Thursday, April 21, 2011


This past week I attended my first conference of the Association of Health Care Journalists, aka #ahcj11. I was initially drawn to the meeting by seeing that some of my favorite bloggers—Maryn McKenna, Pharmalot, Scott Hensley—were moderating panels. The conference far exceeded my expectations. While neither my fingers nor my mind have the agility to live tweet, here were some of the highlights for me:

Workshop: Mapping and charting health in your area

Introduced me to neat mapping that can be done with Google’s Fusion Tables. I’m a visual person, so love the ability to display reams of data visually, such as global patterns in TB. Later, I was also impressed by esri’s GIS mapping capabilities.

Workshop: What are your criteria in reporting on health care research?

This session, on critically reviewing stories, was excellent. Th-e session and the accompanying book, “Covering Medical Research,” taught more about how to evaluate articles than I received throughout my medical training, sadly enough. Gary Schwitzer’s Health News Review uses this approach, and is a valuable resource. Schwitzer’s point about differentiating stenography from journalism is broadly applicable and well taken.

Later sessions included a briefing by Donald Berwick, an overview of nanotechnology in cancer, and Francis Collins’ perspective on NIH research. Given my own clinical research background, I found the talks on problems in drug development, detecting fraud in medical research, and James Wilson’s lessons from gene therapy trials (Jesse Gelsinger) gave valuable perspectives.

Overall, the knowledge of many of the speakers and of the journalist questioners was impressive, with many perceptive, pointed questions being addressed to the panelists.

I even felt comfortable enough with the group to raise questions of my own.

One of the most provocative sessions was that on food safety. I’ll have more on that in my next post.

Photo courtesy Pia Christensen, ahcj