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About that story you just published

David Wahlberg lived through a reporter's nightmare and is ready to talk about it. The Wisconsin State Journal reporter filed a story on a new treatment for brain aneurysms. Then the phone rang. The medical examiner informed Wahlberg that the patient featured in his story's lede had died six days earlier. He wrote about the experience — and what he should have done differently — for the Association of Health Care Journalists web site.

I am a physician at a busy tertiary care hospital. While I sympathize with your situation, I also can completely understand how the doctors in your story would not have been aware that it was important for you to know about this patient's bad outcome. Unless explicitly asked to provide follow-up information and with the patient's permission, it just wouldn't have occurred to me to do so. Also, some weeks are so hectic for me that it is all I can do to try to get home before my children go to bed. In that context, with all due respect, I am sure that calling a writer such as yourself would never have entered my mind. The other issue that comes to mind is one of patient confidentiality. As much as HIPAA rules are stressed to health care personnel, I can tell you that the nuances of all the rules are not eminently clear to me, and so like many of my colleagues, I tend to take the most conservative approach of revealing as little medical info as possible except to the next of kin. Therefore, even if it had occurred to me to call a writer, I would not have known immediately if I were medico-legally correct in doing so. To find that out, I would have had to call the legal department at my hospital, and waited for them to find the answer for me. Again, in a setting where I am working 16 hours per day and just trying to get home to spend a little time with my children, I am sure that I would have decided that I did not have the time to do that. I offer these comments to provide some possible insight into the doctors' lack of follow-up with you.