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Dead by mistake: Hearst investigation probes medical errors

Dead By Mistake

A team of journalists working for Hearst-owned newspapers and television stations across the country have spent months investigating the little-known but deadly problem of medical errors in the United States. The stories reveal that more people die every year from medical mistakes than car accidents.

At the San Antonio Express-News, Database Editor Kelly Guckian analyzed medical data and Projects Writer Melissa Fletcher Stoeltje wrote this story:

Elbert Eugene “Gene” Riggs Jr. went into Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio for a stomachache.

He ended up dying there — after a feeding tube was inserted into his right lung.

Editor-At-Large Phil Bronstein explains how the project was done:

The idea for the story first came in an informal discussion among reporters and editors from several papers; we were looking at topics to investigate that would have a significant impact on people’s lives. We decided that focusing on the plague of fatal but preventable hospital errors would be a public service.

Our team, which during the course of the project involved over 35 people – and an entire class of graduate journalism students at Columbia University, read thousands of pages of documents, disciplinary files, lawsuits, governmental, medical and other public and private reports.

Related: Four women are in prison for a bizarre case of child abuse. Did they do it?

I like how this kind of enterprise journalism relies on reams of public records to shed light on a tragic problem many people don’t know much about. Hearst also set up a Web site for the stories that includes links to Facebook and Twitter accounts, which is a nice way to open up a dialogue with readers.