Health News Review

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In an article, “Covering Medical Technology” in the Columbia Journalism Review, journalist Trudy Lieberman wrote:

“In the name of news and the desire to build audience, the media are stimulating demand for medical tests and treatments that are unproven and untested, and may even be harmful. The lure of stories about medical breakthroughs and miracles is so strong that the press rushes to report on them even if there is little or no evidence that they are safe and effective … Journalists often fall victim to powerful public relations machines representing some very big money. Reporting on a product or technology not yet proven clinically effective generates sales for manufacturers and stimulates a momentum that is hard to reverse … Too many journalists take a formulaic approach to supposed medical breakthroughs. They start with the premise that a technology works or is effective, so the formula almost always dictates a positive spin and produces a predictable story. Too often, stories omit contrary information or do not acknowledge the uncertainty that often surrounds new tests and treatments.”

Consumers should know that medical devices and procedures don’t undergo the same type of scrutiny for safety and effectiveness as that used for prescription drugs. As a result, patients (and news consumers) may not be given much information on possible benefits and harms of new devices and procedures. But that puts even more responsibility on journalists to recognize, and report on, what is and isn’t known about such new devices and procedures.

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