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Podcast plus some media bashing

HOUSTON—As an esteemed member of the Fourth Estate, it pains me to say this, but many of my colleagues just don’t get it.

Although I have been covering healthcare issues for 5½ years now and health IT for 4½ years, I feel like I don’t belong at the annual Association of Health Care Journalists conference, which is going on here this weekend. Saturday in particular was a complete waste of my time, as there was not one session on the agenda that I found relevant to the work I do. There is too much of a focus on clinical and consumer issues and little that someone in the non-scientific trade press would care about.

The lunchtime keynote speaker on Saturday, acting Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach, M.D., just got nominated to the job on a permanent basis, and thus chose not to speak about any policy or his regulatory philosophy until the Senate has a chance to hold hearings. I walked out before his speech ended, and I was not the only one who was disappointed.

What was more disheartening, though, was the session that I personally moderated Friday morning on issues related to health IT. You can hear the audio here.

The panel, consisting of Sam Karp of the California HealthCare Foundation; Certification Commission for Health Information Technology Chairman Mark Leavitt, M.D.; and Linda Dimitropoulos of RTI International; went well. But attendance was sparse. I counted 19 people in the room, but that included publicists for two of the panelists, plus an editor from a techie magazine.

Given the fact that conference registration was close to 350 and that there were only four other sessions going on at the time, I was disappointed. Health correspondents from metropolitan daily papers mostly stayed away. This tells me that the average health correspondent does not understand the significance of IT, even though the session was entitled, “IT: Its promise for changing health care.” Reporters continue to write about how the American health system is broken, but they ignore one of the most obvious cures.

On Friday, we were lucky enough to have Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality Director Carolyn Clancy, M.D., for a press conference and a keynote address. Privately, Clancy told me that she shares my concern that the mainstream press does not understand the role of IT in healthcare reform. Publicly during her speech, she implored the journalists present to help inform the public about how electronic health records can improve outcomes and save money.

Later, more than one fellow AHCJ member told me they found Clancy’s speech uninspiring. The technology message apparently went over everyone’s head. No wonder there is little consumer pressure on healthcare providers to change their ways.

Despite being a shy person, I’ve always been a bit of an anti-establishment rabble-rouser when I feel like something is wrong, so during Saturday’s AHCJ membership meeting, I voiced my disappointment about the fact I found most of the program irrelevant to what I do. I also mentioned that I am questioning the value of my membership.

At the risk of sounding pompous, I get the sense that they need me more than I need them.

Listen to the podcast and tell me I’m not crazy. It’s a long session and a big file, but I think it’s worth it. Too bad my colleagues in the health media don’t seem to agree with me.

Podcast details: “IT: Its promise for changing health care.” Association of Health Care Journalists annual meeting, March 17, 2006, Houston. MP3, mono, 64 kbps, 35.2 MB, running time 1:16:58.

March 18, 2006 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

Trinity Health update

Just a few weeks after I posted the podcast crowing about how Trinity Health is building a massive clinical data repository, I get news that the Michigan-based network of Catholic health systems is slowing down its implementation, called Project Genesis.

I don’t know too much about the decision, but I am supposed to talk with someone there on Tuesday morning. Hopefully, I will have the details in time for Tuesday’s Health-IT World.

Meanwhile, this Friday I will be moderating a session on health information technology at the annual Association of Health Care Journalists conference. Believe it or not, IT had been cut from the preliminary program before it was added back a couple of months ago. I pitched a fit to the organizers before I learned that it had been included in the final program. It continues to astound me how little the mainstream press—and even the healthcare trade press—knows and cares about the role of IT in healthcare. I’m making it part of my job to educate my colleagues at daily newspapers, general-interest magazines and even a good number of health-specific publications.

Fortunately, AHCJ has put together a great panel on IT. I will be introducing Linda Dimitropoulos, a privacy and security specialist at RTI International; Mark Leavitt, M.D., chairman of the Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology; and Sam Karp of the California HealthCare Foundation (and also a CCHIT commissioner). I am planning on recording the 75-minute session for a podcast, so check back here next week.

The file is sure to be huge, so email me if you want a CD copy. Since it’s not my event and AHCJ is a nonprofit, I’ll sell you one for the cost of a blank CD plus shipping. I’ll figure out the cost next week if there is any interest.

Now I shall sign off and go to sleep, seeing that the Trinity people are supposed to call me in less than 7 hours now.

March 13, 2006 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

A journalist’s pet peeves

Wondering why no blog posts of late? I’m still shaking off my annual post-HIMSS hangover. A conference that big means I come home with story ideas out the wazoo (with accompanying tight deadlines), a full notepad or two, dozens of unread e-mails and generally a big pile of stuff to take care of. Then the second wave of inundation from PR types comes, wondering if I am going to write nice things about their clients. (The first wave—more like a tsunami—of course, is the pre-HIMSS stampede of “meet with us because we have the one magic bullet that’s going to fix all the problems in healthcare” e-mails.)

For some reason, I am on the general HIMSS attendee list, so vendors send me all these postcards for their products as if I were a potential customer. The cards usually go right into the trash. I did save a few, however—the ones that were in my mailbox after I returned from HIMSS. To the folks at LifeScan, BearingPoint, OnBase Healthcare Solutions, QuadraMed, Hewlett-Packard and GE Healthcare, you might want to think about mailing your solicitations a bit earlier next year. Just not to me.

If I do agree to meet with you at a future conference, do us both a favor and avoid the marketing buzzwords. I just ain’t interested. I was just about ready to strangle the next person who told me about the “value proposition” their “solutions” provide while being “transformational,” and how their “passion” makes them the “market leader” in the healthcare “vertical” or “space.”

Speaking of which, the following paragraph is taken verbatim from a press release I got last week:

“Our innovative software solutions use leading-edge imaging software technologies that accelerate market delivery for our OEM customers, while our end-user solutions improve our customers’ productivity and enhance the quality of patient care they provide.”


Bad PR writing: It’s spreading like a hospital-acquired infection.

March 8, 2006 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.