Have a question on the healthcare beat? This group of international journalists can help

A few years back, I wrote about how CareOregon, a health plan serving Medicare and Medicaid patients, had worked with area hospitals to use patient safety measures developed by the British National Health Service. At the time, CareOregon’s CEO told me, “The NHS has done some of the best thinking in the world around large scale complex system transformation. It’s some of the most exciting feet-on-the ground stuff I’ve seen in improvement.” He had numbers to show how well the changes were working in his plan. Local reporters, however, hadn’t covered them, and CareOregon did not send out a press release trumpeting its success partly because it feared that the US stereotype of the British NHS—socialized medicine—was so powerful the new program might die a-borning.

What a shame, I thought, and aimed to figure out a way to encourage more cross-country conversation and tap into the expertise of colleagues in other countries who report on the same health and medical issues we do—patient safety, the high price of care, regulation of drugs and medical devices, the right to die, making patients pay more for their care, and government secrecy in the health agencies, to name a few. How useful it would have been for reporters elsewhere to know what the NHS was doing to prevent hospital mistakes in the UK or, say, how the British National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) had negotiated prices for expensive new specialty drugs like Sovaldi, the high-priced hepatitis C treatment. These international conversations can give us a basis for framing questions we want to ask of US experts and can’t help but improve our work.

To facilitate such conversations, as a 2013 Fulbright Canada specialist, I came up with the idea for the Panel of International Journalists—with help from EvidenceNetwork.ca, a non-partisan resource based at the University of Manitoba that creates original content for mainstream media on health policy issues (and sponsored my Fulbright). Today, nine journalists representing seven countries are on the panel—names and contact information here—and can be tapped for expertise ranging from patient safety and over-treatment to drug marketing, antibiotics and public health. Dr. Ivan Oransky, vice president of MedPage Today and a co-founder of the popular website Retraction Watch, can offer advice on scientific integrity and understanding medical evidence. Ray Moynihan, who taught many of us how to report on drug company marketing and introduced us to the concept of too much care, is available for those still tackling these subjects.

The panel follows a model EvidenceNetwork.ca established for its panel of international academic experts who are available to talk on a topics such as international health systems, aging, obesity, mental health, and waiting lists in Canada. American experts on that panel—like Washington and Lee law professor Timothy Jost and Yale Professor Emeritus Theodore Marmor—were frequently consulted by the press during the health reform debate. Our goal for the panel of international health journalists is to encourage more inter-country dialogue about health care and policy, help break down stereotypes, and head off wrong information. To this day, some Americans are under the misimpression Canadians are dying on the streets because they can’t get care, while some Canadians mistakenly believe Obamacare gave everyone health insurance just like they have.

I plan to add more international journalists to the panel over the next year, and encourage US health reporters to call on them. In turn, foreign journalists can look to the US panelists for our expertise on such things as how private health insurance works and how families with high deductible coverage get the care they need. These are issues other countries are exploring as they, too, grapple with the high cost of care.

In the fall of 2008 during the run-up to Obamacare, NPR aired a terrific series on care in five countries and compared it to care in the US. As I wrote at the time, the series “blew me away.” My hope for this panel is that it will enable more news orgnazations to produce high-quality healthcare coverage—a complex topic in any language.

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Trudy Lieberman is a longtime contributing editor to the Columbia Journalism Review. She is the lead writer for The Second Opinion, CJR's healthcare desk, which is part of our United States Project on the coverage of politics and policy. She also blogs for Health News Review. Follow her on Twitter @Trudy_Lieberman.