Healthcare and News Media

I was recently asked by the Minnesota News Council for a good source to speak on the quality of news coverage of medical and health stories.

The forums will address the quality of news coverage of health-related matters. How do journalistic decisions like disease-mongering, use of commercial research, and coverage (or lack thereof) of health care policies/reform impact news and health care consumers? What can do to we create more informed and balanced coverage of health issues?

I recommended Brooks Edwards, M.D., who is the Medical Editor-in-Chief for, and wrote an article on the topic for Mayo Clinic Women’s HealthSource that is posted here.

Health News Review is another site that does helpful analysis of selected stories, and how they live up to quality standards developed by a group led by Gary Schwitzer, a University of Minnesota journalism professor (who also formerly worked for CNN and

This post is a little off the ALI Conference track, but in responding to the request from the News Council I thought it would be good to share that recommendation with the world.

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Carlsen Twins (and their Parents) a Career Day Hit

Earlier this year I was part of the team supporting Jesse and Amy Carlsen as they brought their conjoined twin daughters, Abbigail and Isabelle, to Mayo Clinic to be separated. Before they had arrived at Mayo they already had agreed to a high level of media involvement, with Dateline NBC, the Star Tribune and the Fargo Forum following their progress.

Before they arrived in Rochester, Jesse Carlsen was doing the media relations management himself. In late February he turned that over to our media relations team, so he and Amy could be open with the media without undue burdens or worries. We also coordinated with the care team to make sure the media involvement didn’t hinder the girls’ care.

In June, after the successful separation and their return home to Fargo, the Star Tribune asked Dr. Christopher Moir and Penny Stavlo, Certified Nurse Practitioner, to speak at a career day for high school students, to encourage them to consider health career. That event was Tuesday, October 17.

The several hundred students were very engaged and interested. We had a nice surprise for them at the end during the Q&A, when one of the girls asked Dr. Moir something about Amy Carlsen’s labor and delivery, so I used that as an opportunity to spring the surprise: “Why don’t you ask her? Amy and Jesse, would you bring the girls out?”

There was an audible gasp when the kids found out the Carlsens had made the trip from Fargo for the event.

Here’s a little video from the day…showing the progress the girls are making, and the intense interest of the students. At the very end you will see a dozen or so students, all with camera phones, all taking pictures.


This is the perfect example of the convergence of new media and news media. Several Twin Cities news outlets, including the Star Tribune, WCCO, KARE and KSTP were present. For a planned event, you want to send your best reporters and photographers, and in the news coverage you see some excellent work.

But the youthful cameraphone papparazzi shows that the ubiquity of electronic gadgets means there will almost always be a camera around to capture any newsworthy or meaningful event.

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My Recommendation on Three Things to Do

David Glickman, our conference keynote speaker, said everyone at WHPRMS should implement three things. I don’t know whether that’s ambitious enough or not. It’s better, as he said, than sticking the conference three-ring binder on the shelf as the proof of attendance.

I suggest these three, not because they are by themselves the most important, but because they are, as the conference theme says — “Sure-Bet Strategies” — gateways to continued learning that will help you hit the jackpot.

Start a blog. Go here for tips on where to find places to start one for free. Link to this blog as part of your Blogroll, leave comments, or use Trackbacks. There’s no better way to learn than by doing, so just go for it. It costs nothing except your time. And by participating in even just a few blogs that talk about issues that interest you, you’ll begin to get the feel for how blogs work, and their power. If you’re not naturally a hands-on learner, using this blog in particular, asking questions and joining the conversation, will be a way you can get tutoring from the community.

Get an RSS feed reader, or aggregator. Newsgator and Pluck are examples. Subscribe to the Lines from Lee RSS feed, so you can follow the conversation. A feed reader can help you keep track of hundreds of web sites without visiting them, multiplying what you know while trimming the time it takes to keep up on the news. Here are a few other sites where you can see examples of RSS feeds: the New York Times, Washington Post, Minneapolis Star Tribune and Mayo Clinic. You see that you can subscribe to a very specific kind of news.

Get iTunes and subscribe to some podcasts. For Immediate Release is a good twice-weekly podcast on communications and technology.

Some Sites to Explore

For the WHPRMS members who aren’t familiar with some of the sites mentioned Friday morning, here’s a list you’ll find helpful in your continuing education…maybe even driving the value of the session up to $123.84.

Wikipedia – the on-line encyclopedia edited by the world.
Skype – Free or really cheap phone service through your computer, using a broadband internet connection.
YouTube – A ridiculously easy-to-use means of placing your video where the world can find it.
WordPress – a free platform for your blog
Blogger – another free blog service – or just type “free blog” in Google and you’ll have lots of choices.
Mayo Clinic News – Mayo Clinic’s site for journalists, soon to have podcasts available directly instead of only through iTunes
Medical Edge – The site with all of Mayo Clinic’s syndicated health and medical content
Carlsen Twins site – the update site we established to enable news media, family, friends and supporters of the Carlsen family get updates on the girls’ conditions.

Keynote by David Glickman

This morning’s keynote at WHPRMS was by David Glickman, a corporate comedian with a really entertaining program. I think he connected with the audience at least in part because he had been one of us: a health care public relations professional.
David Glickman
One of his best stories was from his days with the Miami chapter of the American Heart Association, when the organization was given 200 free bus billboards. Being a creative guy, and with a chance to help drive home the key message that the number one killer of men and women is heart disease, he came up with a slogan he thought was particularly arresting:

“Half of the people on this bus will die from heart disease.”

Apparently it was arresting; everybody wanted to wait for the next bus.

David does some funny musical parodies, too, with his portable keyboard slung over his shoulder. All in all, a nice way to begin the conference.

Another great bit: “If you can come up with just one thing from this conference to take back and apply…just one … that would be… a real waste of time! No! You need to have at least three takeaways from this conference…don’t just go home and set your three-ring binder on a shelf. Pick three things that can make a difference, and apply them!”

That’s not a perfectly accurate quote, but it’s the main idea. With that, I’m going to suggest some old tech/new tech applications in my session tomorrow, and will post a list here. I hope people will comment on those and on the sessions they found most helpful, so we can have a conversation and continue to learn how to apply new media, particularly in the health care setting.