March madness in medical news on network TV

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Reviews of network TV health news stories on so far in March would suggest it’s more like Halloween season than Easter. The stories have been so bad, it’s scary. Examples & excerpts:

Medical breakthrough? New procedure fights tumors
ABC’s Good Morning America
March 18, 2008
Rating: 1 star

Excerpt of our summary: “This short story presents little in the way of useful information to the consumer. It does not adequately describe the availability of the treatment, the strength of the available evidence to support its use, or any harms of the procedure. The story does not quantify the benefits of the treatment nor does it adequately describe the advantages and disadvantages of the alternatives.

Furthermore, by using such terms as “breakthrough”, “great success” and “promising”, the story exaggerates what is and isn’t known about the procedure and glosses over the fact that the studies have yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal.???

Special candy fights cavities
ABC’s Good Morning America
March 14, 2008
Rating: 1 star

Excerpt of our summary: “This was a 3-minute ad – not a piece of journalism. So much good can be done with 3 minutes of network TV time.

But this story failed to:

* discuss costs
* discuss evidence – of harms or benefits
* present any independent expert’s opinion

It even featured the two co-anchors sucking lollipops at the very end. Wow.???

Decoding your DNA
NBC Today show
March 14, 2008
Rating: 1 star

Excerpt of our summary: “This is one example where even a low “one- star” ratings score is deceptively high. This story was lacking in many significant ways… News? Or advertising? If the former, it failed badly. If the latter, it was a steal – free, long, and unchallenged on network TV. We don’t like using harsh terms in our reviews. We try to be constructive. At times like this it feels impossible.???

Breast Cancer Drug Good Later Than Thought
CBS The Early Show
March 11, 2008
Rating: 2 stars

Excerpt of our summary: “(The reporter did not) talk with oncologists who could put the study results in context. We are not told how results could alter clinical practice guidelines for women with early-stage breast cancer who have taken tamoxifen for 5 years. The cost of the drug is also not mentioned. Cost is an important consideration for women considering an additional multi-year therapy.???

A man’s eye-opening surgery
March 4, 2008
NBC Today Show
Rating: 0 stars

Excerpt of our summary: “Its use of a dramatic stunt–a surgery done in real time with interviews before and after the procedure–implies the surgery is fast, uncomplicated and complete in a single session. This is not an accurate portrayal of the full treatment.

It uses a single surgery–done on an employee of the same TV network by a surgeon with a commercial interest in selling the device and procedure–to explain the procedure.

Whether the employee paid for this service or whether he received it free or at a discount is not known. If the patient has not paid full price as an independent consumer, his comments should not be considered objective. If he did pay full price, the network should have avoided even the perception of a conflict of interest by finding someone else to profile.

By creating a dramatic demonstration of a medical procedure and implying its success–without context, independent comment or reporting of potential harms and research findings–this segment violates almost every important principle behind responsible medical reporting.???

You can do a good job in covering health news on TV. These were not examples of that possibility.

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