A “Special Communication” by HealthNewsReview.org publisher Gary Schwitzer published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reports that most news media present very biased stories on health care topics. A 38-person HealthNewsReview.org team of both physicians and journalists reviewed 1889 health news stories, published or broadcast between 2006 and 2013, and rated most “unsatisfactory” on 5 of 10 review criteria, including costs, benefits, harms, quality of the evidence, and comparison of the new approach with alternatives. “Drugs, medical devices, and other interventions were usually portrayed positively,” writes Schwitzer. “Potential harms were minimized, and costs were ignored.” Conflicts of interest also often weren’t disclosed.
Other findings of the review included:
- Stories about screening tests often emphasize or exaggerate potential benefits while minimizing or ignoring potential harms.
- Stories may include positive patient anecdotes but omit trial dropouts, adherence problems, patient dissatisfaction, or treatment alternatives.
- Half of all stories reviewed relied on a single source or failed to disclose the conflicts of interest of sources.
A Guide to Reading Health Care News Stories (Schwitzer, Gary. JAMA Intern Med. 2014;174(7):1183-1186. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.1359.)