BU Researchers, Nation’s Health Journalists Confer
Boston conference to target strategies for better coverage
A number of BU faculty will have a rare opportunity this week to weigh in with the nation’s leading health care reporters on how the media can better cover the latest issues in their fields. From stem cell researchers to experts on caring for an aging population, BU scientists will feature prominently in a crucial dialogue about how to accurately, engagingly, and responsibly translate developments in their fields to the lay public at Health Journalism 2013, a four-day Association of Health Care Journalists (AHCJ) Center for Excellence in Health Care Journalism conference being held in Boston. Boston University is hosting the conference along with Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard’s Medical School and School of Public Health.
Expected to draw a record 750 journalists, the annual conference, which runs today through Sunday, March 17, features prominent speakers, news briefings, and expert panels aimed at helping reporters, editors, and news producers enhance their coverage of topics related to health care and research. Among the participating BU researchers is James Collins, a William Fairfield Warren Distinguished Professor and a College of Engineering professor of biomedical engineering and affiliated professor of systems engineering. Addressing journalists in a lunch session during a daylong field trip to Boston Medical Center, Collins will talk about his research on combating antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections and the vibrating insoles he designed to improve balance and mobility among the elderly. “I hope to convey to them a sense of the exciting research going on in bioengineering and how it could impact health care,” says Collins, the first biomedical engineer to win a MacArthur genius award, “but with a sober sense of the long timeline that is involved in moving cool science from a university lab to the clinic.”
On their field trip, the journalists will also experience some unexpected but intriguing corners of BMC. They’ll visit the Preventive Food Pantry—the first of its kind in the country—which connects physicians directly with the nutrition needs of patients, many of whom suffer from diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. Reporters will hear from Deborah Frank, a School of Medicine professor of pediatrics, about the pantry’s mission to teach patients about healthful eating. Patients and their families are able to visit the pantry twice a month, taking home about four days’ supply of fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats. In 2011, the pantry provided food to more than 80,500 patients and their household members. A cooking demonstration with BMC nutritionist Tracey Burg will follow.
Reporters will also witness a live simulation training session at the BMC Solomont Center, hosted by Ron Medzon, a MED associate professor of emergency medicine and simulation director of the Clinical Training Center. Media will watch medical students, residents, and nurses honing their individual and team skills in an operating room that stages complex patient care scenarios using computer-assisted mannequins. The health care providers then review videotapes of the session and discuss what worked and what didn’t.
For the convenience of conference attendees, the University has created a temporary BU Healthcare Experts website with contact information for Boston University researchers, some of whom are speaking at the conference and many others who have expertise in related fields.
In addition to supporting high standards of health care reporting, AHCJ’s mission is to promote better understanding between journalists and news sources and address the difficulties in translating research into lay terms. Reporters are always on high alert for academic studies with practical applications to improve health care—the elusive, often misnamed “breakthroughs”—but “ultimately, all research is translational,” says Darrell Kotton, a MED professor of medicine and a director of BU’s Center for Regenerative Medicine, who along with George Annas, a William Fairfield Warren Distinguished Professor and a School of Public Health professor and chair of the health law, bioethics, and human rights department, will join a panel session on “hope” versus “hype” in stem cell research. Using the broad therapeutic promise of stem cell science as an example, Kotton hopes to convey to health journalists the “good that comes to a society that funds basic research.”
“I would like to address some of the potential impacts the cells are likely to have on biomedical research and will warn of the risks of overhyping these cells in the lay press, despite their accepted scientific promise,” he says. He and Annas will also consider whether the cells or their commercial products can or should be openly shared, and whether “a growing culture of exclusivity and restrictions are slowing the pace of progress in stem cell research,” Kotton says.
The conference will feature other noteworthy speakers, including Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and David Goldhill, president and CEO of GSN (formerly the Game Show Network), who attracted national attention with his book Catastrophic Care: How American Health Care Killed My Father—And How We Can Fix It.
Conference-goers will hear from Muhammad Zaman, an ENG associate professor of biomedical engineering and associate professor of materials science and engineering, who says he hopes his talk about relating global health to local audiences will help journalists “be able to better understand and appreciate the remarkable enthusiasm and growth among engineering faculty and students in creating technologies that are transforming global health.”
Other BU researchers set to confer with journalists include Theresa Ellis (MED’05), a Sargent College assistant professor and director of the Center for Neurorehabilitation, and Sharon Levine, a MED professor of medicine, who will discuss the growing complications of coordinating care for seniors. Brian Jack, a MED professor and chair of family medicine, will talk to reporters about improving health behaviors through consumer use of technology. Christopher Nowinski, a codirector of the BU Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, will join a panel on sports injury research, in which BU is a leader, and the future of school sports, and William Anthony, a Sargent College professor emeritus and former director of the Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation, will discuss recovery in mental health with mental health researchers. Another panel will feature Alan Sager, an SPH professor of health policy and management, who with Kate Walsh, BMC president and CEO, and several journalists will debate the subject of hospital economics. Catharine Wang, an SPH associate professor of community health sciences, will be on a panel discussing the implications for patients of “personal genomics.” A panel on “tapping into cancer registry trends” will include Richard Clapp, an SPH professor emeritus.