The Daily Tar Heel

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Friday March 24th

View from the Hill

Covering health care – Part one of NC's health care summit

Journalists, former journalists and health care experts discussed media shortfalls in covering health care news at the 2014 North Carolina Health Care Media Summit Wednesday.

The summit was sponsored by the North Carolina Medical Society, the North Carolina Press Association and the North Carolina Association of Broadcasters and was designed to discuss health care reporting.

Rose Hoban, founder of North Carolina Health News, said it is important for journalists to cover health care news, because health care makes up a large portion of the state’s budget.

 “Twenty-three cents out of every taxpayer dollar goes to health care,” Hoban said.

Mark Binker, a WRAL news reporter, said it also makes up a significant portion of the state’s Gross Domestic Product.

“It’s a fifth of our economy. It’s a fifth of what builds roads and schools and provides jobs,” he said.

But it's interesting what health care news reporters choose to cover, said Sarah Avery, a spokeswoman with Duke Medicine.

“What isn’t covered are the innovations, the research that goes on,” she said. “They’re phenomenal developments, and they don’t get told.”

Avery said some journalists lack knowledge about science — one shortfall of reporting health care.

“You don’t need to be a scientist,” she said. “But it does help to do a little immersion.”

Hoban said health care coverage is also lacking in business journalists who can navigate their way around balance sheets and profit and loss statements.

“What you are going to get from a certain entity is going to be the happy numbers,” she said. “You’re really going to have to be able to dig into those numbers.”

Binker said because health care is a complex subject, he often has to consult with experts.

“My limitation is, I don’t spend every hour of my workday in the health care arena,” he said. “Where I come in is kind of a watchdog.”

Binker said when he covers health care news, his main role is to help readers understand policy decisions and help them understand if politician’s claims are accurate.

Hoban said her motivation to report health care news came after she worked as a nurse and felt her patients were being misinformed by television.

“I saw so much bad information out there,” she said.

Hoban said the North Carolina Health News’ is coverage is now available to media organizations without a dedicated health reporter — like the (Raleigh) News & Observer — for a fee of about a couple thousand dollars per year.

Currently, the only media outlet in North Carolina with a dedicated health care reporter is the Charlotte Observer.

“My dear hope is that more newspapers will pick up what we’re doing,” she said.

Jay Price, a News & Observer reporter, said he believes Hoban is going in the right direction in terms of covering health care.

“I think what (Hoban) is doing is part of the future, part of the solution to the problem,” he said. 

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