Warning to online prostate cancer info searchers: you may think you’re getting “news” but guess again

I have a problem with news organizations posting unvetted, unfiltered news releases from conflicted sources with vested interests – even if they do label it as a news release.

I don’t view it as a public service.

I came across a TV station website “story” with the catchy headline, “Prostate Cancer Treatment: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.”

It appears on what is labeled as the station’s news website, as you can clearly see.

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But then under the catchy headline is this disclaimer:

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Including the disclaimer doesn’t absolve the station of responsibility. Why do this at all? What’s the public service in posting another commercial that looks like another news story on your site?

See for yourself how, in the station’s own web-lexicon, the URL refers to it as a “story” not as a “news release” – http://www.wqow.com/story/15306841/prostate-cancer-treatment-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly

The “story” has a subhead that reads, “Many Patients Say Treatments Can Be Worse Than the Disease.” And, indeed, much of the content that follows is true to that theme, based on one prostate cancer specialist’s viewpoint. Excerpt:

“…(a) critical view on manufacturers, hospital systems and some colleagues who minimize the after effects of radical surgeries while continuing to endorse the procedures as a viable option.

“I believe that the radical surgical/robotic treatment option has single-handedly increased the incidence of impotence and incontinence worldwide, and physicians would do well to consider the Hippocrates affirmation: As to diseases, make a habit of two things–to help, or at least, to do no harm,” challenged (the physician) in his article. “Men who choose these treatments without reviewing alternative, less invasive options are playing Russian Roulette with the quality of life prospects following the surgery.”

But the “story” links to the doctor’s own website, which is a clear promotion of his preferred approach – high intensity focused ultrasound. The piece ends by providing not only the doctor’s website but his phone number, which cleverly includes an acronym for his preferred approach as the last 4 digits of the phone number: HIFU.

This physician is entitled to promote his work however he sees fit, I guess.

But I’m addressing the bait-and-switch…the wolf in sheep’s clothing….of the TV station posting such a promotional news release on a “news” website. Believe me, I know that this station isn’t alone in doing this. But this example – of what appears to be a public service piece leading readers into a one-sided commercial message – is especially troubling.

In fact, if you use the TV station’s website search function to search on “prostate cancer” the first 3 returns are all prostate cancer-related news releases – from commercial entities.

I don’t care if it’s only Eau Claire, Wisconsin and only a TV station website.

That’s not good practice for how to disseminate health care news and information to the public. Any man who goes on that site – or any site like it – looking for prostate cancer news and information isn’t getting complete and balanced information. He may think he’s getting news, but he’s getting a sales job.

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