5-Star Friday: Breadth and depth

One of the joys of health care journalism is the breadth — and depth — of what we cover.

The stories we’ve chosen below reflect that. They range from economics to ethics. From the art of healing to the art of dying.

This is great writing. And we’re happy to acknowledge it. If you agree, pass it along.

Kevin Lomangino | Managing Editor

Doctors, Revolt! • by Rich Joseph, MD • New York Times

Kevin Lomangino

Rich Joseph, MD, a resident at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, did not know what he was in for when he encountered a 96-year-old patient with pneumonia who was angry with the impersonal care he was receiving. Joseph knew that the patient’s complaints were justified – that the nonagenarian was being “treated like just another widget on the hospital’s conveyor belt.” What he did not know is that the patient was Bernard Lown, MD, a world-renowned cardiologist and activist who spent his career fighting against the industrialization of medicine. Joseph describes how the encounter led him to rethink his role as a physician and embrace Lown’s call to restore The Lost Art of Healing.

“As I navigate my professional journey, Dr. Lown’s example inspires me to go to work every day with the perspective of a patient, the spirit of an activist and the heart of a healer,” Joseph said. Thanks to Joseph’s thoughtful essay, others may now learn about and be inspired by Lown’s courageous example.

Jill U. Adams | Associate Editor

The Inside Story Of How An Ivy League Food Scientist Turned Shoddy Data Into Viral Studies • by Stephanie M. Lee • BuzzFeed News

Jill U. Adams

Stephanie M. Lee has been reporting on the continuing saga of food scientist Brian Wansink since last fall, as questions about his published data led to paper after paper getting retracted. Before the recent scandal, Wansick’s work was popular, pervasive, and routinely covered by a fawning press. 

Now Lee has a deeply reported piece on the hidden result-boosting practices in which the Wansick lab engaged — p-hacking and p-value massaging and more. The story shares damning emails between Wansick and various lab members to make its case and quotes independent sources as saying: “this is not science, it is storytelling,” and “a consistent and repeated offender of statistics,” and “They’re running every possible combination of variables, essentially, to see if anything will come up significant.” (The last quote is essentially a definition of p-hacking.)

The BuzzFeed piece encouraged other news outlets to comment on the Wasnick brouhaha and prompted a massive comeuppance tweet stream by The Joy of Cooking.

Mary Chris Jaklevic | Reporter-Editor

The High Cost of Surviving Rabies • by Brenda Goodman and Andy Miller • WebMD and Georgia Health News

Woe unto those 50,000 or so unlucky people who will require a rabies vaccine this year.

Mary Chris Jaklevic

“The treatment regimen for rabies was first developed in the late 1800s, and it hasn’t changed much over the last 100 years,” this investigation reports. “But the price of survival has gone up rather dramatically — nearly 400% over the last decade for those shots.”

The journalists surveyed health departments in all 50 states and learned that nearly all have dropped financial assistance for rabies treatment because it’s become too expensive or because they don’t offer patient care through a clinic.

Drug companies have raised prices, and treatment is often available only in ERs, where prices are jacked up to cover hospital overhead.

The story raises a troubling question of whether some people might forgo this proven life-saving treatment due to cost.

“Holy crap,” said one Wyoming man who’s quoted. He thought he might have been bitten by a bat but delayed treatment after being told it would run $10,000 to $16,000. “I don’t have that kind of money. I’m already stuck with the situation of, ‘Do I have rabies?’ and now you’re telling me I pay this or I die?”

Michael Joyce | Writer-Producer

Never Too Late to Operate? Surgery Near End of  Life is Common, Costly • by Liz Szabo • Kaiser Health News

Michael Joyce

Reporter Liz Szabo jumps right in with this statistic … “nearly 1 in 3 Medicare patients undergo an operation in their final year of life.”  Those numbers inevitably lead us to reconsider a classic dilemma faced by many of us during our lifetime; namely, “will this surgery or therapy improve or prolong my life?” And why, and how, does our answer change if we age past 70, 80, or 90 years old?

Szabo describes a complex web that includes a medical culture that too often defaults to “very aggressive care.”  A growing number of studies that show more harm than benefit when it comes to older patients and many common interventions. And the disturbing prospect that the safety net of Medicare could turn our seniors into a well-insured cash cow to be preyed upon.

This is inevitable and uncomfortable territory. It spawns a difficult question: as we grow older, and grapple with our mortality, how do consumers and doctors decide which expectations are realistic and which are not?

Please Note: These stories have not been subject to our rigorous, 10-criteria systematic review for accuracy, balance, and completeness. Rather, they represent pieces of health care journalism and opinion writing that members of our staff found compelling and wanted to share with others.

5-Star Friday is a regular feature on HealthNewsReview.org. You can find a list of previous installments HERE.

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