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Johns Hopkins Health Alert

Health Reporting Comes Up Short

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Reports in the media are commonly the first opportunity you have to learn about new drugs as well as safety issues with existing prescription medications. However, the depth and accuracy of the medical news you receive depend greatly on the skills and experience of reporters, editors, and producers. They also depend to some extent on where you get the news -- for example, from a brief segment on local TV news or from a large national newspaper or magazine. Here are results from a recent survey, which rated health reporting in the U.S.

Health news in this country often does not provide the type of information consumers need to make informed decisions about medical tests, products, and procedures, according to a recent survey reported in the Public Library of Science Medicine.

Over 22 months, media researchers rated 500 health news reports from major newspapers, the Associated Press wire, and three TV networks according to how well they fulfilled certain quality standards. They concluded that 62 to 77% of stories didn't adequately address costs, risks, benefits, the quality of the evidence, and other treatment options when covering healthcare products and procedures.

Specific shortcomings include the following:

  • 77% did not discuss costs of the treatment.
  • 72% did not quantify health benefits— for example, how much more effective is a new medication than the standard treatment?
  • 67% did not quantify potential harms—for example, what is the actual risk of having a serious side effect?
  • 65% did not discuss the quality of the scientific evidence for the effectiveness of the new treatment.
  • 62% did not discuss treatment alternatives.

The authors hope their evaluation will lead health news organizations to re-evaluate their practices to better serve consumers.

Posted in Prescription Drugs on August 4, 2009


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Health Alerts registered users may post comments and share experiences here at their own discretion. We regret that questions on individual health concerns to the Johns Hopkins editors cannot be answered in this space.

The views expressed here do not constitute medical advice, and do not represent the position of Johns Hopkins Medicine or Remedy Health Media, LLC, which has no responsibility for any comments posted on this site.


The role of health news to report new break-throughs, reporting on safety issues with existing prescription medications and quality of scientific evidence cannot be overstated.

The best interest of the patient(consumer)is served when their doctor provides the type of information they need to make informed decisions about medical tests, products, and procedures. Matters addressing the costs of treatments, whether it is more effective to stay with standard treatment or to try new medications, risk of side effest to benefit and treatment alternatives are within the parameters of the doctor/patient relationship. The role of health news to report new break-throughs, reporting on safety issues with existing prescription medications and quality of scientific evidence cannot be overstated.

The real question is whether the medical profession isshifting its' responsibilities onto health media because of time constraints placed on them bythe insurance industry.

Posted by: barb15 | August 8, 2009 11:48 AM

The role of health news to report new break-throughs, reporting on safety issues with existing prescription medications and quality of scientific evidence cannot be overstated. However, the best interest of the patient(consumer)is served when their doctor provides the type of information they need to make informed decisions about medical tests, products, and procedures. Matters addressing the costs of treatments, whether it is more effective to stay with standard treatment or to try new medications, risk of side effest to benefit and treatment alternatives are within the parameters of the doctor/patient relationship.

The real question is whether the medical profession is shifting its' responsibilities onto the health media because of time constraints placed on them by the insurance industry.

Posted by: barb15 | August 8, 2009 11:55 AM

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