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Back on October 14, 2014, MedPage Today ran a story about Beverly Edwards, MD, a pediatrician in rural Ahoskie, North Carolina, titled “Rural Practice Fights to Stay Solvent.” Dr. Edwards was in dire financial straights because she wasn’t getting paid properly by Medicaid. Even after draining her retirement savings to make payroll, her decades-old practice was teetering on the edge. Then Jennifer Ferris, a reporter for North Carolina Health News (a partner of MedPage Today), heard her testify at a public hearing on the topic. She followed up and eventually wrote the story that made a difference.

The story about the good doctor’s plight caught the eye of people with influence in the state and the next thing Dr. Edwards knew, two cars, full of people, from two different departments of the Department of Health and Human Services in Raleigh showed up at her office. They went to work fixing interoperability issues that were preventing her EMR from communicating with their new computer system and they helped her optimize her billing practices. A few months later, she received a check for $97,000 in back payments. It was the first time in more than three years that the state Medicaid payments were up to date.

You can read the details of the story on MedPage Today. What I want to concentrate on here is the story behind the story—the power of journalism, in this case, healthcare journalism.

 

Some background on the people and the “Papers”

MedPage Today (MPT) is one of the premier medical news outlets in the country. It was founded in 2005 by CEO Robert Stern. Mark Blum and Peggy Peck initially shared editorial responsibilities. When Mark left in 2008, Peggy became the Executive Editor and eventually the Editor-in-Chief. I had a chance to interview Peggy for this story. Here is what I learned.

Peggy is a health journalist with three decades of experience in the field. She initially covered general topics for The Record, a daily newspaper in New Jersey, but gravitated to healthcare after marrying her husband, who worked for the journal Medical Economics. She started writing about healthcare policy, business, and legislation for that journal and eventually—her appetite whetted for healthcare journalism—she began writing about clinical topics for the Medical Tribune and Medical World News. In time, she developed one of the most ubiquitous bylines in healthcare with articles appearing in most of the major medical magazines/trade journals including Modern Medicine, Physician’s Weekly, Internal Medicine News, Family Practice News, and more. She has also worked at Medscape and WebMD.

Ten years ago, she was brought in as one of the founding editors of MedPage Today (now a part of the Everyday Health family). In her role as editor-in-chief, Peggy identifies what will be covered by MPT and she helps find the people to cover it. Because she believes that the best stories are those with feet on the ground, she began exploring partnerships with other news organizations. One of the first was a partnership was with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. MedPage Today helps to underwrite some of the Journal’s costs and then shares the services of John Fauber, an award-winning investigative journalist who specializes in health care. Stories are published simultaneously in the paper and on MPT.

A key to this story is that MPT formed a similar partnership with non-profit North Carolina Health News. MPT underwrites the cost a reporter who writes stories that appear in both publications simultaneously. That reporter is Jennifer Ferris, the journalist who wrote the Edwards story. Although having the story appear in a North Carolina News vehicle was obviously important, being published simultaneously on MedPage Today with its huge audience of healthcare readers (MPT is ranked 382 in the U.S. and 1129 globally by Alexa) not only gives the story more gravitas, it also generates a much broader reach.

 

Other stories that made a difference

When I asked about other MPT stories that made a difference, Peggy highlighted investigative pieces they have done ranging from a story about Medtronic’s Infuse (the article was quoted in the Senate hearings about the product) and another on opioid abuse. She says they have also published stories on medical meetings that have led to policy changes in medical organizations.

In addition to impacting public policy, stories from the site have also helped individuals. Peggy told me the story of meeting the Executive Director of the Denver American College of Cardiology chapter on a flight to the American Hospital Association meeting in last fall. He told her that an article on a drug in MPT had saved his life. It turns out the story described success in using a drug for the clinical condition that he had. Previously, the drug had only been used for something else.

 

The lesson learned

To me, the lesson learned from Dr. Edwards’ story and the experiences related by Peggy Peck is that story-telling is powerful. Well-told (and well-placed) stories can and do move people and institutions to make a difference. In this case, that difference was worth $97,000 in back payments and may well have saved a rural doc’s practice.

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