I’m drooling, but I shouldn’t be. John Carey of BusinessWeek has the cover story this week, entitled, “Do Cholesterol Drugs Do Any Good?” I’m not going to post an excerpt because I want everyone to read the entire article. It’s that good – and that rare. I’m drooling over it but I shouldn’t be, because the themes he explores should be part of all news stories making claims about new ideas in health care.
Carey explores absolute vs. relative risk statistics – showing how the latter are abused and are misleading to the general public to trump up drug benefits. But he also is one of the only journalists I’ve ever seen explore and explain another statistical tool – the Number Needed to Treat or NNT.
See his insert on this important statistic. It will raise questions about the way drugs are promoted and sold to hundreds of thousands of people who won’t benefit from their use.
When I wrote the Statement of Principles of the Association of Health Care Journalists, I urged health care journalists to “consider explaining the ‘number needed to treat’ – the number of people you would have to treat with the experimental intervention (compared with the control) to prevent one event.” And I included tips on how to do that. But it rarely, VERY rarely ever happens.
Carey and BusinessWeek hit a home run with this cover story. Kudos to them. Keep up the good work. Let’s hope other journalists – and certainly consumers of news and health care – learn from this excellent piece of work.