Honors highlight concern among public and press over potential harm to patients of the medical laboratory industry and the need for more transparency in the quality of care delivered by pathologists and lab scientists

John Carreyrou, Investigative Reporter, and Mike Siconolfi, Senior Editor, both with The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), took home the prestigious National Institute for Health Care Management (NIHCM) Foundation Journalism Award on Monday, May 2, for their work covering Theranos, Inc.

This is the third time this year Carreyrou has won the award in the General Circulation Print Journalism category for his work covering Theranos, the embattled clinical laboratory company in Palo Alto, Calif., owned by CEO Elizabeth Holmes.

Another award of interest to pathologists and clinical laboratory executives was the Association of Health Care Journalists (AHCJ) national award given to Ellen Gabler, an investigative reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. She was recognized for her work covering weaknesses in inspections for clinical laboratories. Her award reflects the increasing concern among the public and the press about the clinical laboratory industry. Clearly, the public wants more transparency in the quality of care that medical laboratories deliver because they recognize the potential for patient harm.

Theranos Coverage Spotlights Public’s Interest in Clinical Laboratory Quality

Articles by Carreyrou, Siconolfi, and Gabler, demonstrate that the existing regulatory systems for clinical laboratories have failed to catch quality problems in a timely manner. And, they show that, under federal law, the negative findings of lab inspectors are hidden from the public.

In recognition of the great reporting work of Carreyrou and Siconolfi, the NIHCM judges said, “This investigation exposed blood-testing start-up Theranos Inc. for concealing failures in its technology while continuing to perform millions of tests. The judges called the series ‘groundbreaking’ and ‘devastatingly good,’ commending the reporters for ‘taking on a very secretive company.’” The award includes a $10,000 cash prize.

John Carreyrou (left) and Mike Siconolfi (right) of The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), Ellen Gabler (center left) of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (MJS), and Beth Daley (center right) of the New England Center for Investigative Reporting (NECIR) at Boston University, all received highest honors for investigative journalism for their coverage of recent so-called failings and alleged cover-ups in the clinical laboratory industry. (Photography copyrights: The Wall Street Journal, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Twitter.)

John Carreyrou (left) and Mike Siconolfi (right) of The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), Ellen Gabler (center left) of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (MJS), and Beth Daley (center right) of the New England Center for Investigative Reporting (NECIR) at Boston University, all received highest honors for investigative journalism for their coverage of recent so-called failings and alleged cover-ups in the clinical laboratory industry. (Photography copyrights: The Wall Street Journal, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Twitter.)

Long Island University Selects Carreyrou for the George Polk Award in Journalism

In February, Long Island University (LIU) announced that Carreyrou had won the George Polk Award in Journalism in the Financial Reporting category for his work covering Theranos. The George Polk Awards honor special achievements in journalism. Winners are chosen from newspapers, magazines, television, radio, and online news organizations. Judges place a premium on investigative work that is original, requires digging and resourcefulness, and brings results.

In its announcement, LIU said, “The award for financial reporting will go to John Carreyrou of The Wall Street Journal, whose investigation of Theranos, Inc., raised serious doubts about claims by the firm and its celebrated 31-year-old founder, Elizabeth Holmes, that its new procedure for drawing and testing blood was a transformational medical breakthrough in wide use at the firm’s labs.

“Carreyrou’s well-researched stories—reported in the face of threats of lawsuits and efforts to pressure some sources to back off of their accounts—led to a re-evaluation of Theranos’ prospects among investors, and have been followed by regulatory actions against the company and widespread discussion that publications and institutions from Fortune and The New Yorker to Harvard and the White House may have been too quick to hail Holmes—a Stanford dropout whose personal wealth at the height of her startup’s rise was an estimated $4.5 billion—as a success story in the tradition of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg.”

Theranos Coverage Also Wins AHCJ Awards for ‘Excellence in Health Care Journalism’

In March, Carreyrou took first place in the Beat Reporting category from the Association of Health Care Journalists for his 2015 body of work covering Theranos. About this award for Excellence in Health Care Journalism the judges said of Carreyrou’s work, “His deeply reported and powerfully written stories unveil trouble with the company’s products—and its promises. Regulators, the medical community, and consumers took note. This is important, valuable work.”

Gabler also took first place in the healthcare journalism awards. The association recognized her work in the Health Policy (Large) category for her series of articles, titled “Hidden Errors.” About Gabler’s work, the judges said, “Hidden Errors is a comprehensive, authoritatively written story on an issue of universal concern. Ellen Gabler grabs the reader at the start with relatable examples and weaves patient stories throughout to keep the reader engaged. The graphics are easy to understand and add to the story. Gabler’s reporting is detailed and her storytelling is top-notch.

“Gabler reported that many clinical labs were not following the basic procedures to ensure test accuracy and that a secretive system hides mistakes from the public and allows medical laboratories—some among the most well-respected in the nation—to cut costs at the expense of patients,” the association said.

Last year, AHCJ gave Beth Daley, a reporter and Director of Partnerships for the New England Center for Investigative Reporting (NECIR) at Boston University, its top award in the Investigative (Small) category for her reporting on unregulated tests in an article titled, “Oversold and Misunderstood.” The article is about how physicians and patients often misunderstand the results they get from prenatal screening tests.

Taken together, these awards show that a variety of organizations recognize the strong work journalists are doing covering the failings they find in the clinical laboratory industry. These awards should motivate the lab industry’s regulators and accrediting bodies to be more consistent and diligent in ferreting out system problems in the medical laboratories they inspect. It would also be smart for the profession of laboratory medicine to insist on more transparency of the outcomes of lab inspections performed by state and federal CLIA assessors.

—Joseph Burns

Related Information:

Winners Named in 22nd Annual NIHCM Research and Journalism Awards

Long Island University Announces 67th Annual George Polk Awards in Journalism

Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism: 2015 winners

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Hot Startup Theranos Dials Back Lab Tests at FDA’s Behest

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Now Theranos Faces Criminal Investigation on Whether the Clinical Laboratory Company Misled Investors, according to Published Reports

Might Lawsuits Come Next in the Theranos Story?

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