MANAGED CARE March 2002. ©MediMedia USA
The flow of medical information from government health agencies could very well wind up being one of the victims of the anthrax scare.
Bad publicity related to the terrorist mailings has led to a major consolidation of communication, legislative, and public affairs offices in the Department of Health and Human Services.
The Washington Post reports that HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson was "stung by criticism" that information disseminated during terrorist mail attacks was often muddled and contradictory.
The many agencies under the HHS umbrella — including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, and the Food and Drug Administration — run their own public relations offices. Some have many PR offices, each focusing on a specific area.
In all, there are more than 50 communications offices under HHS, and all will now come under the direct control of Thompson — adding an additional layer of review.
All agency heads have been told to submit the names of employees involved with the flow of information to Congress, the news media, and the public in preparation for the consolidation.
During the anthrax scare, information provided by Thompson and his aides sometimes conflicted with data from CDC scientists — an embarrassing situation.
Critics question whether the goal of the reorganization is better information or spin control. They point out that the plan had been floated, then tabled, months ago.