association of health care journalists

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Journalists, Officials Offer Guidelines For Urgent Health News

Flashback: It’s the winter of swine flu, and public health officials have just announced that there have been a couple of cases in schoolchildren in our town. Our elementary school principal is standing in the driveway during drop-off, and I have to restrain myself from grabbing him by both lapels and demanding, “Is it here? Is it? Which grades?”

Public health emergencies, from E. coli outbreaks to flu, make information beggars of all of us, from journalists to concerned citizens. And official decisions about which information to release and which to hold back can be maddening to a public hungry for confirmed knowledge.

So it was very welcome news that I read in an op-ed piece in today’s Los Angeles Times: the Association of Health Care Journalists has worked up a set of guidelines in collaboration with public officials, calling for responsible handling of information but also for increased transparency wherever possible. Felice J. Freyer and Charles Ornstein write:

Our organization of healthcare journalists wanted to come up with a solution that would both keep the public informed and respect patient privacy. So we teamed up with the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials and the National Assn. of County and City Health Officials to develop some recommendations. To their credit, health officials were eager to work with us and professed a commitment to openness.

The end result was a set of voluntary guidelines affirming that health officials should withhold information only where there is a clearly justified reason to do so. Continue reading