Yesterday’s post was not really about Avastin, but about medical journalism and how patients’ voices are handled by the media.
L. Husten, writing on a Forbes blog, cried that the press fawned, inappropriately, over patients’ words at the FDA hearing last week, and that led him to wonder why and if journalists should pay attention to what people with illness have to say, even if their words go against the prevailing medical wisdom.
There’s a fair amount of controversy on this. For sake of better discussion in the future, I think it best to break it up into 3 distinct but inter-related issues:
1. About health care journalism and patients’ voices:
A general problem I perceive (and part of why I started blogging) is how traditional medical journalists use patients’ stories to make a point. What some of my journalism professors tried to teach me, and most editors I’ve dealt with clearly want, is for the reporter to find a person with an illness, as a lead, and then tell about the relevant news, and provide some expert commentary – with at least one person speaking on each “side” of the issue, of course – and then end the story with some bit about the patient and the future.
I argue that this form of medical journalism Read more »
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 »
The BMJ’s statement this week that the 1998 article by Andrew Wakefield and 12 others “linking MMR vaccine and autism was fraudulent” demonstrates what a difference one journalist can make. Journalist Brian Deer played a key role in uncovering and dismantling the Wakefield story.
CNN’s Anderson Cooper had a segment worth watching, including a new interview Cooper conducted with Wakefield via Skype:
Unfortunately, journalism played a key role in promoting Wakefield’s claims. The “Respectful Insolence” blog referred to one journalist as “CBS’ resident anti-vaccine propagandist.” Around the world there were many other examples of journalists’ unquestioning acceptance of the vaccine scares.
The BMJ reminds us that “the damage to public health continues, fuelled by unbalanced media reporting and an ineffective response from government, researchers, journals, and the medical profession.”
The Internet has threatened journalism. Clay Shirky has said that everyone is a media outlet. An Internet connection and blogging platform makes everyone a publisher. Can the mass professionalization of journalism be applied to medicine or health? Can access to a broadband connection outfit a citizen to think and act like a physician?
There are pieces of what physicians do that can be replicated, and other pieces that can’t. The technical things that doctors do can’t be replaced. Removing an appendix or replacing a heart valve, for example. Tough to pull off on CureTogether.
But what about the thinking? After all, patients have access to the same information, references, and literature as physicians. Unfettered access to information can create an illusion. It can give us a false sense of control. Read more »
*This blog post was originally published at 33 Charts*
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