Courier-Journal reporter Darla Carter led off New Year’s Day with a front page article “Health news [is a] prescription for confusion.” I agree with her. Is coffee bad for you of not? Should postmenopausal women take estrogens or not? Should men get a routine PSA test for prostate cancer or not? When and how often should I get a mammogram? Should I get chest x-rays to screen for lung cancer or not? Should my child get immunized or not? Our daily media is full of headlines and stories that address medical scientific issues and their application to medical care. Even if one is not paying attention, it is obvious that the recommendations appearing in these news articles and segments conflict with each other on a regular basis.
It is this article that stimulated me to get off my duff with this blog. For years I have been pulling my hair out about the way medical information is presented to the public. The volume of health and medical information presented to the lay and professional public daily is overwhelming. I don’t know about you, but I can hardly stand to watch television any more because of all the drug ads. The only thing that is worse are the campaign ads, but at least these are with us only part of each year.
We are assaulted by print, broadcast, and electronic media everywhere we go. The nature of the information ranges widely. It ranges from “news,” advocacy sponsored material, through press releases supporting every possible position. The content passes further down the social-value scale through entertainment, snake oil, and outright fraud. The overwhelming volume of health-related material with which we are sandbagged is advertising: somebody is trying to induce us to buy something that will translate into income for them. There is nothing wrong with information: more and better information is badly needed. But we live in a time when food is sold like medicine, and medicine sold like soap powder. Which hospital in my town really has an infection control problem? What is the basis of a claim that a given product or service is the “best,” or even works at all for that matter? Such information is hard to come by– if it is available to the public at all. Continue reading “Does Medical Reporting Help or Hurt?”