Paul Levy is Not Running a Hospital: a look at a digital pioneer in the health care industry

Below is a short film about Paul Levy, who runs the popular health care blog, “Not Running a Hospital”

In August of 2006, Paul Levy, who was then the chief executive for Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, read that very few CEOs ran blogs. So he decided to start his own, hoping he could provide the public with a transparent look at Beth Israel.

Levy said that at the time, he put very little thought into his decision to author a blog.

“The reason for it was kind of whimsical, frankly. I had read an article in The New York Times saying that there were hardly any CEOs of companies in the country who had a blog,” Levy said. “And I said, well this looks like an interesting medium: why don’t I try it out?” 

Levy said his staff had mixed reactions to the blog, which was then called “Running a Hospital.” (In 2011, Levy stepped down as CEO and changed the title of the blog to “Not Running a Hospital.”) Executives who were higher up in the organization worried he would write something that could reflect poorly on Beth Israel. But Levy assured his staff that a blog would be the best way to reach the public.

“I say things wrong all the time to reporters or to the public in speeches, and the advantage of a blog is if you say something wrong and someone points it out, you can fix it right away,” he said. “You don’t have to wait for the next news cycle.”

But Levy said that over time, his staff members who were initially critical of the blog started to appreciate it.

“I was telling stories about interesting things in our hospital,” Levy said. “Successes that we had, sometimes failures that we had, always with an eye towards saying that we are a good hospital and that we are trying to get better.”

David Harlow, a lawyer and blogger on health care, said Levy has been a pioneer in promoting hospital transparency.

“He’s been a real force on the scene in Boston,” he said.

Levy was considered an underdog in Boston because there was this perception that Beth Israel was the “weak sister among the Harvard teaching hospitals,” Harlow said. But he gained a lot of credibility by writing openly about Beth Israel.

Harlow also said Levy’s analysis of the news is authentic and “scathingly honest.” 

“He and other good bloggers don’t just blog the news, they blog a perspective on the news,” Harlow said.

Levy infuses his personality into the posts, occasionally including personal anecdotes and pictures that are not related to health care. But at the same time, Levy’s blog is journalistic; he frequently reports on and takes photographs of health care events.

Levy also said that he does not try to appeal to a certain audience; rather he wants his blog to be substantive enough so health care officials will read it, but he also tries to write in a personal fashion to attract readers who aren’t working in the health field.

Levy said that he and Harlow held the world’s first “blog rally” with other bloggers. A blog rally is when bloggers promote a cause by simultaneously posting on a certain social justice issue. The blog rally “Engage with Grace: The One Slide Project” was in 2008, and encouraged families to discuss end-of-life care issues while at Thanksgiving.

“Really difficult issues come up when you’re near death, such as how much care do you want for the patient? And how much care does the patient want?” Levy said. “It’s much better to have those conversations with a person when they’re still alive, rather than to think about it afterwards and ask, did we do the right thing?”

Harlow said he feels empowered by blogging because he doesn’t have to be part of a big media corporation to have his voice heard.

“They are judged on their merits,” he said of bloggers. “It doesn’t have to come from Walter Cronkite to be true, and that’s sort of a big change.”

Since Levy and others coined the term “blog rally” in 2008, there have been examples of numerous blog rallies, some of which have originated overseas, he said.

Levy estimates that an average of 10,000 people visit his site each day. He said that some people subscribe to the blog, whereas others read it on his Facebook page or click on the links to posts that he tweets out. Though Levy said it’s difficult to know just how many people read his content, because his posts are often re-blogged.

Levy primarily uses twitter for his research, and he said that he follows about 170 people who tend to tweet links to interesting articles.

“I use twitter as my librarian,” he said.

Now that Levy is no longer running a hospital, he lectures on health care issues and often writes about his talks. He also recently published a book titled, “Goal Play!: Leadership Lessons from the Soccer Field.”

Jeff Thompson, CEO of the Gundersen Lutheran Health System, which is based in La Crosse, Wisconsin, said that although Levy’s experience is based in Boston, he draws lessons from health care organizations all around the world.

“Paul’s not running a hospital now… so he has the opportunity to see the best practices in other places, and that’s terrific,” Thompson said.

Thompson said he often implements Levy’s suggestions into his own health care practices.

“Nobody has all of the answers,” he said. “You have to look broadly, to look in a lot of places. And that’s what Paul helps us do.”

During the month of November, men around the globe grow mustaches to raise money and awareness for men’s health issues, specifically for prostate and testicular cancer. On Nov. 29, partygoers donned mustaches for a Movember gala at the Royale Boston Nightclub. The profits from ticket sales went to charity. 


Movember partygoers raise funds for men’s health. To see more photos of the event, click here.



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New study finds teens are not over-medicated

A new study finds that approximately 14 percent of teenagers with mental illness in the United States are treated with medication for the condition, contradicting the popular belief that teens are over-medicated, according to Businessweek.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness says that 4 million U.S. children and adolescents have a serious mental disorder, which affects their ability to function.

“It’s reassuring that the utilization seems to match the needs of these kids,” Benedetto Vitiello, the author of the study. told Businessweek. “This paper does not suggest that there is an excessive use. If anything, it may suggest at times medications are used fairly sparingly and other treatments are used instead of medications.”

He also told Reuters Health, “Most of the adolescents who met the criteria for a condition were not receiving medication, which suggests that they were being treated with something else, maybe psychotherapy, or maybe they were not even treated.

The study, which was sponsored by the National Institute of Health, looked at data from children ages 13 to 18-years old. Researchers found that of the children who had been diagnosed with a mental illness or illnesses, 14.2 percent were treated with medication, including stimulants, antidepressants, mood stabilizers, and antipsychotics. According to Reuters, of the population who did not have signs of a mental disorder, 2.5 percent had been prescribed a psychiatric drug.

But the data was from the years of 2001 to 2004, and NIH researchers said that additional studies are needed to make sure that teen use of these medicines has not changed.

For those interested in reading the study, click here.

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DSM-5 to remove “gender identity disorder,” replace with “gender dysphoria”

Transgender symbol

Transgender symbol

The Associated Press reported today that the term “gender identity disorder” will be removed from the DSM-5, or the newest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, which is expected to be released in 2013. The DSM is the guide all doctors, psychologists, and psychiatrists use when diagnosing mental disorders.

The term “gender identity disorder” is included in the current edition of the DSM, and it refers to children or adults who believe that they were born as the wrong gender.

LGBT activists say the condition is not a disorder, and calling it one is offensive to those who are transgendered. “Gender identity disorder” would be replaced with “gender dysphoria,” which is defined as “emotional distress over one’s gender.”

The AP reports that supporters of this new term consider this change equivalent to when the DSM removed the word “homosexuality” as a mental disorder decades ago.

What do you think? Should there be a term change? Does the wording matter? Should it even be in the DSM?

Photo (cc) by ParaDox and republished under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.


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State may shut down Mississippi’s only abortion clinic

An anti-abortion rally in front of a planned parenthood

An anti-abortion rally in front of a planned parenthood building

Reuters reported today that Mississippi’s only abortion clinic is expected to be shut down unless a federal judge blocks a state law, which if implemented would require all abortion physicians in Mississippi to have admitting privileges at a local hospital.

The Jackson Women’s Health Organization is calling the law an unconstitutional attempt to ban abortion in Mississippi, Reuters reported.

Mississippi is the state with some of the country’s strictest abortion laws and one of the lowest abortion rates in the United States. Additionally, Mississippi has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the country – more than 60 percent above the national average.

The law requires all abortion providers to be board certified in gynecology and obstetrics, as well as have admitting privileges at a local hospital.

Advocates of the law, including a number of state law makers, argue that it is intended to protect women’s health. But others have said they hope the law will shut down the abortion clinic.

Diane Derzis, who runs the clinic, told Reuters she sent requests on behalf of all the physicians to every hospital within 30 miles. All of the hospitals either rejected the applications or refused to even consider them, she said.

“It is now clear that plaintiffs have no hope of being able to comply with the Admitting Privileges Requirement,” it said in the filing by the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents the clinic in court.

Photo (cc) by Fibonacci Blue and republished under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

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The Globe Ideas Lab: the perfect outing for any journalism nerd

Outside of The Boston Globe

Outside of The Boston Globe

Before going home to stuff my face, I visited The Boston Globe’s Ideas Lab with my classmates from Reinventing the News. An entire lab designated for ideas may sound a bit frivolous, but the lab’s technology and multi-media work was innovative and fascinating.

One of the projects – Project Cascade – which originated at The New York Times, tracks the life of a tweet. The Globe now has the ability to study what tweets are successful and who is re-tweeting their content.

According to the Nieman Journalism Lab, “the tool is framed around the social science-based concept of the “cascade” — in this case, the chain of events that propels a story through and around social networks.” Paul Krugman of the Times re-posted a cascade, which can be found here.

We also heard from a designer and coder for the lab, who is primarily responsible for interactive material on the Globe’s website. As he said, “if I can get someone to spend 10 seconds on [what I’ve created], then I’ve done my job.” He showed us a few of his graphics, my favorite one being the “how much water is in your scallop?” graphic. (SPOILER ALERT: it’s 77 percent).

Our class then visited the Globe’s new radio station, Radio BDC. I geek-ed out a bit because we met Adam 12, who previously DJ-d for my favorite radio station before it went under. Radio BDC is apparently the first online radio station to exist on a news website. They focus on alt rock, playing artists like Modest Mouse and The Shins. Adam 12 said the station regularly hosts concerts, even a few that are right in the Globe’s office. Also the station has benefited the Globe, because they’ve gained new advertisers in the alcohol industry.

So for any journalism nerds who may be visiting the Dorchester area soon, try to schedule a tour. It’s definitely worth your time.

Photo (cc) by Tony Fischer Photography and republished under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

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Australian government threatens to shut down one of the few mental health facilities in the country

The Australian government is threatening to close one of the few mental health facilities in the country due to state budget cuts, despite the fact that there is currently a six month waiting period for entry into the facility.

The Sydney Morning Herald recently reported that a teenage girl who was on the waiting list for Barrett Adolescent Centre committed suicide in early November. According to the Herald, the 16-year old had worked as a model and was called “bright” and “articulate.” Over the past two years, the girl’s anxiety and panic attacks worsened. She began burning cigarettes into her arm to “feel something.”

The Australian Health Minister Lawrence Springborg and Education Minister John-Paul Langbroek are considering to shut down the Barrett Centre, which is the only long-term mental health facility in Queensland. For thirty years, the center has serviced 13- to 17-year-olds with severe psychiatric and psychological problems after sexual and psychological trauma.

Brett McDermott of the Mater Medical Research Institute and Paul Harnett, a Fellow of the Australian Psychological Society, said the center is expected to be closed by Christmas.

Former patient Jessica Dawe told The Brisbane Times that the government plans to close both the Barrett Centre and its associated school was as “a really dangerous idea.” Dawe, who is 19, criticized the government’s plan to transfer patients at the Barrett Centre back into short-term psychiatric wards in Queensland hospitals.

“They just don’t have the space, the time, or the people that these young kids need,” she said. “They need ongoing support.”

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The girl who feels no pain

The main story in The New York Times Magazine this week is of a girl named Ashlyn Blocker, who has an extremely rare condition that causes her to feel no pain.

Blocker was born with a congenital insensitivity to pain with anhidrosis (CIPA), a disorder that inhibits the signals traveling from her central nervous system.

The story is insightful in that it makes the reader realize the benefits of feeling pain. Blocker can feel coolness and warmth, but not extremely cold or extremely hot.

“Her life story offers an amazing snapshot of how complicated a life can get without the guidance of pain,” said Roland Staud, a professor of medicine and rheumatologist at the University of Florida. “Pain is a gift, and she doesn’t have it.”

When Blocker was two years old, she burned the flesh right off her hands; Her father left a pressure-washer on in the driveway, and Blocker placed her hands on the muffler. On another occasion, fire ants crawled all over her skin, biting her more than a hundred times, while she yelled “Bugs! Bugs!” but did not flick them off. She also broke her ankle once, and it took two days for her parents to realize that something was not right.

Blocker said that she studies the expressions other people made when feeling pain. Now she will cringe when someone describes something painful. Blocker said she feels sympathy for others when they are hurt, but that she cannot understand it.

“I feel bad for them,” she said. “Because they go through the pain and I don’t. I would help them.”

For those who are interested in reading the entire story, click here.

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