Feedback on lack of access to health care in Oklahoma

Published on
October 14, 2011

My three-part series on the difficulty of access to health care in Oklahoma has been published and has received positive feedback. There were hurdles and concerns right up until the run dates, but luckily I had no major difficulties.

I had tremendous help from the National Health Journalism Fellowship, including its staff, fellows and senior fellows. Their tips and support were immensely helpful, as were the forums and workshops in California.

The project seems to have been well received. I've heard from many hospital administrators, health researchers and other medical professionals who enjoyed the series and were happy to have the facts published.

A coworker covering a state legislative panel on federal health care reform said my series was referenced multiple times in a positive light. The Tulsa World, via the Oklahoma Press Association, agreed to offer my story to smaller newspapers in the state in hopes of reaching a wider audience. At least two papers have already run some of the stories.

My suggestions to other reporters interested in stories on issues similar to the ones I examined would be to either make friends with you data staff or start playing around with Google Documents and Google Fusion. If you're reasonably familiar with Excel, it shouldn't be that difficult to get the basics down. It can help to watch the tutorials.

I used those tools to map the locations of physicians in the state, which is what allowed me to determine where there were shortages of doctors overall and of specialists. The data should be easily available from the licensing boards because they give it out relatively often.

I also suggest making good use of any academics in the area. As I conducted interviews with professors and researchers at the local universities, I found many who were studying the exact issues I was reporting on and could be helpful in providing more data and reports and well as finding any holes in my coverage. One of my most frequent questions was, "What am I missing?".

When I reached the point where it was time to hand my project over to the editors it felt a bit surreal. Surely it wasn't ready. How could something I spent so much time and effort on nearly finished? But I needed to get away from it and let some other eyes critique it. My editors had a few suggestions and some questions to help clarify, but they had no major problems with the series and were eager to run it.