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William Heisel's Antidote: Investigating Untold Health Stories

William Heisel, former investigative reporter for the Los Angeles Times, writes about investigative health reporting. He is currently the director of global engagement at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

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Doctors usually train in a specialty, but they don’t have to practice in that specialty. And, in most states, they don’t have to tell you how they trained before they treat you. Records from medical specialty boards can help reporters figure out if doctors are board-certified and in which field.

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Medicare made more than $583 billion in payments in 2013. But, for one of the fastest rising areas of Medicare spending, the agency has no way of knowing whether all that money was spent wisely.

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The practice of physicians "self-referring" patients to facilities in which they or their families have a financial stake has dramatically increased in some specialties. The practice increases health costs for procedures and tests that are of questionable benefit to patients.

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A series of reports has found that physicians who "self-refer" are following their financial interests and not always the best interests of their patients. The trend is driving up health care costs and potentially putting patients at risk from unnecessary services.

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There are a range of agencies involved in licensing and disciplining the health care professionals who do the bulk of the work in clinics, hospitals, and other health care settings. Here's how to start tracking down records that can raise red flags and lead to compelling stories.

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Every state has some agency that oversees the licensing of physicians. And in those files are dozens of stories you should be writing about. Here's how to start using licensing and discipline records to find story leads and strengthen your reporting.

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Valentine's Day is over, but questions over lead and other heavy metals in chocolate and candy are still around. And while "cocoa puff stories" are the norm around this time of year, some excellent reporting is keeping the spotlight on this bittersweet issue.

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They say money talks, but so does anger. That’s why it pays to spend some time in bankruptcy court when you are looking for gripping tales on the health care beat. These resources and tips will get you on your way.

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If you're a health reporter looking for story leads and enriching details, consider ditching the office and heading down to the courthouse. Chances are good that if you are covering a health care entity with business history, it also has a court history. A few tips can help get you started.

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Do you use the Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care in your reporting? If not, you're missing out on a great source of data on how the costs and quality of health care vary across regions. Contributor William Heisel explains how to best make use of this resource.

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