I just discovered this wonderful non-profit organization devoted to rating the quality of the journalism behind health news reports. Health News Review was founded by Gary Schwitzer, a journalist devoted to consumer empowerment through accurate, spin-free health reporting.
The fun part of this website is that if you see a health segment on Good Morning America, the CBS Evening News, or other TV or major media outlet you can check with the experts at Health News Review to find out if the information you heard was accurate.
Here’s an excerpt from a recent review of a news story that was reported in an irresponsible manner:
This story about a spa-based treatment for reduction of adipose deposits provided little viewer education. Its sole purpose appeared to be as a hook for a more in-depth broadcast which was to occur in that night’s prime time programming. It did not inform viewers about lipo-dissolve in a balanced way or in a manner that would allow them to understand the likelihood of having the adverse outcomes.
The story did not discuss the quality of the evidence available supporting this treatment as effective or ineffective. It contained only anecdotal examples about lipo-dissovlve gone bad. However – this is inadequate information on which to base a decision, even a cosmetic one. Although the women interviewed had adverse effects from the treatment, the story gave no indication of whether these outcomes were exceptions or were the rule.
The approach followed a typical TV news formula: promote something as “sweeping the country…new phenomenon…hottest thing since Botox… reportedly tens of thousands of procedures completed”, then slam it as expensive and unsafe.
Where was the shoe leather journalism to hang some facts on those bones? Why did they have to say “reportedly” tens of thousands of procedures completed? Reported by whom? What did ABC’s own investigation find? Were any trials done? What were the quantifiable benefits and quantifiable harms?
Maybe that evening the ABC 20/20 program answered some of these questions. But for the viewers up early (and possibly not staying up for the 20/20 program), the morning program was a shoddy tease.
If the Health News Review gains enough momentum and recognition, maybe we can raise the quality of health journalism on a national basis. Fear of exposure of shoddy journalism could pressure the media to do a better job of giving us accurate and trustworthy information. Here at Revolution Health our medical experts are doing their best to clarify and comment on the news for you in their blogs. Don’t believe everything you hear on television… if something sounds too good to be true, check it out with the Health News Review or Revolution Health experts to get to the bottom of things.This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at RevolutionHealth.com.