| I came across a cartoon last week about "the public perception of science" thanks to science journalist Maggie Koerth-Baker. See the full cartoon here. Maggie wrote that it conveyed that the public's unrealistic expectations about science matter. This is a major theme of our project: trying to improve news stories that raise unrealistic expectations about health care - news that may promote undue demand of unproven ideas that may, in the end, cause more harm than good. |
Think about unrealistic expectations and think about the possible cumulative impact of stories like these from the past week:
- A story proclaiming that overactive bladder may be the "next frontier" for Botox. It's a story that interviews the drugmaker's CEO but no medical expert. Botox doesn't need any more free advertising from journalists. That's an overactive disease that needs treatment.
- A story about a new "painless" test for prostate cancer. Unless it required catheterization, a urine test is usually painfree! This is hype. A competing story on the same study said the urine test may be better than a blood test - inaccurate, completely missing the gist of the research.
- A story delivering what it called an "Important health tip for the summer: Drink more wine! " as protection against harmful sunburns. You might need a drink after reading how the story failed to evaluate the evidence. This is the kind of daily drumbeat of meaningless health news that turns people numb to the stuff that really matters.
As anyone who follows us regularly knows, we see and report on such stories every single week - now nearly 1,600 in 5+ years. Throw in the impact of advertising and other conflicted, incomplete and biased messages and you see how "the worried well" of the US are whipped into a frenzy, flooded by a daily tsunami of claims about health care or medical interventions.
We aren't doing a good enough job preparing the public to accept comparative effectiveness research - and real data about real outcomes that matter.
We need more stories like this one:
Our lone 5-star story of the week was about colon cancer screening - reminding readers that there is good evidence for what stool tests - especially the newer versions - can accomplish. Oftentimes, colonoscopy dominates the discussion about colon cancer screening, when, in fact, there are many reasons to shine some attention on the stool test.
Finally, our most popular blog post of the week was a guest post by one of our medical editors, asking "Where is the voice of consumers in the 'Top Doctors/Best Hospitals' rankings?"
Links to all story reviews and blog posts from the week appear below.