Health News Review

For several years, I’ve been gently nudging various groups that communicate with the public about health care to adopt/endorse/promote the 10 criteria we use on HealthNewsReview.org in the same spirit in which we promote them: 10 things we think consumers need addressed in messages about health care interventions.

• What’s the total cost?
• How often do benefits occur?
• How often do harms occur?
• How strong is the evidence?
• Is this condition exaggerated?
• Are there alternative options?
• Is this really a new approach?
• Is it available to me?
• Who’s promoting this?
• Do they have a conflict of interest?

It may not be a perfect or complete list, but it’s not a bad starting point, and we now have data on more than 1,500 stories showing how these are – or are not – addressed in some of the public discussion.

I’ve urged the American Association of Medical Colleges, America’s Health Insurance Plans, news organizations, and news-release-writers, among others, to publish our criteria attached to their news releases or on their websites.

Many have been called. Many have nodded in agreement. None have responded.

Until now.

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) wrote to its members this week, stating:

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Members and staff of the College take seriously their roles in bringing forth definitive information and recommendations based on science and evidence. Journalists turn to ACSM for expert sources and definitive research on the gamut of topics addressed by this multi-disciplinary organization.

ACSM leaders have now gone on record in support of practices that elevate the quality of health reporting. In its July 11 teleconference, the Administrative Council voted to recognize the ten criteria for responsible health reporting as articulated by Health News Review. The move follows an invitation for Gary Schwitzer, publisher of Health News Review, to address the Communication and Public Information session at the 2011 ACSM Annual Meeting in Denver last month. Taking to task media stories that minimize risks of new treatments, exaggerate benefits or ignore conflicts of interest, Schwitzer said, “Even in 300 words, you can explain that in health care more isn’t always better, newer isn’t always better, and screening doesn’t always make sense… We don’t expect the story to talk about a drug that’s in phase-one clinical trials as if it’s available at the corner drugstore.”

In recognizing HNR’s ten criteria, ACSM underscores what it has long practiced: accurate descriptions of research results, including study design, sample size and clear discussion of absolute vs. relative benefits. Other principles include acknowledgment of funding sources and refraining from sensationalizing results. As technology and market forces continue to roil the world of journalism, ACSM remains committed to sharing new knowledge in the interest of better health.

Of course, we applaud ACSM’s action. Some of their members may also become story reviewers on HealthNewsReview.org, bringing wide-ranging expertise to the evaluation of evidence.

We hope that other organizations follow ACSM’s lead.

Let us know how we can help continue the conversation to improve the flow of accurate, balanced and complete health care information to Americans trying to make smarter health care decisions.

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