Thursday, February 10, 2011

This is investigative reporting

The Las Vegas Sun conducted an extensive investigation of the quality of care delivered by hospitals in that section of Nevada. It took two years of research by reporters Marshall Allen and Alex Richards, along with help from lots of support staff. They made use of hundreds of thousands of pieces of information. The material was presented in a multi-part series through 2010. Here is the video summary offered by Brian Greenspun, publisher and editor.

This series exemplifies the potential power of the media in focusing public attention on one of the country's major public health hazards -- being treated in a hospital. To a greater or lesser extent, a similar story could be written in most American cities. But it would take a commitment to write stories that go beyond parroting corporate press releases or believing the advertisements of self-satisfied medical institutions. Perhaps a little less coverage about the weather would free up reporters to dig through a different kind of snow job.

Congratulations to the Las Vegas Sun for showing the way.

If you cannot see the video, click here.


Dale Ann said...

From Facebook:

I have found in our area, that journalists and news reporters are afraid to write articles that touch on the human side of healthcare where there is any indication that a hospital/doc made an error. If you search hospital boards, many times you will find editors of the newspapers. Full page adds and hospital commercials during the major sporting events had to cost millions...or maybe not. Conflict of interest doesn't seem to play out here where there is a connection to telling stories of public interest vs telling stories that make/save money for the partners. How will we really know the truth if journalists are still afraid to do investigative reporting? Journalists can save lives too!

Mary said...

From Facebook:

Bravo. It is about time. This is a must share. Paul, thanks for bringing this to light.

Tricia said...

Wow, how refreshing and encouraging to see journalists and media report with rigor and integrity. Mr. Greenspun is absolutely right--it's about attitude and commitment from the top. Thank you for sharing this, Paul.

Anonymous said...

Hearst media did a similar report last year (or in 2009, I think). It was called "Dead By Mistake." In Minnesota, the state Health Department has called on hospital leadership to do more sharing of adverse events so they can see how wrong-site surgery, medication errors, etc., actually affect patients. Although MN was the first in the U.S. to require adverse event reporting, their latest report (issued in Jan.) shows little improvement.

My take, FWIW, is that it can be extraordinarily hard for patients to go public when something goes wrong. I recall a case from the upper Midwest a few years ago in which a woman was mistakenly dx'd with breast cancer after a mixup of tissue samples in the path lab. This was the response (which I saw in letters to the editor after the story was made public): "What is she complaining about? She should be grateful she didn't have breast cancer after all." "What's the big deal about a mistaken mastectomy? She can always have reconstructive surgery."

The personal stories are so essential to this, but they're hard to find. Many people don't want to compromise their privacy. They don't want to run the risk of having doctors in their community label them a troublemaker for speaking out. And they really don't want to open themselves up to being criticized and second-guessed as to their motivation.

My sense is also that patient safety is hard for the media to report on with any rigor. The issues are complex. You have to understand why safety isn't a quick-and-easy fix and you have to understand the elements of health care culture that contribute to, or undermine, patient safety. It really takes time to master all of this, and unfortunately many newsrooms have slashed their staff, cut way back on training and no longer have the resources to cover these stories in the way they deserve (assuming it was even a priority in the first place).