Jeff Ernsthausen and colleagues at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution have won the 2016 Philip Meyer Journalism Award using a novel data strategy to uncover over 100,000 documents from across the country.
Research for "Doctors & Sex Abuse" began when an AJC reporter found dozens of cases within Georgia where oversight boards had found clear evidence of sexual abuse of patients by doctors, yet "doctors either didn’t lose their licenses or were reinstated after being sanctioned." How common was this? reporters wondered. Was it limited to Georgia?
"... the AJC decided to examine the system that is supposed to protect patients from predator doctors. At first, we submitted public records requests to medical boards or other regulatory agencies in every state, seeking databases identifying doctors who had been disciplined and the reasons for their sanctions. Nearly all said they didn’t keep such data, and only a few provided other information addressing our requests.
"At that point, our data journalism team wrote computer programs to “crawl” regulators’ websites – a process known as scraping – and obtain board orders. This required building about 50 such programs tailored to agencies across the country. That collected more than 100,000 disciplinary documents. To assist us in identifying those involving sexual misconduct, we then created a computer program based on “machine learning” to analyze each case and, based on keywords, give each a probability rating that it was related to a case of physician sexual misconduct. ...
"That work set the stage for additional reporting. Over the past year, the project team sought other records, interviewed victims, doctors, regulators and experts and completed other research."
For more on this investigation, see http://doctors.ajc.com/about_this_investigation/ and
For more writing by Pitt History alum Jeff Ernsthausen, see http://specials.myajc.com/trailblazer-and-his-nephew/