Ten Things I Learned at the Association of Health Care Journalists Meeting

Posted by: in Communication Strategy, Healthcare Insights, Public Relations Practice on April 18, 2011

Last week, I attended the Association of Health Care Journalists annual confab, in Philadelphia. Surrounded by hundreds of journalists, dozens of medical experts and some health-policy heavyweights, here’s what I came away with:

  1. Computer-assisted data journalism is going to be a big part of health journalism’s future. I’ve said this before, but I’m only more convinced after a parade of workshops and sessions on getting data, scrubbing data and using data. And I’ll say it again: PR pros need to be just as facile with these technologies as journalists are.
  2. Alternative funding structures for journalism have come of age. The two organizations with the biggest profile at the meeting were Kaiser Health News and ProPublica, two nonprofit reporting organizations who have first-rate reporters and partnerships with some of the biggest news outlets in the country. They have proven that the resources of a newspaper or magazine aren’t required to do deep dives into medical topics.
  3. Local journalism remains important. Though the decline of science and medical reporting in the mainstream media has been widely noted, the nametags at the conference — Tulsa, Oklahoma; Salem, Oregon; Providence, Rhode Island — proved that there is a huge and dedicated health-writing community  even outside of the top DMAs.
  4. Jim’s makes a mean cheesesteak. Wit wiz, of course.
  5. ACOs are hot. There was one official session on “accountable care organizations,” but it was the lips of everyone who was thinking health policy. Especially CMS head Don Berwick, who addressed the group on Thursday. No matter where you sit in the health ecosystem, you ignore this evolution at your peril.
  6. HealthNewsReviews.org is having an impact. Five years ago, Gary Schwitzer began rating as many health news stories as he could find, calling out lousy (and fantastic) journalism. But Gary isn’t a pariah: he’s was rightfully celebrated as an important check on the work of journalists. If PR folks aren’t helping reporters meet his 10 criteria for quality health journalism, we’re not doing our jobs well.
  7. Hype is dead. Journalists are still living with a post-genomic hangover. Breakthroughs from cracking the genome and other basic science advances have not meant instant revolutions in patient care, and both researchers and journalists at the conference made an explicit point — especially with interventions such as nanotechnology and gene therapy — of keeping discussions sober.
  8. For intra-journalist conversations, Twitter is king. The conference had a hundred or so tweeting journalists, who managed to pump out more than 3,000 tweets during the four-day conference. That’s a lot of content for a meeting that might not have been “breaking news” in the traditional sense.
  9. Information technology in health care is finally coming of age. From telemedicine to electronic health records, it appears that medicine is finally dragging itself into the iPad age.
  10. Did I mention database-driven health journalism? Point #1 is worth repeating, and reporters at the event had cool tools through at them by everyone from mapping giant Esri to Berwick, who introduced healthindicators.gov, a one-stop shop for government health data.

By: Brian Reid

Brian Reid is a managing director at W2O Group, where he oversees influencer relations. He is a former journalist who believes content really is king.

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