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Caveat Viewer

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Jessie Gruman, Ph.D., of the Center for the Advancement of Health, offers a column on the dangers of television health news and information. Excerpt:

“In Oklahoma City, a popular new local television program based on the ABC network’s “Extreme Makeover” takes women eager for a new look and sets them up with plastic surgeons, Lasik practitioners and cosmetic dentists.

In Baltimore, a local news program airs community service features about new developments in pediatric care and women’s health.

In Washington, D.C., a station gravely reports on the prognosis for Peter Jennings (who airs on a competing channel) and then suggests free CT lung scans at a local hospital for long-time smokers.

What is wrong here?

In the first instance, the makeover artists are licensed health care practitioners and a university medical center paying for the “right” to inflict medically unnecessary and risky cosmetic surgery. In the second instance, two large hospitals — one a university medical center — are buying time on the newscast with the hope of luring high-paying or well insured patients to boost the bottom line in a competitive market. In the third case, viewers are not told that the free lung scans are part of an international clinical trial that by its very nature entails some measure of risk.

It would seem there is another health risk at work here — the local broadcast news media.”

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May 13, 2005 at 12:12 pm

I find local news as a useless device for tabloidish stories disguised as news.
I used to work for 2 local stations in San Diego, and we’d always have sponsored segments about health and medicine. This was over 10 years ago, so the practice is nothing new.
Unfortunately, local news is doing very little for the community it serves. Yes, occasionally we’ll get a good piece of investigative journalism, but usually it is just prompter readers regurgitating wire stories.
I find local news promos, though, to be very entertaining:
“You’re going to die now! But we’ve got the cure! Tonight at 11!”
If it’s so important, and you care so much about the community, why not tell me now?


May 14, 2005 at 9:30 pm

I can’t bear to watch television news. It is just so…so…dumbed down and sensationalized. Especially when it comes to health. Having worked on the “other side” of healthcare, ie, as a nurse in a hospital before escaping to journalism, the reporting on TV is more reminiscent of a hospital-style television show, rather than reality. Dr. Kildare, anyone, to save the day?