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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 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 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*

“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*

“Mammogram Parties”: Have A Mammogram, Get Flowers And Chocolates?

The Chicago Tribune reports on mammogram marketing tactics being used across the U.S. — some of it apparently to “woo women back to the imaging room” after confusion over conflicting advice about breast cancer screening.

Yes, the tactics include “mammogram parties” offering chocolate fondue, massages, beauty consultations, wine, cheese, roses, and weekend-getaway spa packages. But there’s another side to this, the Tribune reports:

Simply inviting women to “mammogram parties,” could send the wrong message, said Lynne Hildreth, department administrator of women’s oncology at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa. …”Mammograms are a medical test, and to treat it like a haircut overlooks that there are very real risks,” said Hildreth. “It’s not the same risk as getting hit by a car, but there’s a real risk of getting a false positive, which means a biopsy work-up, time off work, sleepless nights waiting for test results and a nagging in the back of the mind that never goes away. If we put a woman through that with no medical basis, it’s irresponsible.

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

The Affordable Care Act: What’s Not Being Reported About Preventive Screening Benefits

One part of the health care law that took effect this week is widely reported as “establishing a menu of preventive procedures, such as colonoscopies, mammograms and cholesterol screening, that must be covered without co-payments.” For example, one of my local papers, the [St. Paul, Minnesota] Star Tribune, wrote: “Some people will no longer have to pay for copays, coinsurance or meet their deductibles for preventive care that’s backed up by the best scientific evidence.” (emphasis added)

That phrase should always include a huge asterisk, like the one hung on Roger Maris’ 61st home run. The best scientific evidence according to whom?

Time magazine reports, “Procedures, screenings and tests that are considered ‘preventive’ will be determined by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, the Centers for Disease Control (for vaccines) and the Health Resources and Services Administration.” As written, that is incorrect and inaccurate at worst and misleading at best. Read more »

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

Too Much Journalistic Enthusiasm Again For The Artificial Heart

Here we go again. And believe me, as one who’s covered the artificial heart experiments of the 1980s, I feel like I’ve been through this countless times before — but so have health news readers.

Another entrepeneurial team announces hopes for its artificial heart device and some news coverage trumpets the company’s announcement:

NYT banner.jpg

NYT Artificial Heart Story













But this was in The New York Times! Now, granted — it’s in a “Global Business” section. But we don’t see why that removes the need for more scrutiny, for independent perspective, and for a better discussion of evidence. Read more »

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

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Latest Book Reviews

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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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