A Glimpse of Health Journalism 2009

A special report to The Filipino Press

San Diego, CALIF.--Health Journalism 2009, an annual conference produced by the Center for Excellence in Health Care Journalism was held in Seattle, Washington on April 15-19. This is the third time that I was awarded the Ethnic Media Fellowship, thanks to the endorsement of the Filipino Press.

One of the benefits of being open to new experiences even at my age is the opportunity to prove that “old dogs can still learn new tricks”. I am indeed very fortunate to be a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists and to be among people whose frame of mind is to advance public understanding of health care issues, to set high standards in health reporting and to create a strong and vibrant community of journalists concerned with all forms of health care journalism.

The conference was packed with workshops, panels, field trips and talks by experts. But the most enriching experience for me was the field trip to several research institutions – the Seattle Biomedical Research Institute, the Institute for Simulation and Interprofessional Studies and the Biorobotice Lab at the University of Washington and Allen of Brain Science where I saw the future of medical science and public health practice.

The Seattle Biomedical Research Institute, a non-profit research organization, is working to prove that a vaccine candidate delivered through the bite of a mosquito has the potential to save millions from malaria. We saw malaria mosquitoes being genetically modified to produce a vaccine that will go into human trials in the coming year. SBRI is also working on new knowledge to overcome the challenge of the efficacy of tuberculosis treatment. Malaria and tuberculosis are still the leading causes of illness and death in third world countries. With Bill and Melinda Gates money behind these researches, world health will be much better in the coming years.

I was awed by our visit to the Institute for Simulation and Interprofessional Studies (ISIS) in the University of Washington’s premier medical education program. We were shown the virtual operation room where we saw Chris Jones – a high-fidelity patient simulator who blinks, breathes and talks with observers. Some of us had the opportunity to “play doctor” and help prepare Chris for surgery.

Using robots for remote surgery was demonstrated to us at the University of Washington’s Biorobotics Lab. While robots are already transforming hospital surgery (I saw one at last year’s conference during our visit to the George Washington Medical Center), hospital expertise may soon be brought to patients in remote locations – in battlefields or outer space. Raven, a surgical robot weighs just 50 pounds and can perform surgical procedures while being operated by surgeons in a nearby room or even in the Internet.

We met a young woman computer scientist and “genius-award” winner, Yoky Matsouka, director of the University of Washington’s Neurobotics Lab. Yoky is creating a future prosthetic much closer to the dexterity of the human hand. She is leading an investigation on how our central nervous system produces signals that controls our limbs’ movements and uses the information to create life-like robotic prosthetics. Hopefully, this invention will help people with reduced mobility use robots that integrate seamlessly with their bodies’ motions.

Our field trip ended at the Allen Institute for Brain Science, another non-profit research organization supported by Microsoft money. We saw several scientists busy mapping gene expressions of the human brain. Their aim is to advance new understanding of brain diseases and disorders.

The four-day conference covered a wide range of topic areas from health literacy to health care fraud and a variety of lunch-time speakers from the halls of Congress and the classroom of Princeton University.

U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) spoke on health care reform under the Obama administration. He said that passing enduring health care reform requires a bi-partisan approach that contains cost, eliminates waste and inefficiencies, and guarantees every American quality, affordable health care.

On the other hand, Professor Uwe Reinhardt, professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton University and one of the nation’s leading authorities on health care economics talked about the prospects of health reform and the current health economy. He argued that health care is the best investment to revive the United States from recession.