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Five Star Friday: Vox, WSJ, NPR, USA Today, NY Times earn kudos

Blue 5-star heroIt’s been a while since we’ve shined a light on important work in health care journalism, including these two stories that earned a top 5-star rating from our reviewers.

We recognize that some of the best work being done in health care journalism often falls outside our limited number of systematic story reviews.  But here are some recent gems:

  • Tara Haelle’s piece that appeared on NPR.org, “Study says Flumist vaccine does indeed work, contradicting CDC.”  Excerpt: “But things aren’t so simple. In fact, the conflicting evidence about the live nasal flu vaccine offers an excellent case study on how complex the task of analyzing flu vaccine data and making recommendations really is.”
  • Liz Szabo’s story for USA Today, “New cholesterol drugs could add $120 billion to annual US health costs.” Excerpt: “Authors of the analysis said they hope the estimate will spur a national conversation about drug prices, the value of new medications and how much Americans are willing to pay to improve health.”

We also appreciate the New York Times “Ask Well” explainer: Is dementia the same as Alzheimer’s disease?  And we’d like to call attention to their recent series on cancer immunotherapy called Cell Wars. These in-depth stories explore the promise of several new cancer immunotherapy approaches as well as their downsides — balancing optimism with the cold reality that these drugs carry risks and still don’t work for the vast majority of patients. Denise Grady, Andrew Pollack, and Matt Richtel have all contributed to the series. We commend the Times for publishing critical reader reactions to the stories, several of which stress concerns that we’ve also raised about coverage of these new therapies.

Excerpt from a letter by oncologist Steven Sorscher:

…as patients contemplate their limited options, it is important that journalists present the promise of these drugs in a more balanced manner, just as industry and oncologists must do.

For example, nivolumab was one of the immunotherapy drugs highlighted in your article. The most common cancer for which it is approved by the Food and Drug Administration is lung cancer, which is also by far the most common cause of cancer death in this country. You reported on the remarkable results seen in three patients with lung cancer who received immunotherapy, and none who fared otherwise.

Excerpt from a letter by Dr. Deborah Doroshow:

Some of my patients have remarkable responses, living years when they might have previously lived months.

But I also play the role of doctor on call, admitting patients with life-threatening lung or colon inflammation that can result from these drugs. Furthermore, the vast majority of my patients don’t respond to these drugs at all.

It is critical that we continue to learn why some patients respond to these medications while others do not. But it is just as important that we not give our patients false hope while embracing the potential of a new approach to treating cancer.

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