After almost two years and 500 stories, the Health News Review project has found that journalists usually fail to discuss costs, the quality of the evidence, the existence of alternative options, and the absolute magnitude of potential benefits and harms.
In the US as well as Canada and Australia health news is reviewed by non profit organizations because an imbalanced picture of health care interventions may have a profound impact on the decision making of American consumers who rely on these news stories.
In a recent article in PLoS Medicine the results of the evaluation of 500 news stories in newspapers, television and weekly magazines were published.
between 62%–77% of stories failed to adequately address costs, harms, benefits, the quality of the evidence, and the existence of other options when covering health care products and procedures
They used a rating instrument including ten criteria used by the Australian and Canadian Media Doctor sites. All of the criteria are addressed in the Association of Health Care Journalists’ Statement of Principles.
How does this high rate of inadequate reporting on these health news topics from the news media come about?
- Many newsrooms across the US have eliminated health and medical reporting positions because of a drop in profits
- Lack of research time for reporters
- Lack of sufficient space or time in the newspaper or on broadcast. To much information has to be left out due to insufficient space or time when reporting
- No training for reporters on medical statistics or on the subject of health care
- Sensationalism in medical science stories wherein journalists find it easier to get attention for their stories and scientists see “the practical value of media attention to a successful scientific career”
So read medblogs instead, professionals on the topic, some even do requests and there are lots of medblog from all different species.
Schwitzer, G. (2008). How Do US Journalists Cover Treatments, Tests, Products, and Procedures? An Evaluation of 500 Stories. PLoS Medicine, 5(5), e95. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.0050095