Health News Review

The Argus Leader newspaper of Sioux Falls recently reported that two local hospitals were offering $50 heart screenings to check for excess calcium buildup.

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Let me count the ways this story was poor journalism:

1. The headline: “Cost of saving a life: $50.” Cost-effectiveness has not been established for this procedure. This is a headline that only an ad agency and a client could love.

2. The story never mentioned that such screenings are not recommended by the American Heart Association nor the American College of Cardiology (despite the praising comments from a South Dakota AHA spokesman who clearly isn’t up on the science). It took me about two minutes to find this guideline statement online from AHA and ACC:
“The Committee does not recommend screening of the general population using coronary artery calcium measurement.”

3. The story said “Both hospitals say they lose money on the program, that the tests and consultation amount to several hundred dollars worth of services. The gains come in prevention.” How naive! Talk about a loss leader! And don’t think that somebody somewhere in those hospital systems isn’t paying for these scans somewhere in their bill.

4. The newspaper practiced “participatory journalism” and sent its reporter in for a scan. At the end, he abandons all journalistic objectivity and announces in an online video, “I would recommend it if it does what it says it does.” This is a clear violation of the Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics.

The wisdom of the crowd – in some of the online comments following the story are far more skeptical. One says, “Don’t confuse science with marketing. What we’re seeing here is marketing.”

Health care reform is going to be very difficult to achieve in this country if we continue to set unrealistic expectations in the minds of the public, feed the worried well, drive up demand for unproven technologies, and promote technologies outside the boundaries of evidence-based recommendations.

On this scorecard, this story failed Sioux Falls readers horribly.

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