By Shawn Kennedy, interim editor-in-chief
So I got back from the Association of Health Care Journalists conference in Chicago and a colleague asked, “How was the meeting?” I automatically said it was “good.” But then, I started to think about why I said that and what I’d found valuable—in brief, it’s networking and gaining new information.
I was looking for new information about the latest health issues—mostly about how the experts see health reform shaping up—and about any new issues or initiatives in health reporting. I attended sessions on how the new health reform legislation will affect hospitals (see my recent post on this) as well as state and local health agencies—but there were also presentations on monitoring food safety, lessons learned from H1N1, guidelines for writing about health guidelines, and patient safety advocacy; the new CDC director launched a report on state tobacco use (another post); and I watched a challenging but fascinating primer on health insurance financing from an actuary.
Some things I found worth noting:
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius saying she will not stand by while some health insurance companies attempt to deny claims and push breast cancer patients off their plans. She commented, “It will be hand-to-hand combat if they try.” (See Reuters report for full story.)
Tom Frieden (CDC director) saying that increasing tobacco taxes is the single most effective tool to reduce tobacco use. (Yet taxes in South Carolina have been seven cents since 1977!)
Aida Giachello from the Midwest Latino Health Research Training and Policy Center noting that the United States could learn from Brazil, which, she said, “changed its constitution to make health a constitutional right” and integrates health matters into all social policy.
Peter Pronovost’s luncheon presentation about his work to reduce catheter-related bloodstream infections (CRBIs), at which he observed that “arrogance is a primary reason for error.” He likens the number of CRBSIs to “a 747 airplane crashing every three days.”
Of course, networking is a big plus of attending any meeting and I enjoyed seeing people like Melinda Hemmelgarn (a dietitian by background, she writes a blog and is committed to helping people “think beyond their plates” and understand the relationship between what they eat and their health). I also saw Scott Hensley from NPR’s health blog, Shots, who wrote a post about a session he attended on infusion pumps that’s a worthwhile read for every nurse who uses them.
Also interesting was a discussion raised at the annual meeting by Gary Schwitzer about how some TV stations are presenting “news” about hospitals when the segment has been paid for by the hospital (Schwitzer’s Web site HealthNewsReview.org and his related blog make you acutely aware of how much health coverage is biased or hyped or just incorrect). The discussion reminded me of why I appreciate the Association of Health Care Journalists—they are committed to transparent, balanced, and unbiased reporting of health news.