Back, with a chip on my shoulder

Regular readers—and all three or four of you know who you are—likely have been wondering where I have been for the last month and a half. I’ve been wondering the same.

In addition to not updating this blog, I have not have as many stories published as I normally do. But I can assure you that I have been working hard, researching future stories and occasionally feeling like a hamster on a treadmill. Not being able to get the American Medical Association’s press people to e-mail me something after a half-dozen requests has been typical of the past several weeks.

I have all these great ideas for stories and not enough outlets for my creativity. Sure, it’s great to cover breaking news in the healthcare trade press—I have to stay up to date somehow, and certainly have to pay the bills—but things are going on that I’d love to report to the greater healthcare community and even the general public. Unfortunately, I don’t have the proper platform.

I have wanted for a couple of years to delve into what I see as a serious disconnect between healthcare quality and IT, looking for ways to bridge the divide. Hoping to find some financing for deeper research and perhaps write a book, I applied, unsuccessfully, for a Kaiser Family Foundation media fellowship earlier this year.

I was discouraged but not particularly surprised that I did not even make the cut for an interview, since I think so many people in healthcare still do not understand the importance of IT. Initially, I didn’t let it bother me, since the program is highly competitive. Then, when I saw the winners, I was downright angry.

Five of the 10 fellows are based either in New York or Washington. (Talk about a narrow focus.) Two of the 10 are examining problems in emergency medicine. Only one seems to be looking quality of care and exactly zero have any relation at all to the role of information technology—you know, the issue that is supposed to be at the top of the national healthcare agenda.

I guess I shouldn’t blame the KFF folks. Their choices just reflect the general ignorance of health IT that is pervasive in various media and policy circles.

To wit: for much of the past month, I have been trying to interest national publications—magazines like Wired, Time and BusinessWeek, big-name papers including the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal—in stories about the rebuilding of health infrastructure destroyed by Hurricane Katrina and the unique opportunity the Gulf Coast region has to create a health system that could be a model for the rest of the country. I also pitched a story related to quality improvement in hospitals.

“We don’t have a budget for freelancers,” some said. “Sorry, we just did a cover story on New Orleans,” was another response. The general attitude felt more like, “We’ve never heard of you, so why should you have the privilege of writing for us?”

Maybe I’m aiming too high, but I’m pretty confident in my skills and credentials. I think my ideas are pretty good, too.

Perhaps you heard about a big media event on Monday, where Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt joined Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and healthcare leaders in Louisiana to sign a charter pledging to build a better health system, one based on primary and preventive care and, yes, information technology.

I was there, part of a self-financed trip to Louisiana and Mississippi to report on the state of healthcare after Hurricane Katrina (or “Post-K,” in the local parlance). In fact, I had the story last week in Health-IT World.

None of the healthcare news summaries (e.g., iHealthBeat, AHIP Solutions SmartBrief) that I am aware of picked up the story.

Meanwhile, I have turned my attention to selling stories based on my reporting to the healthcare trade press. I will have something in Inside Healthcare Computing next week about a hospital in Gulfport, Miss., that not only survived Katrina with barely a blip, but that will be fully paperless within a month. (Ironic, perhaps, that one of the Kaiser media fellows will be producing something on Katrina’s effect on the country’s healthcare safety net?)

I have pretty much lost hope of breaking through with the mainstream press on this huge story. (WARNING: GROVELING AHEAD!) If you have any suggestions about how to get an editor interested, please do e-mail me.

I guess now I can empathize with all the people who have been struggling for decades to modernize health information management.

Stay tuned for a podcast or two.