Posted by Gary Schwitzer in Health care journalism
Just two days ago I wrote about Dr. Michael Kirsch’s excellent blog post “Beware Surrogate Markers.” In it he wrote:
“Why do some medical studies, which achieve breaking news status, often fall so short of our expectations? Physicians are cynical about these medical milestones, since they are often short-lived. Today’s cure may become tomorrow’s disease.
The public needs to understand this issue. Think about this the next time you read a news flash that promises a medical miracle. Chances are that the miracle is a mirage.”
Need examples? Two days later – just in the course of our limited sweep on HealthNewsReview.org, we’ve already seen three examples of stories failing to convey the limitations of surrogate markers.
The worst was by WebMD, reporting on “pro-inflammatory markers” to back up anti-aging claims. Read our full story review at the previous link.
Then both USA Today and AP spent varying amounts of time reporting on the surrogate endpoint of higher HDL cholesterol levels in a study of low carb versus low fat diets.
Reviewers wrote in the USA Today story review:
Rather than report simply on this surrogate end point, do we know anything about what these HDL changes mean in terms of their risk of heart attack?
But the AP story chose the HDL angle as a primary focus, and our reviewers commented:
“Americans are already overly obsessed with ‘scores.’ Emphaszing the HDL difference without adequately explaining its real significance in peoples’ lives feels like more scoreboard-watching without knowing the rules of the game.”
Has it come to this with stories about surrogate markers or intermediate endpoints? Does this topic need its own blog?