2nd anniversary of Health News Watchdog podcast

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Gary Schwitzer is the founder and publisher of HealthNewsReview.org.  He got his start in journalism in radio 45 years ago. He produced the first 25 podcasts in our series.  But he thinks Michael Joyce has done a better job with the last 8 that he produced.  Michael earned his MD at Mayo, but was already a radio producer on the West Coast when he enrolled in Schwitzer’s health journalism MA program at the University of Minnesota in 2008.  Joyce subsequently produced film and radio in Asia.

A very young and fresh-faced Gary on his 1st night on the air 45 years ago

The Health News Watchdog podcast has been produced and published 33 times, with about 25,000 listens in just two years.  Are you kidding me?

There’s no way I thought that would happen when I returned to the airwaves – after decades away – with my first podcast for this project in August of 2015. I want to thank the National Institute for Health Care Management for the funding boost that got us started.  But Michael and I also want to thank all of the people who have shared their stories with us – and with you, some of our listeners.

Here are some key data points about the 33 podcasts so far.

Most popular, in terms of traffic to our website, were podcasts with:

  • Dr. Laura Esserman of UC San Francisco on overdiagnosis in breast cancer,
  • Dr. John S. Yudkin of London on overdiagnosis in diabetes,
  • Our first podcast about patient harm – a man with glioblastoma riding the roller coaster of emotion after he received misleading news that started with a PR news release.  This was the episode that moved me the most, and I still get angry and sad whenever I think of Richard Sarti’s story, as told to me by his sister-in-law Vickie Smith.  Sarti died six months after this podcast was published.  Of all the podcasts I produced, this is the one I urge you to listen to.

But one of the things I love about the podcasts is that many people find about our work for the first time by finding the podcasts in other ways – via services like SoundCloud or iTunes or social media. SoundCloud, where the big data files are hosted, records the most listens for these two podcasts:

You could categorize our podcasts in different ways, besides popularity or web traffic or most listens.

Sources or voices heard:  About half are physicians or researchers.  About a quarter are patients or patient advocates.  5 of 33 episodes so far have been interviews with outstanding health care journalists.

Topics:  cancer, overdiagnosis, explanations of benefits vs. harms, excellence in journalism, and quality of evidence have been the leaders so far.

I admire how Michael has brought multiple voices into the podcasts that he’s produced. He’s a natural, gifted story-teller.  So I’m happy to turn over the mike – and the keyboard to him now.

Michael on location recording a piece on burlesque dancers. Clearly not a HealthNewsReview.org assignment.

Those multiple voices — that tapestry — is what makes audio journalism fun. It’s one thing to read about someone agonizing over an abnormal mammogram or ominous diagnosis, and quite another to have them tell you about it in their words. You don’t have to read between the lines to find the emotion …. you hear it. It’s palpable.

When I reflect on the people I’ve spoken with over the past 6 months, I’m struck by this common denominator: they are predominantly people who challenge the norm. Call them revolutionaries, or call them pioneers, but they put me in mind of this quote by philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer:

“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, is is accepted as being self-evident.”

Many of the people I interviewed have spent much of their professional lives living in stages one and two. That doesn’t just take bravery and conviction, but an enviable belief in stage three.

I’m thinking of breast surgeons Shelley Hwang and Deanna Attai who have dared to question the prevailing approach to ductal carcinoma in situ, or DCIS.

And journalist Howard Wolinsky who was not satisfied with the status quo when it came to managing his prostate cancer.

Or Tetyanee Shippee who — instead of writing a dry doctoral thesis only other gerontologists would read — opted to live in a nursing home and write a thesis that would actually improve the quality of life for seniors.

There’s also bioethicist Leigh Turner, who couldn’t stand being complacent about dubious stem cell clinics not just taking advantage of people, but hurting them.

And orthopedic surgeon Julie Switzer, one of the seven percent of female orthopedic surgeons in this country. It’s the most lucrative medical specialty in the US, but she chose a niche within it that has less to do with money and more to do with patients.

That’s just a small sampling of the many people who were generous with their time and insights. A full listing of our podcasts can be found HERE.

And there are more in the pipeline. We’re not stopping. If anything, we plan on taking a page from our sources’ playbooks …. why not? …. a little revolution suits us just fine!

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