Better Health: Smart Health Commentary Better Health (TM): smart health commentary

Latest Posts

The NIH To Hold A Course On Medicine In The Media

The NIH is doing it’s best to get science writers on the right track when it comes to responsible health reporting by holding an annual course on Medicine in the Media.

The National Institutes of Health’s Office of Medical Applications of Research (OMAR) presents a free annual training opportunity to help develop journalists’ and editors’ ability to evaluate and report on medical research. The course curriculum builds on the best of prior years’ offerings to create an intensive learning experience with hands-on application.

When I read about the course on Gary Schwitzer’s tweet stream, I got really excited and started scouring the NIH course site to listen to some of the fabulous speakers in the 2011 course, which just finished in July. I was disappointed to discover Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at The Blog That Ate Manhattan*

What We Want In Health News Is Often Not What We Need

News of the World wasn’t read by 15 percent of the British public because it told people what they should know. It got there by giving them what they wanted: stories about the peccadilloes of the rich and famous, accounts of the gross incompetence of government and of course, pictures of naked ladies.

Setting aside the fact that News of the World is no more, its publishers and editors knew how to sell the “news.”  As free online news replaces print, every click, every page view, every second of viewing per page is tracked in the fierce competition for ad dollars, and so the selling of news increasingly influences its reporting.  Titles, format and content are tweaked by editors to “optimize the metrics.” Reporters succeed and fail based on their ability to write articles that attract eyeballs, not Pulitzer prizes.

In the health domain, the effects of these demands were described in a series of conversations the Center for Advancing Health hosted with health care journalists over the past month.*  The themes that emerged were that journalists are often encouraged to: Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Prepared Patient Forum: What It Takes Blog*

Announcing A Health Journalist Toolkit – To Help Get The Facts Straight

Beyond just evaluation and constructive criticism of news stories, we want to reach out to help journalists.

We know they often struggle with reporting on the costs of treatments, tests, products and procedures. It’s reflected in the facts: after 5 years and nearly 1,500 stories reviewed, we don’t like to report that more than 70 percent of stories fail to adequately address the costs of the stuff they’re covering.

So we talked with journalists and others to assemble our first stab (and that’s all it is – a first stab) at an online list of resources to help journalists explore the costs of health care products and approaches.

There are some links to websites, names, email addresses and phone numbers.

This is just one of many primers and resources offered on our site. Here’s a screen shot of the listing of primers available in the Toolkit. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Gary Schwitzer's HealthNewsReview Blog*

Coffee And Stroke: Another Study The Media Got Wrong

Here we go again. Headlines across America blaring lines like, “Coffee may reduce stroke risk.”

It was a big study, but an observational study. Not a trial. Not an experiment. And, as we say so many times on this website that you could almost join along with the chorus, observational studies have inherent limitations that should always be mentioned in stories. They can’t prove cause and effect. They can show a strong statistical association, but they can’t prove cause and effect. So you can’t prove benefit or risk reduction. And stories should say that.

USA Today, for example, did not explain that in its story. Nor did it include any of the limitations that were included in, for example, a HealthDay story, which stated:

“The problem with this type of study is that there are too many factors unaccounted for and association does not prove causality, said Dr. Larry B. Goldstein, director of the Duke Stroke Center at Duke University Medical Center.

“Subjects were asked about their past coffee consumption in a questionnaire and then followed over time. There is no way to know if they changed their behavior,” Goldstein said.

And, he noted, there was no control for medication use or other potential but unmeasured factors.

“The study is restricted to a Scandinavian population, and it is not clear, even if there is a relationship, that it would be present in more diverse populations. I think that it can be concluded, at least in this population, that there was not an increased risk of stroke among coffee drinkers,” he said.”

When you don’t explain the limitations of observational studies — and/or when you imply that cause and effect has been established — you lose credibility with some readers. And you should. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Gary Schwitzer's HealthNewsReview Blog*

Ibuprofen-Parkinson’s Study: Few News Organizations Report On It Accurately

We’re delighted to see that USA Today, Reuters, and WebMD were among the news organizations that included what an editorial writer said about an observational study linking ibuprofen use with fewer cases of Parkinson’s disease. All three news organizations used some version of what editorial writer Dr. James Bower of the Mayo Clinic wrote or said:

“Whenever in epidemiology you find an association, that does not mean causation.”
“An association does not prove causation.”
“There could be other explanations for the ibuprofen-Parkinson’s connection.”

Kudos to those news organizations. And some praise goes to the journal Neurology for publishing Dr. Bower’s editorial to accompany the study. His piece is entitled, “Is the answer for Parkinson disease already in the medicine cabinet? Unfortunately not.”

And unfortunately not all news organizations got that message. Because many don’t read the journals, so they certainly never get to the editorials. Instead, they rewrite quick hits off a wire service story. As a result, we end up with some of the following:

A FoxNews.com story was particularly deaf to Bower’s caveat, stating: “That bottle of ibuprofen in your medicine cabinet is more powerful than you may think.”

A CBSNews.com story never addressed the observational study limitation, instead whimsically writing: “Pop a pill to prevent Parkinson’s disease? A new study says it’s possible, and the pill in question isn’t some experimental marvel that’s still years away from drugstore shelves. It’s plain old ibuprofen.” Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Gary Schwitzer's HealthNewsReview Blog*

Latest Interviews

Caring For Winter Olympians In Sochi: An Interview With Team USA’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Gloria Beim

I am a huge fan of the winter Olympics partly because I grew up in Canada where most kids can ski and skate before they can run and partly because I used to participate in Downhill ski racing. Now that I m a rehab physician with a reconstructed knee I…

Read more »

How Do Hospital Executives Feel About Locum Tenens Agencies And Traveling Physicians?

I recently wrote about my experiences as a traveling physician and how to navigate locum tenens work. Today I want to talk about the client in this case hospital side of the equation. I ve had the chance to speak with several executives some were physicians themselves about the overall…

Read more »

See all interviews »

Latest Cartoon

See all cartoons »

Latest Book Reviews

The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

Read more »

Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

Read more »

Unaccountable: A Book About The Underbelly Of Hospital Care

I met Dr. Marty Makary over lunch at Founding Farmers restaurant in DC about three years ago. We had an animated conversation about hospital safety the potential contribution of checklists to reducing medical errors and his upcoming book about the need for more transparency in the healthcare system. Marty was…

Read more »

See all book reviews »