5-Star Friday: Integrity

Health 2 weeks ago HealthNewsReview 28
5-Star Friday

Sometimes all it takes is a little Bob Marley; not just his music, but quotes like this:

5-Star Friday“The greatness of a man is not in how much wealth he acquires, but in his integrity and his ability to affect those around him positively.”

When integrity is lost — especially by those who we expect it from in the field of health care — it’s comforting to know there are reporters like the ones we feature below who consider that newsworthy.

These are important stories. We applaud the authors for not letting them slip by unnoticed.


Gary Schwitzer | Founder-Publisher

Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Chief Executive Resigns From Merck’s Board of Directors • by Charles Ornstein & Katie Thomas • ProPublica and New York Times
A Surgeon So Bad It Was Criminal • by Laura Beil • for ProPublica

Gary Schwitzer, Publisher

These two articles on ProPublica demonstrate the vital role that investigative health care journalism can play in exploring important questions about the integrity of health care in some corners of the industry.

Ornstein and Thomas have been chipping away at the Sloan Kettering story for weeks.  In the past month they have written about the medical center’s administrators having ties to for-profit companies, with one such episode leading to internal conflict in the pathology department. They also wrote about a Sloan Kettering vice president holding “a nearly $1.4 million stake in a newly public company as compensation for representing Memorial Sloan Kettering on its board. The hospital said last week that a new policy would prohibit compensation in such situations and that the vice president would turn over his stake to the hospital.”

The subhead to the second piece tries to capture the essence of Beil’s more than 8,000-word gem:

“Christopher Duntsch’s surgical outcomes were so outlandishly poor that Texas prosecuted him for harming patients. Why did it take so long for the systems that are supposed to police problem doctors to stop him from operating?”

The print piece is a complement to Beil’s podcast, “Dr. Death.”

She was recently awarded the 2018 Victor Cohn Prize for Medical Science Reporting.  The award announcement stated: “Judges cited Beil for the often-breathtaking, ‘grab-you-by-the-throat’ quality of her writing, the ‘extraordinary diversity of both the subject matter she strives to illuminate and the audiences she reaches,’ and the ‘remarkable utility of her reporting.’ Her stories, they noted, stood out ‘for the deep and detailed richness of their reporting, and the enterprise and personal commitment evident in each one.’ She is only the second freelance writer to be awarded the Cohn Prize since its inception in 2000.


Mary Chris Jaklevic | Reporter-Editor

The CDC Is Publishing Unreliable Data On Gun Injuries. People Are Using It Anyway. • by Sean Campbell, Daniel Nass and Mai Nguyen • FiveThirtyEight

Mary Chris Jaklevic

We often take it for granted that government-generated data used by researchers and policymakers is reasonably sound. This article — published in partnership with not-for-profit gun violence news organization, The Trace, is a jolting reminder that it might not be.

This team dug into why the CDC’s report of a steady increase in nonfatal gun injuries didn’t align with data from other public health and criminal justice databases. They look into why the CDC’s data might be wrong (it relates to the use the use of an unreliable hospital survey). The CDC has been discouraged from collecting robust data on gun violence for years, but this story offers suggestions from experts on how to correct the data deficiency going forward. An editor of an epidemiology journal is quoted that he believes “it is more important to know why those victims of firearm injuries survived, than what happened to those who died.”


Kevin Lomangino | Managing Editor

Taken For A Ride: M.D. Injured In ATV Crash Gets $56,603 Bill For Air Ambulance Trip • by Alison Kodjak • Kaiser Health News & NPR

Kevin Lomangino

In our byzantine and often-bewildering health care system, even doctors can’t avoid getting shaken down for tens of thousands in medical expenses that they thought would be covered by insurance. That’s the kernel at the heart of this story about Naveed Khan, MD, a Texas radiologist whose insurance would only pay $12,000 toward a $56,000 medevac ride.  Khan fought off bill collectors from the air ambulance company while also fighting to save his arm after an ATV rolled over on it. He ended up losing the arm, but couldn’t shake the medical debt.

It’s a tale of warped economic forces that allow air ambulance companies to charge whatever they want for their services. And it captures the deep psychological toll that this financially toxic care has on patients. “It’s unfair,” Khan said. “It’s random; it’s arbitrary. It’s whatever price they want to set. And to put that onto a person who’s already been through what I’ve been through, I hate to say it, but it’s cruel.”


Michael Joyce | Writer-Producer

Congratulations. Your Study Went Nowhere • by Aaron E. Carroll • for New York Times

Michael Joyce

How far upstream in the flow of medical information — from source-to-public — do bias and spin get introduced? Pretty darn far as Dr. Aaron Carroll shows us in this distillation of a study published two months ago in Psychological Medicine.

The basics are this: Of 105 studies of antidepressants registered with the Food and Drug Administration, half were considered “positive” by the FDA and half “negative.” And guess what? 98% of the positive trials were published, but only 48% of the negative ones were. This despite the fact that so-called “negative” studies also contain vital information for scientific progress.

But Carroll takes us even further upstream, to show how some researchers do whatever they can to puff up marginally “positive” results, while downplaying or positively reframing their negative ones. Say nothing of a 2014 study showing positive results being published four times more often than negative ones.

Kudos to Carroll for shining a light on the bad science many people never hear about, and proposing that there’s actually something we can do about it.


Jill U. Adams | Associate Editor

Ketamine gives hope to patients with severe depression. But some clinics stray from the science and hype its benefits • by Megan Thielking • STAT

Jill U. Adams

Ketamine may be the next new antidepressant treatment, especially for patients who don’t respond to the current suite of medications. The evidence for ketamine’s effectiveness is promising, but thin — studies are few and little is known about long-term risks. Also, how best to use ketamine isn’t clear in terms of dose, frequency, or combining with other medications and therapies

This STAT investigation introduced readers to patients who have tried ketamine, psychiatrists who use the drug in their practice, and specialty clinics that have popped up to take advantage of a new market. The article raises concerning issues about the quality of treatments, including a lack of communication with patients’ primary providers, insufficient screening for medical and psychiatric history, deficits in informed consent, and charges that can run up to $1000 per infusion.

One psychiatrist describes the current dilemma of ketamine like this: “This is not snake oil. It’s not something that has to be stamped out. It’s something that has to be reined in.”


Please Note: These stories have not been subject to our rigorous, 10-criteria systematic review for accuracy, balance, and completeness. Rather, they represent pieces of health care journalism and opinion writing that members of our staff found compelling and wanted to share with others.

5-Star Friday is a regular feature on HealthNewsReview.org. You can find a list of previous installments HERE.

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