Gary Schwitzer is the founder & publisher of HealthNewsReview.org. Back in the 1970s he worked in local TV health news in Milwaukee and Dallas before joining CNN. Then he saw the light and left TV news altogether.
Believe me, I empathize with a local TV news reporter who is a general assignment reporter asked to cover crime today, courts tomorrow, then an announcement by a local medical center on the next day.
Here’s what happens as a result. A Chattanooga medical center invites media in to hear about its $7 million robotic Cyberknife, and local TV dutifully showed up for the media high-tech lovefest. Excerpts from the story:
“It’s being called a breakthrough in the medical world and its one-of-a-kind technology is available right here in the Scenic City.”
The story contradicts itself with a prostate cancer patient’s story, stating that the man said the technology “saved his life” but then the man himself says “Well I don’t know if it adds any more years to your life but it makes those that you have much more comfortable.”
“There are some side effects, but nothing, doctors say, that’s detrimental.” Huh?
“new life-saving technology has allowed him to return to normal life”
“cancer can’t hide from this robotic technology”
“only hospital in the region” to have this new technology
“one of first sites in the world to use the advanced technology”
“extremely high success rate” (no data given)
“not available to everyone” (framing this as a “who’s being denied?” issue)
Meantime, the Chattanooga Times Free Press newspaper reported on the same media event:
“Erlanger’s public relations team assembled Gardner, doctors and local reporters presumably to mark three months since the hospital began treating patients with the device. No formal purpose was announced for the media event.
…On top of the $7.3 million spent to create a radiosurgery center, Erlanger has launched a heavy advertising campaign for CyberKnife. Hospital spokeswoman Susan Sawyer did not provide a cost estimate of that effort.”
Here’s part of that ad campaign:
None of the local news coverage that I could find – and certainly none of the ads – discuss data – real outcomes on benefits and harms.
This is just one day and one media event in Chattanooga. Scenes like this play out on local TV stations every day across the country.
It’s ironic that just this week, Trudy Lieberman wrote on the Columbia Journalism Review site about “A Hospital Story Not To Write.” Her point: journalists should avoid such ribbon cutting ceremonies and spend far more time digging on data – like outcomes data. Something sorely missing in Scenic City Cyberknife coverage on this given day.