My 10 favorite news stories in health care

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One of the best parts of my job is that I get to spend hundreds of hours a month reading.

Sure, a lot of it is slogging through government reports, poorly written press releases, and nearly impenetrable regulatory filings.

But I also get to read fascinating essays and news stories on all aspects of health care, from the price of drugs to dealing with death.

There’s probably no other topic in journalism, except maybe national security, where the stakes are so high and the drama is so intense. Along the way, I’ve bookmarked dozens of interesting stories, and gone back to re-read them over and over.

Now I’d like to share some of my picks from 2015 with you.

A few years ago, my predecessor on this blog, J.K. Wall, wrote a popular post called “Top 10 blogs for the business of health care.” He outlined his favorite online sites. Many of you wrote back with your favorites too.

In that vein, I’d like to hear your comments about the following stories. Do you agree with me that they were groundbreaking and important?

So let’s jump into it:

1)    Hot Startup Theranos Has Struggled With Its Blood-Test Technology, John Carreyrou, Wall Street Journal. A powerful expose into a Silicon Valley biotech that wanted to revolutionize health care with diagnostic tests using pinpricks. The story (and this follow-up) raised questions about the accuracy of the device.

2)    Complaints follow nursing home chain’s expansion, Kay Lazar, Boston Globe. A penetrating look at how a little-known company bought 11 nursing homes in Massachusetts in three years, then aggressively cut staffing and swapped out supplies for lower quality products. It all happened with state approval, behind closed doors.

3)    A shattering crash, an online chronicle, and an unexpected twist, Rebecca Robbins, STAT. A startling example of the power of social media in health care. The story tracked the recovery of a 23-year-old woman trying to overcome injuries from a motorcycle accident. She enrolled in a clinical trial for an experimental spinal scaffold, and then used tweets, selfies and video clips to track her progress. The stock of a Cambridge-based biotech company rose and fell with her updates. (This was the maiden story for STAT, a national online site covering health and medicine, published by the Boston Globe.)

4)   Hidden Errors, Ellen Gabler, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. A look at the secretive world of lab testing, from drug screens to vital health tests, and the how errors are hidden from the public. A comprehensive package of stories, full of examples.

5)    Running on Empty, Kristen Schorsch and Jason McGregor, Crain’s Chicago Business.  A terrific analysis of why nearly four of every 10 hospital beds in Illinois routinely lie vacant. Using reams of data and clear writing, the package examined population shifts and changes in health insurance to look into how hospitals are dealing with overcapacity.

6)    Pharmaceutical Companies Buy Rivals’ Drugs, Then Jack Up the Prices, Jonathan D. Rockoff and Ed Silverman, Wall Street Journal. Back before the nation was in an uproar over drug prices, this is the story that showed companies like Valeant and Horizon make a fortune by buying established products and upping the prices to unheard-of sums.

7)    Drug Goes From $13.50 a Tablet to $750, Overnight, Andrew Pollack, New York Times. America, meet Martin Shkreli. This story introduced the former hedge fund manager to millions of readers with the tale of how he unapologetically raised the price of a half-century-old drug called Daraprim by about 5,000 percent. Coupled with the Wall Street Journal story (#6 above), national outage grew over drug profiteering, leading to Congressional hearings and pressure from consumer and business groups alike.

8)    Before I Go, Dr. Paul Kalanithi, Stanford Medicine. A heart-wrenching essay by young surgeon with metastatic lung cancer. With story, photos and video.

9)   When a Patient’s Death is Broadcast Without Permission, Charles Ornstein, ProPublica.  In New York, reality TV shows were filming patients without their permission. Sometimes, family members watching TV were shocked to suddenly see their deceased love ones on the screen. This story raised troubling questions about patient privacy, and led to further stories about abuses of social media in health care settings.

10)    The Ugly Civil War in American Medicine, Kurt Eichenwald, Newsweek.
 Are physicians in the United States getting dumber? That is what one of the most powerful medical boards is suggesting, according to its critics.

Do you have a favorite that I missed? Disagree with any of my picks? Please let me know in the comments section below.


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