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Latest Posts

New York Times Piece About Plastic Surgery Gets People Talking

Monday’s New York Times tweeted a headline – “Never Too Old for Plastic Surgery” – about this story.

While I’m very happy for the 83-year old woman in the piece for her happiness over her “new” $8,000 breasts, the piece was framed like an expensive billboard for plastic surgeons – only it didn’t cost them anything. The Times gave away the advertising space.

The story states:

“There are as many reasons for getting plastic surgery as there are older patients, experts say”…and…”some are simply sick of slackened jowls, jiggly underarms and saggy eyelids.”

There are a few other perspectives in the middle of the piece:

“Some critics question whether the benefits are worth the risks, which may be underestimated.”

But it is often how you END a piece that determines readers’ takeaway messages – and it is often also a sign of the message the journalist really wanted to convey. And this one concludes with a Harvard prof’s comment: Read more »

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

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*

ACSM Recognizes These Ten Criteria For Responsible Health Reporting

For several years, I’ve been gently nudging various groups that communicate with the public about health care to adopt/endorse/promote the 10 criteria we use on in the same spirit in which we promote them: 10 things we think consumers need addressed in messages about health care interventions.

• What’s the total cost?
• How often do benefits occur?
• How often do harms occur?
• How strong is the evidence?
• Is this condition exaggerated?
• Are there alternative options?
• Is this really a new approach?
• Is it available to me?
• Who’s promoting this?
• Do they have a conflict of interest?

It may not be a perfect or complete list, but it’s not a bad starting point, and we now have data on more than 1,500 stories showing how these are – or are not – addressed in some of the public discussion.

I’ve urged the American Association of Medical Colleges, America’s Health Insurance Plans, news organizations, and news-release-writers, among others, to publish our criteria attached to their news releases or on their websites.

Many have been called. Many have nodded in agreement. None have responded.

Until now. Read more »

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

The Almighty News Release: How They Influence Health Journalism

A new post on the Embargo Watch blog, “The power of the press release: A tale of two fish oil-chemotherapy studies,” addresses an issue that had me running around in circles for hours last week.

cancer.jpg Some news organizations were reporting on a paper in the journal Cancer, reporting that it had been published in that day’s online edition.

But it hadn’t been – not when the stories were published.

Instead, all I could find was a study by the same authors on the same topic that had been published in the same journal two weeks prior.

What apparently happened, as Embargo Watch surmises as well, is that many journalists simply covered what was in the journal’s news release – not what had already been published two weeks prior – which was a more impressive article. And they rushed to publish before the new study had even been posted online – all over a very short-term study in a small number of people. Read more »

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

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

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How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

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Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

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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…

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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…

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