Most Media Health Stories Pump Positives, Minimize Harms

Rob Wipond
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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.)

Also see:

HealthNewsReview.org

3 COMMENTS

  1. This is an excellent, hard hitting, very important article on the necessity to take news media reports of various health care findings with a very big grain of salt.

    Of course, those at MIA and studying all the dirty tricks in psychiatry’s so called medical literature are aware of many of the issues cited in this article that threaten one’s health and finances. But, it’s pretty amazing and discouraging to see how this crisis in the trustworthiness or lack thereof in the media about all of medicine has become so pervasive.

    Another great warning that anyone with a health problem should do lots of homework to discover any landmines before seeing one’s doctor who may be “duped or complicit” as the APA protest poster showed with Lucy of Peanuts ready to give her 5 cent advice. And much advice today is worth minus many thousands and one’s health and even life today, making modern medicine and its toxic drugs one of the leading causes of death.