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Sunday, January 21, 2018
HomeHealthCeteraToo careful health reporting? or Don’t step too close to the limits of patient privacy

Too careful health reporting? or Don’t step too close to the limits of patient privacy

Barbara Glickstein is the Co-Director of the Center for Health, Media and Policy

It’s been three months since the tragic shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona. I’ve been following updates about her recovery which never really provided me with a sense of how she was really doing.  People in health care, or those in the know about the path of recovery from a severe traumatic brain injury, may be nodding in agreement right now. As a registered nurse and health reporter, I am aware of the ethical issues that create a dilemma between balancing a patient’s privacy and the public’s right to know newsworthy facts. We should never cross that line of privacy to satisfy the public’s desire to know more than should be told.

But news stories about her always feel like they’re framed to make the reader (us) feel good – that she’ll be ok, so we’re ok and we can skip facing her suffering – a mirror of our masked collective denial that we can all move on from this latest mass shooting where nineteen people were shot, six of them fatally. Quotes by her family, friends and colleagues are often laced with positive upbeat messages – we desperately want to believe she’s just one-step closer to her pre-shooting “normal”.

In this week’s Newsweek, Peter J. Boyer’s article What’s Really Going On With Gabby Giffords? The untold story of the congresswoman’s struggle, her husband’s faith, and their long, hard road to recovery” provides the balance of information that moves the story of Congresswoman Gifford’s recovery forward in a respectful and honest way.

I’ll be attending the Association of Health Care Journalists annual conference in Philadelphia this week. My initial reaction was conflicted when I heard that Dr. G. Michael Lemole Jr., the neurosurgeon who operated on U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, would be one of the keynote speakers. After more thoughtful reflection I realized what a very good choice it was to bring Dr. Lemole to this forum.  Now is a good time for health reporters to review, discuss, and learn ways to do a better job reporting on an important public figure, in this case, Congresswoman Giffords, and her road to recovery to her new “normal.” We all wish her well.

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