CAR Conference Blog

VIDEO: Why medical data matters

By Irina Ivanova

Why Medical Data Matters from IRE/NICAR on Vimeo.

 

Veteran investigative journalists Peter Eisler, Dan Keating and Charles Ornstein blitzed through a slew of national databases in "Wading through the sea of data on hospitals, doctors, medicine and more" Friday morning. After the session, Eisler and Ornstein talked about their journey to covering healthcare and possible pitfalls along the way. 

Some takeaways from the session:

  • The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a government organization, provides a slew of information on doctors and hospitals. Your first stop should be data.medicare.gov. That's the raw data that powers their other tools, like Hospital Compare and Nursing Home Compare.
  • Visit exclusions.oig.hhs.gov to see doctors who have been banned from Medicare and Medicaid. Note that the database also includes reinstatements, so when you report on a doctor who's been excluded make sure to check if they've been reinstated.
  • For more on medical practitioners, visit state medical boards. Here's a list. Note that state boards vary widely in their level transparency. 
  • Another resource is the National Association of Medicaid Fraud Control Units.
  • A caveat when covering medical care: not everything that can be counted counts, said USA Today's Peter Eisler. And not everything that counts is quantifiable.
  • Audiences read medical stories because they're personal, said Charles Ornstein. "We've reached a point where we've shown the health care system is screwed up. What people want to know is, is my doctor doing this?" Whenever possible, bring it to the level of the individual patient.
  • Use patient-level data, said the Washington Post's Dan Keating. It allows you to be creative and there's a much lower barrier to entry. One example: this WaPo story about the rise in spinal fusion surgeries.
  • Don't use the data alone. Often the data is a starting point to ask questions and talk to people.
  • More data is coming. CMS will start releasing the payments that Medicare Part B (the payment system for outpatient care) makes to doctors.

 

Irina Ivanova is a student at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and a freelance health care reporter with Crain's New York Business. She works with sound, video and data and is most interested in doing long-form investigative pieces that take advantage of multiple media. Her work has appeared in Mother Jones, City Limits, The New York Times, Gotham Gazette and the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. In her previous life she was the culture editor for the New York alt-weekly The Indypendent. She is a 2014 CAR Conference Knight Scholar.

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