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Center for Health Journalism

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.

This is the second part of my conversation with Dr. John Dombrowski, a Washington D.C. anesthesiologist and pain management specialist who sits on the American Society of Anesthesiology's administrative affairs committee.

Anesthesiologists everywhere cringed when they heard the news that Michael Jackson was found dead with a bag of propofol nearby.

The drug is too strong to be used as a sleep aid and deceptively simple to administer. Anesthesia drugs like propofol require constant monitoring, and Jackson, apparently, was
left unattended after receiving the drug.

Pia Christensen of the Association of Health Care Journalists responded to an earlier blog post that I had essentially ignored some good reporting on the Public Citizen report about how hospitals are failing in a very big way to report bad doctors to the National Practitioner Data Bank. She cited three stories, saying:

Four days after Michael Jackson died of an unexpected heart attack on June 25, Dr. John Dombrowski,an anesthesiologist and pain management specialist, posted a letter on his Web site, demanding better pain management for all patients and a recognition that pain care is an important specialty.

It sounds like a line a standup comic might use while flailing for a laugh: "What's a guy gotta do around here to get arrested? Steal somebody's kidney?"

If you are a doctor in a hospital in most of the United States, the answer is: yes.

UPDATE: The Associated Press reported Monday afternoon that Dr. Conrad Murray gave Jackson propofol to help him sleep, and the dose proved to be lethal. Today, police and federal drug enforcement officials are reportedly searching Murray's Las Vegas home.

It is the most anticipated autopsy in modern history.

Dr. Sidney Wolfe, the acting president of Public Citizen and the head of its Health Research Group, is a guy you don't want to have as an opponent. He has an encyclopedic command of the facts and a delivery that manages to be both gracious and a little intimidating.

Ask your doctors about the hardest period of their lives, and they likely will say their medical residency. The hours are long. The work is mentally and physically exhausting. There's little credit when you get something right. Getting something terribly wrong can send you packing.

Dr. Bruce Anthony Ames, Jr. (Oregon License No. 23261, California 97046) found a hobby, of sorts, to relieve his stress.

Public Citizen put together an important report in May that was mostly missed by the press (including me).

It's a comprehensive and critical investigation of The National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB), created by the Health Care Quality Improvement Act 19 years ago, ostensibly to protect patients from rogue doctors.

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