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Proton beam: should a news organization “partner” with providers to promote in the face of intense debate?

On the same day that the Mayo Clinic co-hosted a Twitter chat about “The Role of Proton Beam Therapy in Cancer Care”…..

……Kaiser Health News published a story, “Insurers Hesitant To Cover Many Proton Beam Therapy Treatments.” Included in that story was the news that:

  • “some insurers and disease experts say that, until there’s better evidence that proton therapy is more effective at treating various cancers than traditional types of less expensive radiation, coverage shouldn’t be routine.”
  • In general, “the evidence has failed to demonstrate that there is a significant improvement in outcomes with proton beams,” says J. Leonard Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer at the American Cancer Society. “It’s fair to question whether the number of facilities that are being constructed really reflect the proven value of proton beam therapy.”
  • Last month, the proton beam center at the University of Indiana, one of the country’s first, announced it was closing. Among the reasons were the center’s aging equipment, the large number of newly designed  facilities and falling insurance reimbursements.
  • “Drugs should prove whether they are equal or superior to an existing treatment,” says Lichtenfeld. “Why should proton beam be any different?”Proton beam therapy proponents counter that it is different because they already know the therapy works.How the standoff will be resolved is unclear, but as long as it continues and research isn’t conducted to evaluate which type of therapy works best, there’s one clear loser: the patient.

You’ll notice that TIME magazine co-hosted the Twitter chat with Mayo Clinic, which is building two different proton beam facilities in Rochester, MN and Scottsdale, AZ.

Should news organizations “partner” with medical centers on social media promotions such as this?  When a news organization partners with an entity, will the news organization be as likely to aggressively report on problems, concerns, flaws, even malfeasance?

The Tweet chat – despite being hosted by TIME’s senior health reporter – became a lovefest, with all kinds of claims being made but without challenge. And there was free advertising such as this:

The Statement of Principles of the Association of Health Care Journalists includes these clauses:

  • We are the eyes and ears of our audiences/readers; we must not be mere mouthpieces for industry, government agencies, researchers or health care providers
  • We must preserve a dispassionate relationship with sources, avoiding conflicts of interest, real or perceived.

I’ve commented on ethical questions surrounding TIME and TIME Warner health care journalism practices before.  Examples:

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