How To Vet Health News Stories

GarySchwitzerGary Schwitzer, author of the Health News Review blog, just had an article published in JAMA Internal Medicine. It’s free to read for 6 months:

A Guide to Reading Health Care News Stories, 5 May 2014

Schwitzer says that:

“Health care news stories often emphasize or exaggerate potential benefits, minimize or ignore potential harms, and ignore cost issues”

He spoke with On The Media’s Bob Garfield last Friday: The Worried Well Whipped Into A Frenzy


Here are points I’m increasingly trying to address, or at least think about when I read a story, points that Gary’s article reinforced for me:

  • Cost of intervention – (financial, logistical/can you access?, physiological/side effects)
  • Benefits of intervention
  • Quality of the evidence (internal and external validity, dropouts, surrogate end points)
  • Disease mongering (widening the diagnostic boundaries of illness to expand market for treatment, e.g. occasional heartburn becomes “gastro-esophageal reflux disease” or GERD, and shyness becomes “social anxiety disorder” or SAD)
  • Conflicts of interest (does any entity benefit?)
  • Existing alternatives (is this really a new and better therapy?)
  • Rehashing of press release?

I’m glad this is just a blog, and that I can be biased here. Because sometimes I think what looks like “balance” in reporting and true counterpoint is just an industry’s attempt to instill doubt, an action that ends up advancing their agenda.

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