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William Heisel's Antidote: Investigating Untold Health Stories

William Heisel, former investigative reporter for the Los Angeles Times, writes about investigative health reporting. He is currently the director of global engagement at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

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One of my first investigative stories as a reporter started with a call from a doctor who was worried about the sterilization practices at his hospital.

I started calling people at the hospital to try to answer some basic questions about what they were doing to make sure that surgical equipment was clean between procedures. “Why don’t I just come down and take a look at your process?” I suggested.

And that’s how I saw the sterilization logs.

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When a patient has a pain problem, he can seek a doctor who has experience in treating pain through a variety of measures that don’t rely solely on addictive prescription drugs.

Or he can find a doctor who acts like a Pez dispenser.

Dr. Daniel M. Howell was a Pez dispenser.

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Unless someone has had a bad experience with an insurance company, most people think of insurers as either benign or positive forces in their lives. It’s the president from “24” telling us in a deep, reassuring voice that we’ll be taken care of.

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UPDATE: Rutland will be allowed to continue practicing but cannot perform surgeries or deliveries after a judge's Jan. 7 decision. Here's the Orange County Register story.


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Dr. Earl Bradley had rooms in his pediatric practice decorated with Disney characters. Standard issue for the field.

He also had a merry-go-round and a Ferris wheel, which might be pushing the boundaries of childlike enthusiasm.

What made Bradley truly unusual, though, were the six handheld video cameras he kept. He used them, police say, to film himself molesting patients. They suspect he may have victimized more than 100 children, often bringing them into the basement of his office where he gave them toys to play with but also terrorized them.

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Hepatitis C tore through Las Vegas in February 2008, prompting health officials to call for 40,000 people to be tested for the disease. With estimates of more than 100 cases stemming from the outbreak and possibly thousands of infections that went unreported, it was later declared the largest Hepatitis C outbreak in US history, putting more people at risk than all previous outbreaks combined.


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Dr. F.D. Toms, a New Jersey doctor, found himself in a bind.

Rumors had been running around town that he had been sleeping with another man’s wife. The spurned husband, William Smith, showed up at the doctor’s office demanding to see him.

Toms panicked. Seeing Smith charging at him, Toms grabbed a container of sulphuric acid and threw it in Smith’s face. Toms said later that he thought he had grabbed a bottle of ammonia.

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I started listing my favorite stories of the past year, in no particular order, on Dec. 21. Here is the rest of the list.

At VA Hospital, A Rogue Cancer Unit,” Walt Bogdanich, The New York Times

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Last week, Antidote spoke with Dr. Doris K. Cope, a seasoned anesthesiologist and pain medicine specialist from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center who is one of the voices behind the new Life Line to Modern Medicine campaign from the American Society of Anesthesiologists.

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Antidote started as a way to share innovative investigative ideas in health reporting, in part by highlighting reporters who have done an exceptional job digging for great stories. Starting this week I am going to list 10 of my favorite stories from the year, in no particular order.

Smart Choices Foods: Dumb as they look? ,” Rebecca Ruiz, Forbes, October 2009



Soaring out-of-pocket costs, rising premiums, and shaky insurance exchanges raise urgent questions this election season. What policies might address these problems, and how do the presidential candidates’ health plans differ? This webinar will give an overview of each candidates’ policy prescriptions and provide reporters with crucial context for covering one of the election’s most important but overlooked issues.

The 2017 California Fellowship, for California-based journalists only, will be held March 5-9, 2017 in Los Angeles. This Fellowship will focus on vulnerable populations and access to care and health care reform and innovation. We also take an in-depth look at how community conditions influence individuals' prospects for health. Each Fellow receives a $1,000 stipend to assist with the costs of reporting an ambitious Fellowship project on a California health issue, as well as six months of mentoring by a Senior Fellow. Deadline to apply is Dec. 1.  For more information, go here.


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