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.