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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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Initiative 1000, the so-called "Death with Dignity Act," took effect in Washington state on March 5, after being approved by voters in November. And it has put hospitals in a strange position. Hospitals are considered the place where doctors and staff do everything in their power to keep a person alive. Now hospitals are being asked to allow their patients to kill themselves.

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Dr. Neil Hollander of Huntington Beach, Calif., looked to be just another doctor who had misplaced his notes in November 2003 when he agreed to settle a Medical Board of California case by taking a record keeping course.

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If you do a Google News search for the word "octomom," you will get more than 4,000 results on most days.

What is lost in much of the coverage of Nadya Suleman and her expanding brood is how completely expected this all should be. No one should be surprised that a woman with six kids could order up another eight more or that she could find a doctor willing to help her.

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Public hospitals have been closing at an alarming rate. Last month, the troubled Martin Luther King Jr. Medical Center in Los Angeles announced it was preparing to reopen after years of quality concerns, but it has lived on the precipice for more than two decades.

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Even the most curious of Dr. Barbara Philipp's patients probably didn't notice that she had a drug problem.

That's because her patients were kids.

The Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine wrote in its disciplinary report that the 55-year-old Boston pediatrician wrote fake prescriptions for family members and friends just to get painkillers and sleeping pills for herself.

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Six of the world's biggest drug companies are about to be winnowed down to three. If all the mergers go through, we will have Pfizer-Wyeth, Merck-Schering-Plough and Roche-Genentech controlling more than $100 billion in drug sales every year - amounting to one seventh of all revenues for drug companies worldwide. (I wrote a story about this a couple weeks ago for the Los Angeles Times.)

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This UCI orthopedic surgeon is on the shortlist for the U.S. Surgeon General job. He has been an outspoken critic of medical device companies and is fighting to limit the influence of money on medicine.

Here is a recap of our conversation:

Q: You were in Washington last year testifying before Congress about doctors who are paid by companies to put in certain medical devices. Did they understand why you were so concerned about this?

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When the Peanut Corporation of America recalled thousands of peanut butter products in January for fear they were tainted with salmonella, news organizations all over the country rushed to local stores to find out what where PCA products were being sold. Justina Wang, 25, a recent Northwestern University grad who works at the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, went a step further.

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The transaction was quick.

In the parking lot of a pastry shop, a patient handed Dr. Kachun ClementYeung $400. Yeung handed the patient a prescription for 800 milligrams of OxyContin. It took less than five minutes.

The exchange was part of 23,000 milligrams worth of the addictive painkiller that Yeung prescribed to patients who were never properly diagnosed with chronic pain during a 168 day period in 2002.

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Justina Wang at the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle tackled a topic that seems to scare most local publications: food safety.

With each food poisoning scare, local reporters cover what's happening at their corner stores. Few examine the root causes. With school board meetings, octuplet moms and a weekender due tomorrow, how could one possibly get to the bottom of our fractured food safety system?

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