On the Croakey blog from Australia, Dr. Tim Senior, a general practitioner working in Aboriginal health, provides advice for anyone reporting on medical tests (or indeed anyone wanting to understand the media’s reporting of screening and test issues). He was motivated by something he read in the paper:
Last week, the Sydney Morning Herald went for the Executive prevention market with an article headlined “Over 40? Five Tests you need right now.”
You should read the whole piece, but he concludes:
So, if you work in the media and want to do a report on what medical tests you need to do, here are the 5 Tests You Must Do Today! (You can imagine a scary picture of me shaking my head here if you wish!)
- Imagine this was a senior politician telling you this information. How uncritically would you accept it? Are there any conflicts of interest? Use your same sense of scepticism.
- Is there a consensus of opinion? Do GPs and specialists agree? What do major guidelines say?
- Will doing this test make me live a longer healthier life? Show me the evidence. And ask someone else to have a look at the evidence.
- What are the harms from this test, and any subsequent tests or treatment needed?
- If you’re going to interview someone whose life was saved by having this test, interview someone else who has suffered side effects or complications. (But beware false balance – see point 2 above!)
And the piece adds a nice plug for our work at the end, reading: “Croakey suggests that for further reading on this issue, Gary Schwitzer’s (US-based) blog is a great place to start https://www.healthnewsreview.org/blog/.”
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