Contest Entries

David Armstrong's 2011 Body of Work

Entrants: David Armstrong

Affiliation: Bloomberg News

Beat Reporting

Year: 2011

Place: First Place

Provide a brief synopsis of the story or stories, including any significant findings.

Judges’ comments: This is a classic example of beat reporting. David Armstrong deconstructs the $300 billion pain management market and the medical entrepreneurs who are fueling its growth. He tells personal stories and also provides a look at a troubling big picture. This work is fair, important and a great service to readers.

List date(s) this work was published or aired

See this entry.

Provide a brief synopsis of the story or stories, including any significant findings.

Armstrong reported on the booming business of pain treatment - a $300 billion market characterized in many places by high prices, aggressive marketing and bogus advances that have harmed some patients and fleeced others. In laser spine surgery, Armstrong found that one of the busiest back surgery centers in the country was owned by the surgeons who operate there and earned huge margins by charging premium prices for a procedure of dubious efficacy. Several patients, lured to the center by online ads, say they were hurt by the operation. In the story "Chiropractor Backing Romney" Armstrong revealed how pain clinics are profiting from treating car crash victims with a variety of expensive therapies that are of limited or no help to people in pain. One clinic operator has been so successful with this model that he travels in his own private jet and recently built a 30,000-square-foot oceanfront mansion.

Explain types of documents, data or Internet resources used. Were FOI or public records act requests required? How did this affect the work?

These stories relied on a wide array of documents, data and web resources. A public records request was made for Florida inpatient and outpatient databases of discharges at those facilities; public records requests were also made for physician disciplinary records as well as judiciary records related to lawyer advertising complaints. Other documents used include campaign finance records, incorporation records, doctor licensing records, state health-facility inspection records, studies from scientific and medical literature and malpractice claims databases, in addition to broad use of court filings in state and federal courts. Extensive web research was done to identify the methods used by medical providers to recruit patients, including their hiring of firms specializing in enhancing their Internet profile.

Explain types of human sources used.

Human sources included patients, doctors, nurses, medical experts, law enforcement investigators, regulators and market analysts.

Results (if any).

In the laser spine story, Google's policy regarding the use of trademarks in advertising was corrected. The company had misinformed Bloomberg about the policy prior to publication. In the accident-clinic story, the owner of the clinics requested a retraction. Bloomberg editors and lawyers reviewed the story, found no inaccuracies, and no retraction or correction was made.

Follow-up (if any). Have you run a correction or clarification on the report or has anyone come forward to challenge its accuracy? If so, please explain.

In the laser spine story, Google's policy regarding the use of trademarks in advertising was corrected. The company had misinformed Bloomberg about the policy prior to publication. In the accident-clinic story, the owner of the clinics requested a retract

Advice to other journalists planning a similar story or project.

Identify areas of increased spending in health care and figure out who is profiting from that growth and why.