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The Autism-Vaccine Fraud: The Difference One Journalist Can Make

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.

(Of course, others recently have said something similar about The Daily Show comedian Jon Stewart’s role in focusing on the health problems of 9/11 first responders.)

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.”

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

Healthcare PR Puffery: A Year-End Review

Healthcare journalists are buried under a mountain of public relations material sent to them every day of every week of every month. I don’t even work in a traditional news setting, yet I’ve made it onto the distribution lists of countless PR people.

The picture on the left shows a pile of video news releases sent to one TV health news reporter over a relatively short time span.

Here’s my year end look at just some of what was sent to me this year. Imagine what the New York Times, USA Today, the TV networks, and others receive.

I get countless emails from PR people offering interviews with their experts on:

• Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) — including an offer of an interview with a “celebrity trainer” who claims to have trained Julia Roberts, Cindy Crawford, Jennifer Aniston, Claudia Schiffer, and Kim Kardashian. (Were they all SAD?)

• A leading NY dermatologist invited me to “sip on champagne” and sample his new “daily nutrition for skin” cream.

• “For the more than 50 million Americans suffering from frequent heartburn, the thought of Halloween celebrations can truly be scary.”  — PR for NYC gastroenterologist who is also consultant to makers of a heartburn drug. One of his tips: “Don’t just stock up on treats, prep your medicine cabinet” with the proton pump inhibitor of the company for whom he consults. Read more »

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

Medical Journal Retractions: A Transparency Issue

Interesting case study raised by the Retraction Watch blog.

A 2009 journal article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) – promoted in a news release by the journal and picked up by many news organizations — has now been retracted by the authors. But the journal issued no news release about the retraction — an issue of transparency that the RW blog raises. And you can guess how much news coverage the retraction will get.

And this was all over a molecule that could supposedly “make breast tumors respond to a drug to which they’re not normally susceptible” — as the RW blog put it. But it was also a molecule, RW points out, that wasn’t even in clinical trials yet.

He or she who lives by the journal news release risks one’s long-term credibility.

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

Screen Everyone For Pancreatic Cancer? What About Evidence And Harm?

Continuing this week’s spontaneous theme (we didn’t make the claims and write the stories) of runaway enthusiasm for various screening tests by some researchers and journalists, HealthDay news service has reported on a study published in the Oct. 28 issue of the journal Nature that they say “provides new insight into the genetics of pancreatic cancer.” In the story, they let one of the researchers get away with saying, almost unchallenged:

“What’s important about this study is that it’s objective data in support of why everyone should be screened for pancreatic cancer.”

Mind you, this was a study that looked at tissue from just seven patients. The story continued with its breathless enthusiasm for the pancreatic cancer screening idea:

“In the future, new imaging techniques and blood tests will offer hope for early detection, the study noted. And just as people have a colonoscopy when they turn 50, “perhaps they should have an endoscopy of their upper gastrointestinal organs that includes an ultrasound of the pancreas,” said (the researcher).”

The very end of the story included some skepticism from Dr. Len Lichtenfeld of the American Cancer Society. Read more »

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

“Dollars For Doctors”: Is Your Doctor Being Paid By A Drug Company?

An historic piece of journalism was published today. Six news organizations partnered on the “Dollars for Docs” project — ProPublica, NPR, PBS’s Nightly Business Report, the Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe and Consumer Reports. They examined $258 million in payments by seven drug companies in 2009 and 2010 to about 18,000 healthcare practitioners nationwide for speaking, consulting, and other tasks.

This webpage can be your gateway to the project, with links to a database searchable by doctor’s name or by state, and links to the journalism partners’ efforts:

Boston Globe
“Prescription for Prestige”
The Harvard brand, unrivaled in education, is also prized by the pharmaceutical industry as a powerful tool in promoting drugs. Its allure is evident in a new analysis of all publicly reported industry payments to physicians.

Consumer Reports
“Consumers Wary of Doctors Who Take Drug-Company Dollars”
Most Americans are skeptical of financial relationships between doctors and companies, according to a new, national from the Consumer Reports National Research Center.

Chicago Tribune
“Doctors Draw Payments From Drug Companies”
Follow drug company money in Illinois, and it leads to the psychiatry department at Rush University Medical Center, a prominent headache clinic on the North Side of Chicago, a busy suburban urology practice and a psychiatric hospital accused of overmedicating kids.

“Nightly Business Report”
A doctor talks about quitting drug company money when their marketing tactics crossed the line.

“Drug Companies Hire Troubled Docs As Experts”

*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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