My 2nd annual year-ender: Health care PR stuff one blogger sees in a year

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Chocolate, seaweed, omega-3, antioxidants, laser toenail fungus treatments, enzyme deficiencies, snoring, anti-aging, cure for cancer, seasonal affective disorder, itching, vaginal dryness, miracle diets, zits, ta-tas, head lice, “uber” nutrients…..

Flashback to the snake oil salesmen of yesteryear?

No. These are just some of the things promoted in news releases saved by just this one little blogger in the course of a year.  Some of the biggest names in American health care join in the barrage.

Yesterday, we wrote about what was missing in a Cleveland Clinic “News Tip” email message.

Yesterday a reader also brought to our attention the following Tweet from the Harvard School of Public Health.

While not technically a news release, that is, in essence, what such a Tweet is. But whatever you call it, it’s wrong. It links to a story about an observational study, which can’t establish cause and effect.  So “appears to reduce” hedges but is still wrong.  Following the link, the Harvard news piece says more definitively that women “reduced their risk for cancer.”  Wrong, wrong, wrong.  The words matter, as we remind readers and journalists with our primer on this topic.  Using active verbs with causal language to describe the results of observational studies is inappropriate.

So that’s just one example each from the venerable Cleveland Clinic and Harvard School of Public Health.

Here are some of the rest of the health care news releases I saved over the course of 2011:

  • Laser Technique for Widespread Toenail Problem – “Winter is here, the snow has begun to fall, and many people will book a warm Caribbean getaway this month. Toes that have been hidden in warm winter boots for months will once again be revealed. “Many women realize toenail problems in January and February when they are prepping for beach vacations with a pre-trip pedicure. After the December ‘holiday-red’ polish comes off they are horrified to find that their toenails are yellow, discolored, and thickened.”
  • Go cocoa loco because “chocolate is delicious, packed with healthy antioxidants”
  • Take the Enzyme Deficiency Test because ” our modern cooked diet … destroys the natural enzymes found in raw foods that aid in digestion.”
  • First major breakthrough in Omega-3 science in 40 years” – “Omega-3 supplement that is up to 50 times more absorbable than fish oils.”
  • “THE NEW SCIENCE OF COCOA THERAPY – Based on the Kuna Indian’s Remarkable Cardio Health ” – peddling pure organic cocoa supplements
  • a doctor who is “performing life-saving procedures that only a handful of doctors across the country are even capable of” – extracts tumors using a CO2 laser scalpel.
  • “77% of Americans will be snoring this Valentines Day” – Dentists help loved ones cope thanks to private company’s airway diagnostic technology
  • “6 out of every 100 people in the US experience Seasonal Affective Disorder” – and here’s a wrist watch that delivers frequencies that help wearers relax, feel less stressed, focus more clearly and sleep better
  • (separate news release, same product) ” Arthritis affects people in all age groups including nearly 300,000 children and in total, over 45 million Americans” – the watch delivers “natural frequency technology” in which  the body is exposed to frequencies in the individual’s biofield, regulating the body’s energy and informing the body to relax, in result alleviating many arthritis symptoms including persistent joint pain, inflammation, fatigue and lack of energy.”
  • “the anti-aging and healing science” of “the first and only source of balanced, stabilized signaling molecules outside the body”
  • “world’s first multidisciplinary program designed solely to understand and treat itch” opens.
  • pediatric dentist has developed a breakthrough beverage that will have parents reconsidering what they put in their baby’s bottles and toddler’s sippy cups
  • “Help rejuvenate your mom with a day at the spa, indulge her with chocolates and flowers, help her relax and slow down from her fast-paced world full of deadlines, commitments and obligations. And help her be more comfortable with A Long Lasting Vaginal Moisturizer.”
  • Women’s Health Magazine special issue “Talking About Your Ta-tas” (a term I know is despised by many breast cancer advocates)
  • “New breakthrough in prostate tumor treatment” – “There are only two doctors in the US that perform this procedure and (our doctor) has done the most.” (Gee:  the most out of two!)
  • “first doctor in the US to use the new minimally invasive technology to treat small spider veins and varicose veins”
  • “miracle diet can cause uterine fibroids to disappear”
  • “In the battle of the bulge, seaweed may be the secret ingredient you have been missing.” (I know I have!)
  • Bikini Boot Camp
  • Please consider (Dr. X) as a resource for any cosmetic, health or humanitarian stories.  “If you haven’t heard of him, that’s because he’s not in it for the fame.”  (Then why did he hire a PR firm?)
  • “It’s estimated that about 80 million men and women in the U.S. suffer from thinning or receding hair” – (our product) “is a natural hair loss solution” that “combines all known methods for treating hair loss, resulting in thicker and fuller hair.
  • a new method of detecting breast cancer as early as at ‘stage 0’ through breath
  • “the ultimate skin tightening serum” – for the amazing price of $79.42 – a savings of $40.58 !!!
  • “vitamin K2 – an ‘uber’ nutrient” – “So how many cardiologists know this? NONE. Bunch of over-paid, probably well-meaning folks who have no idea of the etiology of all the inappropriate calcium in arteries.”
  • Pimples 101: How to Pop, Treat & Conceal a Blemish – ending with a plug for “Skin Balancing Super Antioxidant Mattifying Concentrate Serum w/ Retinol
  • “There’s more to Halloween than Trick or Treating. When Children share masks and costumes, Head Lice infestations can increase!” – ending in a plug for an FDA “cleared louse buster device”
  • “Cure for Cancer, It’s Closer Than You Think” – news release promoting the work of a major medical center’s radiation oncologist.

I’ll end this piece the way I ended last year’s year-ending post, “Year-end review of health care PR puffery sent to journalists.”

This is not all fun and games. In my 2009 report on “The State of Health Journalism in the US,” I wrote:

“The challenging nature of the news environment today threatens to make it more difficult for health journalists to maintain the wall that once existed between the editorial and advertising sides of the business, and perhaps less able to see through or deflect the influence of public relations professionals. For journalism, and for the audience it serves, this may be the most troubling trend today. … The danger is that with the increasing constraints in many newsrooms, the PR folks may be winning more often — getting their messages through to news audiences in a less filtered or unfiltered way. They’re helping to provide content to fill the shrinking news hole — content that the shrinking news staff can’t provide. In an interview for this report, one East Coast newspaper reporter said that “My big fight was with the way PR people were basically able to steer news …The health team was relying more and more on public relations to provide the story, and sources for the story, and they had too much control over the story. When you let someone else who has an agenda — to make a hospital look as good as it can — [control the story], it gets in the way of finding that truth.”

And it’s not fun and games when we’ve found more than 100 stories in the past 5.5 years that have relied solely or largely on news releases in “reporting” on health care news.

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Please note, comments are no longer published through this website. All previously made comments are still archived and available for viewing through select posts.

Gregory D. Pawelski

December 20, 2011 at 10:32 am

“a doctor who is “performing life-saving procedures that only a handful of doctors across the country are even capable of” – extracts tumors using a CO2 laser scalpel.”

A handful of those doctors are veterinarians. Spaying your five month old kitten for $85.80 more, it won’t hurt so much.

Kaspar Mossman

December 20, 2011 at 11:14 am

The news about “world’s first multidisciplinary program designed solely to understand and treat itch” may sound funny to some, but it’s serious medical science. Link to Wash U St. Louis release: Chronic itch is a debilitating feature of certain types of cancer and liver and kidney disease as well as psoriasis and atopic dermatitis, and no laughing matter.

    Gary Schwitzer

    December 20, 2011 at 11:50 am

    Our post did not in any way question the seriousness of the science. And we don’t see how we conveyed in any way that this was a “laughing matter” as you suggest. This post was about the bombardment of news releases sent to journalists who are trying to decide what is vital information for readers, viewers and listeners. If journalists were to write about every news release they receive about institutions’ new multi-disciplinary specialty centers, or about every “first”, or about every “only one-of-its-kind” announcement, there would be no time for enterprise journalism. While the tone of the post may have been light-hearted in places, we end with a very serious note about why this matters to the public.

Kaspar Mossman

December 20, 2011 at 4:48 pm

The tone of your intro (“Flashback to the snake oil salesmen of yesteryear?” “ care PR puffery…” ) and the content of the list indicate otherwise–most of the list items ARE funny, and clearly held up for ridicule. However, your point is taken about the influx of PR into journalism.