exceed the number of students graduating from medical schools.

Catastrophe or opportunity? Perhaps it's not so much a numbers issue as it is a distribution one.

Caring for aging population will require health care transformation     Posted: 04/27/10

In the sea of America's diverse population, the rising tidewaters of baby boomers are creating a tsunami of health-care needs. The reverberations are already noticeable from too few specialty-trained physicians for diagnosing and treating complex problems of the elderly and growing shortages in the nurse workforce.

For every 10,000 people age 75 and older, just four geriatricians are available today, Herbert Sier, M.D., told attendees at the annual Association of Health Care Journalists' conference in Chicago. Sier is associate chief of geriatric medicine at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, part of the Feinberg School of Medicine at Chicago's Northwestern University.

Journalists encounter obstacles in identifying conflicts of interest in medical research     Posted: 04/24/10

Journalists have new tools to decipher conflicts of interest in medical research, but there are still many obstacles to obtaining information, according to panelists at the Health Journalism 2010 conference in Chicago.

Steps have been taken on many fronts, from greater transparency on the part of researchers to stricter standards by editors of several major medical journals, but speakers at the April 23 panel, "Spotting conflicts of interest in medical research," agreed that journalists still face challenges in identifying bias.

What did the U.S. learn from the H1N1 pandemic?     Posted: 04/24/10

Getting consistent health messages out in the world of the 24-hour news cycle was one of the leading challenges facing public health officials as the H1N1 flu pandemic news unfolded in the past year, a panel of experts said at Health Journalism 2010 conference.

Experts: Where you live affects your health     Posted: 04/24/10

Can your zip code really affect your lifespan? Location has a lot more to do with your health than you think, experts said Friday at Health Journalism 2010 in Chicago.

Where you live is linked to projected life expectancy, disease and overall level of health, said the three-person panel composed of public health and food experts.

Sebelius predicts ‘hand-to-hand combat’ on health law     Posted: 04/24/10

Speaking at the annual Association of Health Care Journalists conference in Chicago, Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, predicted an "ongoing hand-to-hand combat" with health insurers over elements of the new sweeping health care legislation.

Thomas Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also addressed conference attendees, presenting a newly issued report outlining the states' progress in fighting smoking. The report, subtitled "The Good, the Bad and the Improving," said national smoking rates had leveled off after years of declines.

Session focuses on tracking health care costs using Dartmouth Atlas     Posted: 04/24/10

Sifting through Medicare data is no easy task for even the most statistics-savvy health reporters. But new tools from Dartmouth Atlas, a Medicare data analysis organization run by the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice help streamline the process.

Kristin Bronner, Dartmouth Atlas' managing editor, presented the Web site's updated capabilities at the Health Journalism 2010 conference in Chicago on April 23, 2010. The Atlas' new site design launched the day before.

News from Health Journalism 2010     Posted: 04/23/10

A set of newsmaker briefings as well as a stellar line-up of panels resulted in dozens of stories about the conference, infection prevention, patient safety, health reform, smoking, FDA activity and more.

Uncovering conflicts of interest in medicine, research     Posted: 03/18/10

Conflicts of interest in medical researchJohn Fauber of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has been covering conflicts of interest in medicine for about two years, during which he has reported on the large sums of money that the University of Wisconsin medical school and dozens of doctors were getting from drug companies. He has uncovered links between the university and the marketing of hormones, written about a journal editor who earns royalties from medical devices that appear in his publication and found physicians who don't adequately disclose their conflicts of interest in journal articles.

In this article for AHCJ, Fauber details what he has learned and how he went about investigating the pervasive influence of drug company money on the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and its doctors.

Shortened Lives: How location, lifestyle affect health     Posted: 02/04/10

John Fitzpatrick, 10, receives treatment at home in Oakland, Calif., to combat his asthma. In their series "Shortened Lives," Suzanne Bohan and Sandy Kleffman profiled people from different (though nearby) ZIP codes, noting the life expectancy for each. They found wide disparities in their expected life spans, based on where they live, their social status and the toll of chronic stress. The series explains the effect these disparities have on health care costs, as well as how they are caused and how they might be addressed.

Bohan and Kleffman wrote about the project in a piece for AHCJ members and we have included additional resources for those interested in exploring disparities in health care in their own communities.

Covering a complex story for the long haul     Posted: 01/28/10

Memorial Medical Center in New OrleansLast August, Sheri Fink's article, "The Deadly Choices at Memorial," a collaboration between ProPublica and The New York Times, described what happened at one isolated New Orleans hospital in the chaotic days after Hurricane Katrina.

She found, after more than two years of research, that more medical professionals were involved in the decision to inject patients with drugs to hasten their deaths – and far more patients were injected – than had been previously understood. While those arrested said their goal had been to relieve pain, two physicians told her on the record that they intentionally hastened deaths, and they explained why. She used toxicology reports and autopsies, along with recollections and documentation from the days after Katrina to report the story.

The reporting and writing process for this 13,000-word article may offer insights for AHCJ members undertaking long-form, investigative reporting.

Addressing the growing demand for kidneys     Posted: 01/20/10

kidneyJosephine Marcotty of the Minneapolis Star Tribune recently wrote a series addressing the increasing demand for kidneys, a need spurred by an aging population, increases in diabetes, obesity and high-blood pressure. She found that it is a public health crisis that costs the nation $33.6 billion a year, and there is no end in sight.

Marcotty covered one woman's search for a kidney, the ethics of paired donations and how the medical center decided who would get organs.

In this article for AHCJ, she shares what she learned about kidney donation and how she reported the story.

Compromised care: What Chicago Tribune reporters learned about felons in nursing homes     Posted: 01/08/10

Compromised care
Photo via Flickr by ulrichkarljoho.

Chicago Tribune reporters David Jackson and Gary Marx, in a three-month investigation into the policies and practices of Illinois nursing homes, found that Illinois is an outlier among states in its reliance on nursing homes to house younger adults with mental illness, including thousands of felons whose disabilities qualify them for Medicaid-funded nursing care.

Jackson and Marx documented numerous recent cases in which violent psychiatric patients who were not receiving proper treatment assaulted, raped and even murdered their elderly and disabled housemates. The stories also showed how the chaotic and harmful behavior can spill outside the nursing home walls when patients are not properly supervised.

In this piece for AHCJ members, Jackson and Marx describe some of the techniques they used in the investigation.

Experts say tuberculosis poses a nearly silent threat     Posted: 01/07/10

Panelists discuss tuberculosis.Hear "tuberculosis" and think Brontë sisters? Consumption? The developing world? Think again: According to a panel of experts at a recent AHCJ New York City Metro chapter event, tuberculosis is alive and well and living in major cities and rural areas in the United States and all over the developed world.Audio

Read more about the disease, the threat posed by multi-drug resistant and extensively drug resistant  tuberculosis and prevention and treatment efforts. Audio files of the panel and the speakers presentations will help you learn more from the experts and journalists on the panel.

Childhood obesity: Experts discuss strategies, solutions journalists should cover     Posted: 11/17/09

Changing behavior and educating people about food is key to helping children become fit and avoid obesity, according to the San Francisco pediatrician who spoke at a Nov. 12 panel organized by the Bay Area chapter of AHCJ. The panel featured a doctor and a journalist who are examining and trying to find solutions to the epidemic of childhood obesity. Journalist Elaine Herscher, an author and senior managing editor at Consumer Health Interactive, offered a number of story ideas for reporters.

Audio availableAudio of this panel is available.


SF chapter presents workshop on FOI, public records     Posted: 10/23/09

More than 40 people attended a panel that offered an overview and updates about the Freedom of Information Act and the California Records Act, strategies for obtaining records, and how to use the information effectively. Lee Tien of the  Electronic Frontier Foundation explained the basics of FOIA and gave examples of government responses to FOIA requests under the Bush and Obama administrations. Michael Risher, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, offered advice about using the California Public Records Act. Phillip Reese, a reporter at The Sacramento Bee, shared ways to use the data you get to create ways of making information digestible and comprehensible to readers.

Audio availableAudio of this panel is available.

Reporter discovers data missing from federal Nursing Home Compare     Posted: 09/24/09

Duane SchragDuane Schrag of the Salina (Kan.) Journal recently discovered critical data was missing from the federal Nursing Home Compare data online.

The federal government encourages consumers to use Nursing Home Compare to help them choose long-term care facilities. It takes into account variables such as health inspection results, nursing home staff data, quality measures and fire safety inspections. Additionally, reporters have used the data to investigate nursing homes.

In this article, Schrag shares how he discovered the holes in the data and what he learned about Nursing Home Compare.

Paper's investigation reveals contaminated drinking water     Posted: 06/25/09

Oil barrelIn July 2007, the Fayetteville, N.C., City Council learned about a neighborhood's 20-year fight over gasoline contamination in private drinking wells. The revelation led The Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer to ask: What else lies beneath?

In an award-winning investigation, the newspaper found dozens of areas with groundwater contamination, including entire neighborhoods. Although public health officials had known about the contamination for years, little had ever been done. Here, one of the reporters details how they uncovered the story and what they learned about contaminated water wells.

Complementary and alternative medicine: What's working and what's ahead     Posted: 05/06/09

Naturopathic and Western medical doctors met journalistic skeptics and true believers to discuss the science and scams that mix in the growing alternative medicine market, at the Health Journalism 2009 panel "Complementary and Alternative Medicine: What's working and what's ahead."

Online tools for creating multimedia: easy, accessible, and inexpensive     Posted: 04/29/09

There are many ways for journalists to enhance storytelling with the use of online multimedia tools without having to learn a lot of new skills. That was the message of Seattle-based independent journalist Daniel Lathrop’s presentation at the Association of Health Care Journalists' annual conference in Seattle.  Lathrop presented a range of online tools helpful when incorporating photography, video and sound into storytelling. He also talked about networking sites that enable journalists to increase the size of their audience.

Journalists learn to market, brand themselves     Posted: 04/28/09

Barbara Feder Ostrov didn't come to the freelance life by choice. She was four months pregnant when laid off from the San Jose Mercury News and was thrown into freelance writing reluctantly.

What she found out is that even reluctant freelancers can make a living, but it takes preparation and marketing to make it work.

Feder Ostrov was one of a three-member panel moderated by New York freelance writer Irene Wielawski who gave tips to fellow journalists on how to build a brand and market themselves as freelancers at the AHCJ conference.

Improving reporting on medical studies     Posted: 04/21/09

"It is possible for good health journalists to provide spectacular stories on health," said David Henry, CEO of the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences. 

During the afternoon panel on "Statistics, Conclusions, Limitations: Reporting on Medical Studies" at the annual Association of Health Care Journalists meeting in Seattle both Henry and moderator Gary Schwitzer, concurred that most health and medical reporting is inaccurate, imbalanced and incomplete. "After three years and 750 stories reviewed there is still a ‘kid-in-the-candy-store projection of health' in most health news,"Schwitzer said shortly before he launched into a dissection of several news stories.  

Do audiences understand health stories?     Posted: 04/21/09

Health journalists understand some of the key elements audiences need to better understand health stories, but they also misunderstand the impact statistical information has on audience comprehension, according to a University of Missouri researcher.

Speaking at the Association of Health Care Journalists' annual conference, assistant professor Amanda Hinnant, Ph.D., said the results of a survey she and colleagues conducted showed that health journalists realize audiences will be more likely to understand health stories that include a human element, use graphics to illustrate important information and employ a conversational tone.

Genetic, environmental factors at work in aging process     Posted: 04/21/09

Aging is a biological, psychological and social process, as four researchers explained at Health Journalism 2009. Aging research is important to learn how to slow down the process. At age 50, humans have about 62 years left of their lives, according to Matt Kaeberlein, Ph.D., assistant professor, Department of Pathology, University of Washington (or we might if we learned how to slow down the aging process).

One of the biggest factor of aging is smoking, which affects reproduction, cardiovascular, pulmonary, skin, bone and neoplasia. Genes actually play the biggest role in lifespan. Kaeberlein noted that there is no reason that the human body has to wear out with time, and aging must be "programmed."

Hospital patient safety initiatives borrow from transportation industry     Posted: 04/20/09

Patient safety improvement and medical error prevention programs in U.S. hospitals often take their inspiration from the aviation industry's long-standing efforts to prevent errors and from Toyota Motor Corporation's "lean" production system, with its celebrated "stopping the line" policy, in which anyone working on the auto production line can stop it until an identified quality problem can be fixed. Two explicit examples from Seattle's Virginia Mason Medical Center and Seattle Children's were described during a panel at the Association of Health Care Journalists annual meeting in Seattle on April 17.

Reporters' preparation would decrease chaos in covering disasters     Posted: 04/20/09

Disasters are a time of chaos and uncertainty. To perhaps lessen this chaos for reporters, a panel of experts at Health Journalism 2009 in Seattle discussed how journalists might cover and survive disasters as well as understand the medical systems in place to handle them. The panelists offered insight into the many wheels set in motion when a disaster strikes and how journalists can prepare for and understand what might happen should one hit their community.

Animal-to-human contact key to emerging diseases     Posted: 04/18/09

A visit to the local health clinic might be beneficial for health reporters investigating animal-borne diseases, according to one panelist at the Association of Health Care Journalists conference in Seattle.

Health officials might not have a clue about how they would react to the outbreak of any number of diseases that are harmful to farm animals or humans, said William Davenhall, a global marketing manager with the computer mapping company ESRI.

"That would be an interesting story," he said during the April 18 panel on "Tracking animal-borne diseases." He noted: "Being prepared does not does not mean you are ready."

Obama order expected to increase speed, efficiency of stem cell research     Posted: 04/18/09

On the same day that Health Journalism 2009 featured a panel on "Second wind for stem cell research," The National Institutes of Health issued draft guidelines to allow government funding for stem cell research.

Lawrence Goldstein, Ph.D., a stem cell researcher with the University of California San Diego and a member of the board of the International Society for Stem Cell Research, and Chuck Murry, M.D., Ph.D., co-director of the University of Washington's Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine, commented on the executive order, as well as on the chilling effects of President Bush's order that limited stem cell research.

Gaps in evidence drive movement toward shared decision-making     Posted: 04/18/09

Shared decision making is of public interest - at least to anyone who thinks they might one day go to the doctor.

"This must be gratifying to Jack Wennberg," panel moderator Gary Schwitzer, publisher of, mused at the end of the question and answer session following the panelists' presentations.

"He couldn't get his work published for 30 years. He was laughed at, considered a pariah. Finally, he had to publish in Science, which is not exactly a standard journal for variations in health care." Using Medicare data, his Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care demonstrated striking variations in the kind of care patients receive - and the resulting costs - depending simply on where they live.

As it has been applied, Wennberg's pioneering research revealed a large number of medical procedures where there is no clinical consensus as to the course of treatment. In response, there is movement to educate - and mandate - physicians to include their patients in the decision-making process.

Mental health: Reporting beyond the labels     Posted: 04/18/09

If you live with mental illness, tell the truth about it.  If you report on mental illness, watch what you say about it.

This was the core advice from panelists on "Mental health:  Reporting beyond the labels" on April 17 at the AHCJ conference in Seattle.

"People with mental illness are more likely to be victims than perpetrators," said Jennifer Stuber, assistant professor of social welfare at the University of Washington.  But despite the research, many media depictions of these people continue to promote stereotypes of their being dangerous to themselves and others.

Changes to 990 forms make hospital finance investigations necessary     Posted: 04/18/09

If ever there was a time to dig into your local hospital's finances, this is it, Karl Stark told journalists Friday morning. The Internal Revenue Service has made the first significant change to its 990 form in 30 years, providing more details about charity care and community benefits.

"And there are all these financial pressures coming down on hospitals this year," said Karl Stark, health and science editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer. That may result in a new wave of closures and mergers.

AHCJ member reports from Malawi, Zambia     Posted: 04/17/09

Rose HobanAbortions in Zambia, AIDS orphans in Malawi and medical education in Africa. WUNC reporter and AHCJ member Rose Hoban dove headfirst into all of these issues and more on a recent grant-funded reporting trip to Africa.

In addition to nine radio stories, Hoban blogged extensively about her experiences and produced several videos and multimedia slide shows.

Sunshine Week: Some hospital quality measures online but more could be done     Posted: 03/15/09

Sunshine WeekThe Internet offers vast new opportunities to answer every patient’s most pressing question: Am I entrusting my health to people who will take good care of me?

In recent years, state and federal agencies have begun yanking data out of filing cabinets and opening their folders to the daylight of cyberspace. In addition to informing consumers, such Web sites prod everyone in health care to do a better job.

But much more can and should be done to give the public easier access to what the regulators know.

Survey shows 'battered' health journalists press on     Posted: 03/11/09

Health care journalists cited newsroom cutbacks, lack of time for research and travel and fewer opportunities for training at their news organization as factors making their jobs more challenging than ever, according to a survey released today by AHCJ and the Kaiser Family Foundation.


The digital revolution in health reporting     Posted: 03/03/09

More than 40 members of the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of AHCJ met to discuss the potential benefits of online social networking  for health reporters via blogs, Twitter and Facebook on Feb. 23. The event, "Tech Tools for Health Reporters," began with a look at the blogosphere.

President's corner: Look for opportunities to localize the debate on national health reform     Posted: 02/26/09

Trudy LiebermanTrudy Lieberman, president of AHCJ's board of directors, offers some ideas about how to cover health care reform, including tips on localizing the story, what to watch out for in the rhetoric, how to include the consumer context in stories, identifying who is representing the grassroots and who is representing the special interests.As Lieberman says, "Health reform gives our profession a chance to show what good journalism is all about. Good reporting is also a lot of fun."

Researchers study health bloggers, form online community     Posted: 02/12/09

Last fall, a trio of researchers published a paper examining that peculiar class of people who may be loosely described as health bloggers.The results, published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, found that “Medical blogs are frequently picked up by mainstream media; thus, blogs are an important vehicle to influence medical and health policy.”

Two of the researchers also formed the Health Blogs Observatory, which they call an online community, and published a directory. We reached out to Ivor Kovic, an emergency physician, about the survey and their hopes for their observatory.

Making sense of hospital quality reports     Posted: 02/03/09

Michael RothbergThis spring marks 20 years since the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council became the first in the nation to report hospital mortality data that was intended for release to consumers. Back then hospitals said the data would be misleading and only confuse consumers. Today, many states – along with the federal government and numerous private organizations – regularly publish or put online report cards on hospitals. But journalists are often unclear about the potential biases and limitations the reports present.

A report in the December issue of Health Affairs found serious flaws in the public reporting of hospital quality data. In this Q&A, one of the authors, Michael Rothberg, M.D., M.P.H., a researcher at Tufts University in Boston, discusses the findings. AHCJ also offers a number of resources for reporters who are looking at hospital quality.

Md. hospitals sue patients despite state subsidies     Posted: 01/29/09

Gavel in courtroomReporters Fred Schulte and James Drew looked into how low-income people afford care and how the hospitals collects payments. They found that court dockets brimmed with collection lawsuits filed by hospitals and many were filed against people living "in the margins." Some hospitals were trying to collect charges that HMOs or other health insurers had declined to pay and some were assessing massive interest rates. Maryland is the only state that sets the rates hospitals charge, rates that include millions of dollars in subsidies for charity care and bad debt losses.

President's Corner: Journalists must do better to inform, educate public     Posted: 01/07/09

Trudy Lieberman
Trudy Lieberman

A few weeks ago a former reporter who had won a Pulitzer told me how Barack Obama could move closer to universal coverage: He could let younger people buy into Medicare and the rest could get coverage through the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program that the reporter said was government insurance like Medicare. Shortly after that, a Fulbright scholar who had just spent a year in the United States told me that Obama planned to give everyone free insurance.

If two, smart, savvy people interested in the topic got the wrong message about health reform, what about all the ordinary people we are supposed to be informing?

For the past year I have reported on media coverage of health reform for and can safely say that the coverage has been punctuated largely by several themes that have contributed to erroneous assumptions on the part of our audiences.

Study raises concerns over disclosure in health stories     Posted: 12/15/08

Health journalists used to covering studies in the Journal of the American Medical Association recently found themselves on the receiving end of a scientific inquiry in the peer-reviewed publication.

And the results were not pretty.

The news media often fail to report when drug company funding is used for studies of medications, according to a study, published in the Oct. 1 issue , by doctors at the Cambridge Health Alliance in Cambridge, Mass., a hospital system affiliated with Harvard and Tufts universities' medical schools.

Project launches test of a new model for health journalism     Posted: 12/10/08

“Sowing Hope,” a series in the Merced Sun-Star exploring the quest for a University of California medical school in Merced, a town in California’s San Joaquin Valley, is the first venture from the Center for California Health Care Journalism, a new organization blending nonprofit and traditional media support for health care stories.

Kaiser starting health news service     Posted: 12/09/08

Looking to fill what it feels are gaps in health coverage left by newsrooms slashing reporting staffs, the Kaiser Family Foundation will launch its promised news service in the first half of 2009. Kaiser Health News is expected to employ five to seven reporters, as well as freelance writers. The news service is the latest effort by a private foundation to step into the news hole left by the downsizing news organizations. It joins ProPublica, Florida Health News, Kansas Health Institute's News Service and the Center for California Health Care Journalism.

Reporter finds efforts to monitor groundwater contamination leave much to be desired     Posted: 11/18/08

Groundwater contaminationLeah Beth Ward of the Yakima Herald-Republic in Washington decided to investigate after well water at a school was found to have unsafe levels of nitrates. What she found was a failure of government regulatory practices, heavy influence on the state legislature by the dairy industry and an impasse among state agencies responsible for clean water – both drinking and groundwater. Ward writes about how she reported on the contaminated wells, the source of the contamination and the systemic problems that threaten our water supply.

Atlanta reporter checks up on school vaccination compliance     Posted: 11/13/08

Young boy receives his vaccinations in this photo from the CDC.The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found Georgia school and health officials routinely ignore a law requiring that children receive certain vaccinations before they are allowed to enroll in school and take no actions against violators. As a result, thousands of metro Atlanta children were allowed to enroll and remain in school last year without proof of required shots, records show. Reporter Alison Young writes about how she reported the story using state vaccination compliance audit information for 625 public and private schools in five Atlanta-area counties.

Number of factors affect people's access to health care     Posted: 10/31/08

Two doctors and a health business reporter discussed the roadblocks that prevent people from receiving health care during a panel at the Urban Health Journalism Workshop. Reed Abelson, of The New York Times, offers some thoughts about how to cover the "uninsured."

Shattering myths about emergency rooms: ‘Urgent emergents' and ‘frequent fliers'     Posted: 10/31/08

Despite the common belief that emergency rooms are inundated by uninsured patients, two emergency specialists told a panel at the Urban Health Journalism Workshop that's not necessarily the care. They did outline some of the problems ERs face and some recommendations about how to solve the problems.

Urban Health Journalism Workshop: The built environment's impact on public health     Posted: 10/30/08

The "built environment" encompasses all buildings, spaces, and products that are created or modified by people, including homes, schools, workplaces, parks/recreation areas, greenways, business areas, and transportation systems. It extends overhead, underground and across the country. It includes land-use planning and policies that impact our communities in urban, rural, and suburban areas. And every bit of it has an effect on our health. A panel at the Urban Health Journalism Workshop explored ways in which people's health is impacted by that environment.

Urban Health Journalism Workshop: Monitoring jail and prison health     Posted: 10/30/08

Reporters and an advocate from the Legal Aid Society discussed health care in prisons and jails at the Urban Health Journalism Workshop, including why adequate health care in jails and prisons ultimately effects society at large.

Visit to the Bronx provides insight into school-based health programs     Posted: 10/30/08

Children exercise in the classroom as part of a school-based health program in the Bronx, New York.Journalists learned about the scope and structure of some of New York's school-based health centers during a field trip to two Bronx schools on Oct. 17, preceding the 2008 Urban Health Journalism Workshop. Children receive basic health care, including things like immunizations and asthma treatments, through clinics in their schools. Officials say such programs improve the health care children receive, as well as easing the burden on their parents.

Urban Health Journalism Workshop: Asthma and children     Posted: 10/30/08

Asthma has everything to do with where someone lives. So, for this year's Urban Health Journalism Workshop concerning environmental issues and health, one panel honed in on children and asthma. Experts stressed the role that education about symptoms and management play in the wellness of children with asthma.

Health writer reflects on shaky times in newsroom     Posted: 10/27/08

Phil GalewitzPhil Galewitz is editor of AHCJ's newsletter, HealthBeat, an AHCJ board member and a health writer for The Palm Beach Post. The Post recently suffered massive layoffs, like so many newspapers in recent months. Galewitz discusses what it's like to be in a newsroom going through such changes.

President’s corner: Putting a human face on McCain, Obama health plans     Posted: 09/16/08

Election 2008: Health CareAHCJ President Trudy Lieberman urges reporters to write about how the presidential candidates' health care plans will affect ordinary people. She argues that, unless we tell audiences just what they can expect from either candidate, they might really become disengaged. The column's sidebar lists numerous sources and related information to help reporters get started on that task.

Journalists face 'health literacy' hurdles in reaching audience     Posted: 09/05/08

Study notes lack of specialized training
Health journalists could better inform the public if they realized how illiterate most Americans are when it comes to understanding medical concepts and issues, concludes a new study by two University of Missouri researchers.

Author Q&A: Julie Salamon on long-term reporting and urban hospitals     Posted: 08/20/08

Julie SalamonJulie Salamon has written for Vanity Fair and The New Yorker as well as the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. Her latest project arose from time spent reporting at Maimonides Hospital in Brooklyn, N.Y., where she observed the comings and goings of the hospital. The result is her new book, "Hospital: Man, Woman, Birth, Death, Infinity Plus Red Tape, Bad Behavior, Money, God, and Diversity on Steroids." Salamon took time out from a stop in Maine to answer some questions for AHCJ.

Deciphering cost reports helps paint picture of hospital's financial health     Posted: 07/31/08

Fort Worth Star-Telegram reporters Darren Barbee, Yamil Berard and Anthony Spangler spent four months examining the JPS Health Network through public records and data, including financial and tax documents, reports to state and federal agencies, and correspondence.

Berard obtained cost reports for the hospital – and eight others – and analyzed them to determine whether there was evidence that the hospital had hiked prices to increase federal funding and whether price hikes affected some patients, such as the uninsured, more than others. Berard writes about how she went about obtaining cost reports, what kind of information can be found in them and how she did the analysis.

Building a database reveals deficient nursing homes     Posted: 07/17/08

Matt Canham of The Salt Lake Tribune scoured nursing home inspection reports – not available online in Utah – and found details of hundreds of deficiencies. He used those reports to build a database that's now available on the paper's Web site for the public to search. Through the data, Canham was able to identify problem homes. Most were “yo-yo” facilities, dipping in and out of compliance. The series also found that ownership is a top predictor of quality, though neither the state nor federal government has good information on who owns these facilities. This article is accompanied by a number of resources, including tip sheets, a video of story ideas, related articles and Web sites.

A glimpse at health journalism paychecks     Posted: 07/16/08

See the results of a snapshot salary survey taken by more than 100 journalists in March.

Elizabeth Edwards: How might she advise Obama?     Posted: 07/11/08

Elizabeth Edwards, health care reform advocate and wife of former presidential candidate John Edwards, is now advising Sen. Barack Obama's campaign on health care issues and is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress where she works on health care issues.

In her keynote speech at Health Journalism 2008 in Washington, D.C., Edwards discussed differences between the plans offered by Sen. John McCain, Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama. Her talk outlines some important differences, as well as the questions that reporters should be asking the candidates about health care.

Newspaper risked credibility by making deal with hospital     Posted: 06/26/08

Anne Arundel Medical CenterThe Capital, a 47,000-circulation daily newspaper in Annapolis, Md., sold its weekly Health Page to Anne Arundel Medical Center, a local hospital, one day in March, putting it in charge of all content, including the stories and layout. The deal was ethically and journalistically wrong, unfair to the readers and a bad business decision, according to experts, and even the paper's publisher. But striking such deals with local hospitals or other medical providers is not uncommon, although they're more predominant among local television stations than newspapers, according to Bob Steele, the journalism values scholar at the Poynter Institute.

Records show 'dangerous doctors' rarely face discipline     Posted: 06/05/08

Dangerous DoctorsGina Barton of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel describes how she used several sets of data and records, from both state and federal sources, to report the "Dangerous Doctors" series. The articles revealed that Wisconsin doctors are rarely disciplined by the state medical board, even when patients are harmed or die. She found the board is slow to look into complaints, is secretive about its investigations and rarely hands out serious punishment.

Bay Area panel on veterans' health highlights untold stories     Posted: 05/28/08

Returning veteransA panel of experts gave a compelling presentation about one of the nation's biggest health stories – the medical, mental and psychosocial challenges faced by returning war veterans and their families – at a May 21 meeting of AHCJ's San Francisco Bay Area chapter. An article about the panel, as well as audio of the event and handouts and presentations from the speakers offer numerous story ideas that haven't been covered yet.

W.Va. paper chronicles state's oral health problem     Posted: 05/22/08

Larry Coleman's old denture was stained by the tobacco he chews every day.

In a series of articles published last year, Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette reporter Eric Eyre chronicled the abysmal state of dental health in West Virginia. In clinics and private dentists' offices, Eyre found people suffering with painful toothaches, gaping cavities, abscesses, lip cancer, gum infections and molars cracked off because of an unsuccessful attempt at do-it-yourself dentistry. Eyre shares how he reported the story in this article, which is accompanied by a tip sheet, audio from Eyre and a West Virgina dentist and links to relevant Web sites and reports.

Outsourcing of pharmacies: Prescription for problems?     Posted: 05/15/08

Pharmacy outsourcingIn the March issue of Portfolio, Katherine Eban reported on the prescription error that killed a premature infant in a Nevada hospital which had outsourced its pharmacy operations. Eban says hospitals that turn over their pharmacies to management companies often cede nearly total control, a situation that can create a dangerous disconnect between the hospital’s medical staff and the pharmacy. Now Eban explains how she reported the story and offers ideas for reporters who should be looking into hospital pharmacies in their areas.

Focus on freelancing: Making sure you're covered for liability     Posted: 05/01/08

Liability insurance for freelancersWhile most staff writers take for granted that their publications' attorneys will defend them should the subjects of their stories ever get litigious, freelancers can't count on the same protection. Some agreements may make freelance journalists responsible for things such as libel, slander, invasion of privacy or copyright infringement – something that could be risky and costly for health writers doing investigative pieces about a drug, device, doctor or medical institution. Independent journalist Jane Allen writes about liability insurance for freelancers and offers some ways to protect yourself.

Health Journalism 2008: Ripping the cover off hospital finances     Posted: 04/14/08

Karl Stark, pharmaceuticals reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer and Gita B. Budd, principal of ECG Management Consultants, provided attendees with a good mix of user-friendly information from about hospital finances from both sides of the writer's pen in "Ripping the Cover off Hospital Finances."

Health Journalism 2008: Under pressure - FDA oversight, funding, effectiveness     Posted: 04/07/08

This panel of current and former FDA officials and outside experts discusses how FDA resources, policies and legal authority shape agency actions and responses, with an emphasis on the agency's lack of responsiveness to FOIA requests and other media queries.

Health Journalism 2008: Violence and mental illness - How strong is the link?     Posted: 04/07/08

After the Virginia Tech shooting, journalists must keep a step ahead of the common wisdom when covering stories about mentally ill people and violence. Is violence inevitable or an aberration among the mentally disabled? Can we predict who will become violent? What can be done to treat or restrain mentally ill but potentially violent individuals? A psychiatrist, a medical sociologist, and an advocate for the mentally ill clarify the facts and explicate the controversies.

Health Journalism 2008: Pros and cons of genetic risk profiling     Posted: 04/07/08

This panel explored the ethical, medical and scientific dimensions of genetic testing. Experts in the field were joined by a 23-year-old woman who has tested positive for a gene linked to breast cancer, and her mother, a breast cancer survivor. They demonstrate that patients have access to more information than ever about their genes, but that knowledge brings an array of choices and consequences.

Health Journalism 2008: Lies, damned lies and medical statistics - how to interpret the evidence     Posted: 04/07/08

This panel offers examples of widely accepted medical practices and treatments that need a second look, including problems with screening for cancer, focusing on the controversy surrounding CT for lung cancer and PSA testing. Topics include the use of surrogate endpoints; how trial design can be manipulated to achieve the desired outcome; the meaning of such terms as underpowered, number needed to treat, sensitivity, specificity, all-cause mortality and relative risk reduction versus absolute risk reduction.

Health Journalism 2008: U.S. roles in global health - which direction?     Posted: 04/07/08

In today’s interconnected world, health is an increasingly global issue. The American role in confronting health issues in the world's poorest countries is evolving, with direct involvement from the U.S. government and increasingly-active foundations. Experts on global health delve into trends in addressing international health problems, both successes and failures, and look ahead to future challenges.

Health Journalism 2008: Medical tourism - trend or aberration?     Posted: 04/07/08

More Americans are going abroad for medical treatment – sometimes with the encouragement of their health insurers and employers. But while much of the medical care overseas is of high quality and far less costly, there are many things would-be “medical tourists” should do before they decide to go for such care. There also are important emerging standards for transport and interoperability of personal health data for medical tourism that could make this more feasible. Three experts in the field discuss pros and cons of medical tourism, and a journalist who has written about this extensively suggests how to cover medical tourism in ways that serve readers.

Health Journalism 2008: Community ... the health story     Posted: 04/07/08

Everyone knows "good" neighborhoods and "bad" ones. But there are gripping, untold stories to be found in the reasons people in some neighborhoods lead longer and healthier lives than those in others. It's more than a simple tale of wealth vs. poverty, health habits, or years of schooling. Even rich, well-educated people tend to die younger if they live in places strained by inequality and social disconnection. A health expert and a master storyteller discuss how to tell the stories from your community.

Health Journalism 2008: Edwards says McCain plan gives insurance companies a pass     Posted: 04/07/08

Elizabeth Edwards, wife of former presidential candidate John Edwards, was the keynote speaker at the Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism luncheon. Edwards discussed her view of John McCain's health care plan, revealed which candidate's plan she favored and she called upon journalists to make sure the candidates tell the truth about health care and their plans.

Health Journalism 2008: Life after cancer - Survivorship planning     Posted: 04/07/08

For many cancer survivors, beating the disease is only the first of many challenges. There's the threat of recurrence and psychological fallout that can take a toll on relationships. Young survivors face educational burdens and decisions that could affect their fertility. Older survivors struggle to hold onto jobs that provide health insurance, or pay the immense costs for treatment, while often dealing with co-morbid conditions. With two-thirds of survivors expected to live at least five years after diagnosis, these issues are very real and relevant to your readers. A cancer survivor and experts discuss the issues.

Health Journalism 2008: Finding success through the trades     Posted: 04/07/08

Regular gigs from medical and scientific trade magazines can bring a steady flow of income and provide freelancers with lots of ideas for the glossies or even books. Dozens of reputable medical and science trade publications cover the business, science, and technology of health care, crave good writers and top-notch reporting ... and will pay for it. How can you get started writing for trades? How can you find the best trades to fit your skills? What are the benefits? What are the downsides? Our panel of medical trade writers and editors explore this and more.

Health Journalism 2008: Clinical research into vaccines for cancer and other diseases     Posted: 04/07/08

In the 20th century, 22 vaccines were approved, including those for polio and influenza. So far this century, just one vaccine has made its debut. More nontraditional vaccines are in development for chronic diseases including Alzheimer's, hypertension and other cancers. Two vaccine pioneers, including the developer of the first cancer vaccine, and one of the top federal vaccine policy experts discuss the trend.


Health Journalism 2008: What health systems of other countries can teach us     Posted: 04/07/08

Experts discussed four countries with four very different health care systems: Canada, England, France, and the Netherlands. They'll describe what's good and bad in each nation – and offer some lessons for would-be reformers in the United States.

Health Journalism 2008: Economics of health 101     Posted: 04/07/08

We spend 16 percent of our economy on health care. A panel of experts explained the financial fundamentals of this huge and confusing system. How the money is spent, who pays the bills, who gets the revenues, the differences among public and private programs, and why health markets are local.

Health Journalism 2008: Which way health reform?     Posted: 04/07/08

Leading health policy experts from the left, middle and right debated the widely varying options facing lawmakers and voters.

Health Journalism 2008: Sociological aspects of breast cancer     Posted: 04/07/08

In the United States, African American and Latina women are diagnosed with breast cancer less frequently than white women. But once diagnosed, studies have shown that these women are far more likely to die of their disease. Vanessa Sheppard, a researcher at the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, discussed outreach initiatives for both groups and reducing health disparities.

Health Journalism 2008: How will retiring boomers affect the national health agenda?     Posted: 04/07/08

The first of the nation's Baby Boomers are just three years from retirement age. Experts predict escalating age-related chronic disease and disability, and a health care system ill-prepared to handle them. The nation faces a shortage of geriatricians, a lack of preventive care, a need to better integrate acute and long-term care, and bewildering array of financing options. Panelists discussed those problems and solutions developing at the federal and state level.

Health Journalism 2008: Current controversies in transplantation     Posted: 04/07/08

This panel at AHCJ's annual conference discussed organ transplantation, which involves genuine rationing, with not enough supply to meet demand. Panelists discussed a variety of tough questions: Should young people be given an advantage over older patients in distribution of donated kidneys? What should hospitals be required to do to protect the interests of living donors? Should the U.S. allow Americans to sell their kidneys?

Reporter offers testimony to FDA committee about agency's communication policies     Posted: 03/11/08

At the first meeting of the new advisory committee to the FDA on Risk Communications on March 6, 2008, AHCJ member and freelance reporter Kathryn Foxhall testified about the FDA's communications policies. The FDA is just one of many agencies and organizations that use tracking and monitoring by their public relations offices to stifle communication between its employees and the press.

Scribes and scrubs: A healthy mix     Posted: 03/04/08

While medical journalists, and students, have ready access to the successes of medicine through press conferences, hospital public information officers and journals, they have less opportunity to learn about the complexities and complications involved in patient care, especially in hospitals.

Mary Knudson, the science-medical writing adviser in the Master of Arts in Writing Program at Johns Hopkins University, wanted to offer her students a chance to learn about those challenges and problems that are not so readily discussed. Her solution, she explains, put the writing students inside a hospital, where doctors could drop in and talk to the students. It also included shadowing residents for a 15-hour shift, something that opened their eyes to the interactions between patients and doctors.

Author Q&A: Shannon Brownlee on overtreatment of patients     Posted: 02/28/08

Shannon BrownleeShannon Brownlee's book “Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine is Making Us Sicker and Poorer” challenges one of the core beliefs of American health care: that more is better. “Overtreated” was named the No. 1 economics book of 2007 by The New York Times, over books by Alan Greenspan and Robert Reich. Brownlee talks to AHCJ about the book, how health care is playing into the presidential election, and what health reporters should be asking about and examining.

Courant reporters investigate nursing home chain     Posted: 02/27/08

Courant reporters investigate nursing home chainLisa Chedekel and Lynne Tuohy of The Hartford Courant used health inspection records, cost reports and court records to disclose that one of Connecticut's largest nursing home chains was repeatedly cited for serious patient-care deficiencies, was deep in debt and that there numerous allegations of wrongdoing in pending litigation. They write about how they went about researching and reporting the story.

President's corner: Candidates' health reform language needs closer scrutiny, definition     Posted: 02/26/08

Trudy LiebermanThe health care vocabulary of the presidential campaign includes terms such as "socialized medicine," "universal," "comprehensive," "guaranteed," "mandate," "coverage," "care" and "choice." Journalists pick up these terms, weave them in their stories, and telegraph a meaning that politicians want, although it may not be the same as the one in the dictionary. AHCJ President Trudy Lieberman calls on journalists to pin down the candidates and explain what the words mean before we let them get away with a smorgasbord of empty terms.

Foundations stepping into news game     Posted: 02/25/08

In Florida and Kansas, health foundations are funding news services to gather health policy news and disperse it on the Internet. The trend could take off this year as the Kaiser Family Foundation and the California HealthCare Foundation are considering launching their own types of health news services.

Bush signs compact with Tanzania, pledges nets to fight malaria     Posted: 02/20/08

President George W. Bush's Feb. 17 visit to the East African nation of Tanzania brought a major boost in the country's health care sector. Bush and Tanzania's President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete signed the largest project in the Millennium Challenge Corporation's history – a $698 million (US) compact with Tanzania that will benefit 4.8 million Tanzanians. AHCJ member Emmanuel Rubagumya, managing editor of Health Focus Magazine in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, reports on Bush's visit.

Powerful drugs being prescribed off-label to children     Posted: 02/06/08

Children and antipsychoticsThe St. Petersburg Times' Robert Farley spent six months investigating the skyrocketing amount of atypical antipsychotic drugs being prescribed to children. The drugs, developed to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder in adults, increasingly have been prescribed off-label to children with aggressive behavior or ADHD. During his investigation, Farley found that almost no research has been done on the long-term effects of these drugs on the developing brains of children. Here, he talks about how he developed two stories about the drugs and a third one that will be published soon.

Freelancers on the hunt for health insurance     Posted: 01/17/08

Health insurance for freelancersFreelance writers often have to shop around for health insurance that is both affordable and adequate. Freelance writer and AHCJ board member Sheree Crute looks at what's available and how to check up on the legitimacy of health insurance companies. We also invite our freelance members to offer their suggestions on the topic.

Women's magazines can miss wider views of health issues     Posted: 01/02/08

Intellectuals began accusing women's magazines of perpetuating feminine stereotypes decades ago. McCall's was the fastest growing of that genre in the 1960s when Betty Frieden wrote "A Feminine Mystique," criticizing stories published in McCall's and similar publications that included traditional, gender-solidifying topics. Forty years later, health is the hot topic for women's general interest magazines, which regularly promote wellness and medical features. These articles can provide valuable information overlooked by the mainstream press, according to researcher Barbara Barnett from the University of Kansas. But the coverage women receive from them often focus on superficial topics and reinforce women stereotypes as caregivers, she says.

Online jobs scarce for health reporters - but freelance opportunities abound     Posted: 01/02/08

With the explosion of health Internet sites such as Revolution Health, WebMD and Daily Strength, it isn't surprising that many health journalists, squeezed by mainstream media budget cutting, are contemplating moves to online jobs. The opportunities can be enticing for journalists at all stages of their careers, but caveat emptor: For every well-paying job with a well-established health site, there are dozens more offering skimpy compensation, unstable freelance gigs and sometimes questionable content.

Hospitals ask reporters to sign confidentiality agreements     Posted: 01/02/08

A growing number of hospitals across the country are asking reporters to sign confidentiality statements. The hospitals say they are following guidelines set up this year by The Joint Commission (formerly the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Health Care Organizations). Hospitals and the press have always had a challenging relationship, and the privacy rules in HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) further strained communications as hospitals have grown more fearful about the inadvertent release of patient information.

President's corner: If candidates won't focus on aging issues, journalists better     Posted: 01/02/08

AHCJ President Trudy Lieberman writes that the presidential candidates have been mostly silent about issues that affect the aging. Of the thousands or maybe millions of words that have been written so far about the candidates and their health care proposals, few have been about aging, the quality and financing of long-term care or, for that matter, the future of Medicare - all crucial issues facing this country. You almost might say the candidates are ignoring those topics, which is a shame given the realities of aging in America.

Reporter documents surgical errors through public records     Posted: 11/28/07

Surgical errorsWhen Boston Globe reporter Lizbeth Kowalczyk asked the health department to run a computer search of report and investigation summaries for 2005, 2006 and 2007-to-date, she discovered records of surgeries that involved the wrong site, wrong patient or wrong procedure, and instances of objects left inside patients. The reports showed that procedures to prevent such incidents were not implemented consistently and that some nurses and technicians didn't confront surgeons about lapses, even though they acknowledged later that they knew the what the surgeon was doing was wrong.

Online jobs scarce for health reporters     Posted: 10/31/07

Online jobs scarce for health reportersWith the explosion of health Internet sites such as Revolution Health, WebMD and Daily Strength, it isn't surprising that many health journalists, squeezed by mainstream media budget cutting, are contemplating moving to online publications. The opportunities can be enticing, but caveat emptor: For every well-paying job with a well-established health site, there are dozens more offering skimpy compensation, unstable freelance gigs and sometimes questionable content.

Death in Sin City: Analyzing the CDC's mortality database     Posted: 10/03/07

Death in Sin CityAlex Richards and Marshall Allen analyzed data from the CDC's mortality database to find out how the causes of death in Nevada and Clark County, home to Las Vegas, compared to the national average. They found that Nevada has the 12th highest death rate among people younger than 65, has a rate of deadly accidental poisoning and exposure to noxious substances that’s almost twice the national rate, has a rate from alcoholic liver disease 1.7 times the national rate and has the highest suicide rate in the nation and a suicide rate among the elderly that’s nearly three times the national rate.

An introduction to digital audio recording     Posted: 09/28/07

digital audio recordingOne of the most common queries on AHCJ's electronic mailing list is "How do I record telephone calls?" We've compiled some of the answers and added some background about digital recording. This guide will be expanded to include more about recording in the field, editing audio files and using them on the Web.

Specialty hospitals, surgery centers call 911 in emergencies     Posted: 09/20/07

Emergency roomMorgan Loew of KPHO-Phoenix analyzed records and found that at least 150 patients were transported to Phoenix-area emergency rooms over the past seven years after undergoing procedures at specialty hospitals and surgical centers. While patients may assume these places are equipped to handle emergencies, many are not. Loew offers tips on doing similar reporting and warns of some obstacles reporters might face and how to get around them.

SCHIP: Where does it stand and what do journalists need to know?     Posted: 08/30/07

SCHIP insures low-income children in the U.S.Congress and President Bush are at odds over legislation that would reauthorize the State Children's Health Insurance Program, which insures 6 million children whose families can't afford insurance but who do not qualify for Medicaid.

We interviewed Robin Rudowitz, principal policy analyst for the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, about the program and complications in reauthorizing the program.

Digging into DEA data exposes sharp increase in use of pain medications     Posted: 08/23/07

Pill bottlesIn this article written for AHCJ, Frank Bass of The Associated Press explains how he analyzed DEA records to find that sales of five leading painkillers nearly doubled from 1997 to 2005. He also offers some explanations about why the use of painkillers is on the rise and points out some traps that reporters should avoid when writing about the topic.

Point of View: One researchers take on rushed reporting     Posted: 08/15/07

Michael Bracken, professor of epidemiology at Yale University, shares his thoughts about health journalism. Bracken is co-author of a study published in the British Medical Journal that looks at the usefulness of animal studies.

'Sick' mixes health policy history, short narratives for chilling picture     Posted: 08/15/07

Jonathan Cohn, author of "Sick: The Untold Story of America's Health Care Crisis - and the People Who Pay the Price," discusses the process, challenges and pleasures of writing his first book. In his book, Cohn weaves the history of the U.S. health care system with today's issues through stories about real people.

Rats! Animal studies poor predictor of human effect     Posted: 08/15/07

Almost everyday, newspapers and television stations tout the result of animal studies published in major and minor medical and science journals or presented at medical meetings. But just how useful are animal studies to human health? Not very, according to two studies published late last year in the British Medical Journal and the Journal of the American Medical Association.

How we did it: Uncovering mystery deaths in state mental hospitals     Posted: 08/15/07

Alan Judd and Andy Miller of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution write about how they reported a series about deaths in Georgia's mental hospitals. They found that at least 115 patients had died under suspicious circumstances in Georgia's mental hospitals from 2002 to 2006, and that more than 190 patients over that time were victims of employee abuse.

Inspection reports reveal deficiencies in assisted-living care     Posted: 08/02/07

Assisted livingZiva Branstetter of The Tulsa World recently reported a series of articles about assisted-living centers. She found that the public is remarkably uninformed about major issues such as what services to expect in assisted living, when to choose a higher level of care and what a center's inspection records reveal. In addition, "assisted living" can mean different things to different people and in different states, and there are no specific federal regulations governing assisted-living centers; each state has its own standards.

Election 2008: Where do the candidates stand on health care?     Posted: 07/25/07

Election 2008: Health CareAs the 2008 presidential campaign intensifies, AHCJ will be tracking the candidates' positions on health care issues. Use our chart and more in-depth pages to see where the candidates stand on access to health care and which ones have released a plan for health care. We'll be updating the information and expanding to include positions on other important health issues, such as stem cell research, abortion and more.

Covering HIV/AIDS: 4th IAS Conference and more resources     Posted: 07/19/07

The 4th International AIDS Society's Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention began July 22, 2007, in Sydney, Australia. AHCJ's Web site will be carrying live coverage of the event through and offering additional resources for journalists covering HIV/AIDS.

Medical misconnections: Patient-safety problems     Posted: 07/11/07

Medical misconnectionsDavid Wahlberg of the Wisconsin State Journal reported on patient-safety problems, including tubing misconnections, incompatible defibrillator pads, nurse fatigue and more. In an article for AHCJ members, Wahlberg explains how he reported the series and offers tips for other reporters.

Covering stem cells: Background on science, politics and global competition     Posted: 06/14/07

Terri Somers of the San Diego Union-Tribune offers this backgrounder on covering stem cell research, including history, the importance of stem cells, politics affecting research decisions and the status of research around the world.

Evidence-based medical reporting: A brief primer     Posted: 06/07/07

This primer offers tips to help health care journalists find, read, and evaluate journal articles that report medical research. The main topics touched on include literature searching, study design, and biostatistical concepts. The primer also includes other tips and suggests additional readings.

Tips for interviewing service members returning from Iraq, the Middle East or Afghanistan     Posted: 05/28/07

Joe Hight, president of the Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma's Executive Committee and managing editor of The Oklahoman in Oklahoma City, has compiled some tips and advice on interviewing returning veterans.

Interviewing 'profoundly affected' soldiers     Posted: 05/28/07

Joe Hight, president of the Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma's Executive Committee and managing editor of The Oklahoman in Oklahoma City, gets tips from a wounded veteran, experts and journalists on how to interview soldiers returning from Iraq, the Middle East or Afghanistan.

Journal's new blog breaks stories, offers analysis     Posted: 05/15/07

Jacob GoldsteinIn March, The Wall Street Journal launched the Health Blog, an attempt to meld the Journal's standards for reporting and writing about health care with the immediacy and community that blogs make possible. Scott Hensley, news editor in The Wall Street Journal's Health and Science Bureau, explains the purpose of the blog and what the paper and Web site hope to accomplish.

N.J. pharmaceutical reporter becomes full-time blogger     Posted: 05/15/07

Ed SilvermanThe Star-Ledger's Ed Silverman is a new breed of big city health reporter. Since January, he's become a full-time Web blogger for the newspaper. The site is designed more for people working in the industry rather than consumers who are the end users. The Web site, which does not yet have any advertising, keeps a running stream of headlines to give users the news of the day. It also has a list of blog posts from Silverman and a place for readers to add their comments. Silverman makes as many as 10 posts a day to the site.

Passion for public service journalism leads to Web site     Posted: 05/14/07

Carol GentryCarol Gentry, a senior health reporter for the Tampa Tribune, has founded Florida Health News Inc. (FHN), a nonprofit online news service dedicated to informing citizens, policy makers and journalists about health policy and finance issues around the state. In its first phase, the site has posted health policy stories from news media throughout Florida, tracked legislative activities and highlighted Florida studies. The site is intended to be a one-stop resource for Florida journalists trying to navigate the complexity of important health policy developments. Reporters can request e-mail news alerts, giving them timely and easy access to vital background information.

How we did it: Diving into prescription privacy     Posted: 05/14/07

Bob Segall of WTHR-Indianapolis went dumpster diving at drug stores and found that personal prescription records were being thrown out and unsecured. Over two months, Segall and photojournalists found many dumpsters were sitting wide open in drug store parking lots and inside they found hundreds of patient records including names, addresses, phone numbers and birth dates, as well as the medications the patients were taking and the doctors who had prescribed them.

New CUNY program gives students tools to do more in-depth health reporting     Posted: 05/14/07

The City University of New York has started a concentration in health and medicine reporting. Students are learning how to detect spin, bias and conflicts of interest in health information; read and interpret scientific studies and translate data into understandable stories for the public.

Health journalism degree programs provide new pathway into field     Posted: 05/10/07

Medical and health information is complicated to understand, and even more so to report. With shrinking newsrooms and fewer specialized beats, the role of a health reporter becomes more critical. To address these changes, several colleges have begun offering medical journalism programs to improve the quality of health writing and reporting.

Webcast: The Future of the State Children's Health Insurance Plan (SCHIP)     Posted: 03/06/07

With the State Children's Health Insurance Plan (SCHIP) up for reauthorization, this roundtable - a partnership between the Association of Health Care Journalists and the Kaiser Family Foundation - focuses on what journalists need to know about covering SCHIP in their states.

Depth varies on newspapers' health Web sites     Posted: 03/01/07

The health pages on the Web sites of many newspapers vary a great deal when it comes to content, interactivity and many other things. We review some of what's out there and come to the conclusion that health reporters should be working closely with the Web staff.

Best of the AHCJ list: Evaluating newsworthiness of medical studies     Posted: 02/19/07

A recent query on the AHCJ electronic mailing list raised the issue of how to evaluate the significance and newsworthiness of a medical study. The question drew several useful responses from members and we thought it would be useful to share those tips and others here.

Fatal Food: A study of illness outbreaks     Posted: 02/19/07

Thomas Hargrove, a database analyst and national reporter at Scripps Howard News Service, used food-borne illness outbreak reports collected annually by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to find that 64 percent of all outbreaks of food sickness were officially listed as from "unknown" causes and that investigations of outbreaks varied widely among the states.

How we did it: Investigating organ transplant centers     Posted: 02/01/07

Charles Ornstein and Tracy Weber of the Los Angeles Times describe how they went about reporting on problems in organ transplant centers. They describe the data and federal standards they used to document problems, as well as the types of sources they used to report the ongoing story.