Health Journalism 2008: Stories, tip sheets, webcasts from the conference

Stories published about Health Journalism 2008
Journalists attending the conference had the chance to write about health topics that ranged from actor Dennis Quaid's perspective on medical errors to Elizabeth Edwards' critique of John McCain's health care plan. Here's a sampling of stories written from and about the conference. If you have a story to add, please send a link to

Under pressure - FDA oversight, funding, effectiveness
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.

Violence and mental illness - How strong is the link?
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.

Pros and cons of genetic risk profiling
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.

Lies, damned lies and medical statistics - how to interpret the evidence
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.

U.S. roles in global health - which direction?
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.

Medical tourism - trend or aberration?
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.

Community ... the health story
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.

Edwards says McCain plan gives insurance companies a pass
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.

Life after cancer - Survivorship planning
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.

Finding success through the trades
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.

Clinical research into vaccines for cancer and other diseases
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.

What health systems of other countries can teach us
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.

Economics of health 101
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.

Which way health reform?
Leading health policy experts from the left, middle and right debated the widely varying options facing lawmakers and voters.

Sociological aspects of breast cancer
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.

How will retiring boomers affect the national health agenda?
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.

Current controversies in transplantation
This panel 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?