Making complex science accessible

Bridget M. Kuehn

Making History Saving Babies

Posted by on Aug 20, 2015 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Sometimes one really determined woman can change history. That’s what I learned when I wrote about the career of Francis Oldham Kelsey, MD, PhD, the US Food and Drug Administration official who helped block the sale of thalidomide in the United States. Kelsey, who died in early August at the age of 101, had a 45-year-long career at the FDA, but made her mark on history not long after walking in the door.

She joined the agency in 1960 and the application to market thalidomide was the first she reviewed. The drug was already being used in Europe and was likely to sail through the FDA review process. But Kelsey, who had a pharmacology degree and experience studying another drug that had caused many deaths, and her colleagues found the application lacking in key safety data and asked for more.

Soon after, a spike in cases of a severe and rare birth defect in Europe was traced to thalidomide. Kelsey is credited with saving many US infants from being exposed to the drug, which was used to treat nausea and sleep problems during pregnancy. I wrote about Kelsey and her career in JAMA in 2010.

In the process of reporting the story, I was really surprised to learn how limited the FDA’s powers were when Kelsey joined the agency. There is no doubt the thalidomide-linked birth defects helped win public support for more FDA oversight. In many ways, Kelsey was well-positioned to help bring the agency into a new era of oversight. Her background in pharmacology and her studies at the University of Chicago of another drug that had killed more than 100 patients likely gave her a perspective many other reviewers at the time would not have had. Additionally, Kelsey was a mother herself. Her story really reinforces the value of a diverse, and multidisciplinary work force.

I can only wonder how many other trailblazing women are currently out their making history in their respective fields. More about Kelsey’s trailblazing career can be found in the National Library of Medicine’s Changing the Face of Medicine profile of Kelsey.





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Forget Patient Engagement, It’s Patients Leading the Way Online

Posted by on Apr 20, 2015 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Patient engagement was a buzzword in many of the sessions at the Healthcare Information Management and Systems Society (HIMSS) annual meeting here in Chicago last week. But in the hallways and on social media, it was patients and patient advocates driving the conversation.


Among the patient advocates making a splash was Regina Holliday, a Maryland-based artist, who has created a “Walking Gallery” of painted suit jackets to highlight the need for better communication with patients. Holliday distributes jackets for speakers and others to wear at medical conferences. Holiday’s husband died from cancer and her experience with the medical system inspired her to advocate for change. You can read more about her story on her blog, Visit my Storify to see a sampling of the jackets.



Many high profile speakers at the meeting, including Farzad Mostashari, the former US National Coordinator of Health information, sported the jackets. Mostashari acknowledged in one of his talks that it is not just patients struggling to break their data out of the healthcare system. Physicians who want to use patient data for prevention and to improve care are finding that many electronic health records can’t extract the information they need.


While there are still major technical challenges and cultural barriers to true patient engagement in health care, it was clear at the meeting that the healthcare industry has gotten the message Holliday and other advocates are sending. Physicians and health systems are experimenting with how to engage patients through social media, patient portals, and shared decision-making. And some, like Massachusetts General Hospital, have found that technology such as shared decision-making tools and personalized, illustrated consent forms can spark meaningful conversations between physicians and patients about the risks and benefits of various care options.


Having worked in healthcare long enough to remember the days when social media and other online tools were greeted with fear and skepticism, I’d argue that these are big steps forward that will likely lead to better conversations and more empowered patients going forward.


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New Year, New Challenges

Posted by on Jan 14, 2015 in My Blog, Uncategorized | 0 comments

New Year, New Challenges

PREDICTIONS 2015Happy New Year from SciBridge Media, Inc! I’ve been busy working on a range of stories and projects and wanted to check in and offer some predictions for the coming year.


Last Fall, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa caught the public’s attention as healthcare and aid workers returned home with Ebola infections and tested our healthcare system’s preparedness. In the heat of the epidemic, I wrote about whether the delay in appointing a new surgeon general may have hampered our national public health communication efforts. Since then, I’ve been hearing mostly good news about the Ebola containment efforts in Africa, though there is certainly much work still to do to end the epidemic. In mid-December, Dr. Vivek Murtha was appointed the new surgeon general, despite previous opposition about his support for gun control and health care reform. Most observers say Dr. Murtha is eminently qualified for the job and I look forward to seeing the direction he takes. Some of the nation’s best surgeon general’s have been activists drawing the nation’s attention to pressing public health issues. I would expect to hear more from him on Ebola soon.


Healthcare spending will remain a hot topic in 2015. Last year, I wrote about how the healthcare spending habits of doctors are influenced by both the norms in the region where they trained and the norms in their practice area. I also covered the RSNA Meeting here in Chicago for Diagnostic Imaging, where radiologists were a buzz about the need to maximize the value of the care they provide to remain relevant. In a keynote talk, Dr. David C. Levin, MD, professor emeritus at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, challenged (free registration required) radiologists to maximize the value of the care they provide to patients and their referring physicians, even if that means sacrificing some income by providing unreimbursed services. I think were going to hear a lot more about maximizing value in healthcare across specialties this year. My hope is that specialties and policy makers will invite patients and the public into these discussions about value in healthcare. Ultimately, it is patient and taxpayer dollars we are trying to get the most value from.


Speaking of smart use of public and private funds, I also profiled a program in Michigan that is working to prevent homelessness by helping individuals and families who have fallen behind on rent to catch up. The program is a public-philanthropy partnership based on the premise that it is more cost-effective and humane to prevent a family from becoming homeless than it is to try to get them back into housing.  For many, an eviction means more than just losing a home, it also may mean losing all their belongings and being displaced from their community or school district. Local philanthropies work with the state and the court system to divert individuals who are in jeopardy of eviction into the program. For a few hundred or thousand dollars, the program can save the thousands it would cost to re-home a homeless family. I look forward to seeing more such public-philanthropy partnerships this year as both governments and philanthropies try to get the most impact out of limited dollars.





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Welcome to SciBridge Media!

Posted by on Sep 11, 2014 in My Blog, Uncategorized | 1 comment

Welcome to SciBridge Media!

Twitter-scibridge-mediaAfter 15 years of bringing you the best in science and medical news, I’m branching out to offer new services through my company SciBridge Media. I hope you’ll continue to enjoy the content and insights I share about science news, communications, strategy, and multimedia.

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