Health News Briefs – even by the best – too brief to be useful?

Delivery of health care news online removes many of the limitations of delivery in print.  Space limitations are gone.  They can be creatively addressed by providing links to more resources and to provide more context.  But that often doesn’t happen – even by some news organizations considered to be the best.

The New York Times Well blog, for example, has had these brief posts recently:

  • Back Pain Unrelieved by Steroid Shots (231 words, some of which were that the author: “acknowledged that the sample was not large and that there might have been factors the study was unable to control for.”)
  • PMS Symptoms Linked to Diet (245 words.  The comments left by readers reflect some disappointment with what was lacking in this brief.)

All were single source stories; there was no independent expert evaluation of the evidence in any of these briefs.

Several of these fell into our hopper for consideration for our systematic story reviews whereby we apply our 10 standardized criteria to the review of stories.  But that felt like shooting fish in a barrel because it was immediately clear that these < 300 word stories wouldn’t fare well at all.  So I chose to drop back and address the trend and the format once again.

This is not a new issue.  Our criticism is not a hasty, off-the-cuff, in-the-moment reaction.  We’ve thought about – and written about – these points quite a bit.  See some of our past posts on the topic:

Not all entries on the NYT Well blog are so short.  In fact, some of the longer ones are those that also appeared in the printed paper (!). A recent Well blog piece, “Questions About Robotic Hysterectomy,” is a good example of better, more complete reporting posted on this blog.

And it’s not just the Times that does this.  But why not start at the top?


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