But we’ve gotten to a point where the medicalization of our lives — and the mega-profits and harms that come with it — are becoming increasingly difficult to ignore.
But as our publisher Gary Schwitzer points out below, this growing problem flies under the radar of many journalists. It appears we don’t seem to have a problem with too much skeptical and in-depth healthcare reporting.
So when we find writing like that featured below we delight in highlighting it, if for no other reason than to say: Give us more! Much, much more of this kind of writing.
Many healthy skeptics around the globe have just attended – or followed closely from afar – two international conferences in the past two weeks on themes of Too Much Medicine or of Preventing Overdiagnosis. But there was far too little mainstream news media attention to either conference. It is as if some news organizations have decided “There’s nothing new there, we’ve heard it all before.” And then they go back to reporting on the latest drug or stem cell or robotic surgery breakthrough du jour with themes that are not new or helpful for readers.
So it was especially refreshing to see NPR report on a paper published in JAMA Internal Medicine‘s ongoing Less is More series. The paper was entitled “Evaluating Shared Decision Making for Lung Cancer Screening.” NPR explained that this very small sample-size study found poor quality shared decision-making – which means that doctors struggled to explain the potential harms of lung cancer screening, which further means that patients probably didn’t get all the information they needed to make an informed decision.
News organizations could learn a great deal from the people who have organized the “less is more…too much medicine…preventing overdiagnosis…Right Care” movements. Journalists could help fill the information void for patients looking for balanced, complete information about interventions. They could make a full-time beat out of reporting on these “slow medicine” themes. I predict that if they did they might even regain some of their lost circulation. And I guarantee they would better serve the true needs of their news consuming customers. So kudos to NPR for this one little piece. Why not make it a regular feature? This is what we’ve tried to do over the past 12+ years of HealthNewsReview.org. And now that our work is drawing to an end at year’s end, there is a wonderful opportunity for someone else to pick up the challenge and take our place.
We often report on how marijuana’s harms get short shrift, in terms of both recreational use and potential medical uses such as easing addiction and inflammation linked to cognitive decline. Here Lowrey spotlights those harms, describing how reckless legalization has left consumers prey to loose regulations and slick marketing.
Normally economics is her beat, and Lowrey takes a critical look at the way many states have legalized: by handing industry the policy strings. She also tells stories of some users who have become hooked in a climate where marijuana is growing more potent, more accessible, and more socially acceptable. As New York University public policy professor Mark A. R. Kleiman put it: “The mantra about how this is a harmless, natural, and non-addictive substance—it’s now known by everybody. And it’s a lie.”
You’d think “epidemic” would be one of our 7 Words You Shouldn’t Use in Medical News but it isn’t. Probably because, although it’s frequently misappropriated as clickbait, there are legitimate or — at least — debatable epidemics. As freelancer Siegel points out we’ve recently experienced a full range of news coverage ranging from an “epidemic” of suicides after a few celebrity suicides this summer, to epidemics of gun violence and prescription narcotic abuse.
Siegel acknowledges that, although both the source and our conventional usage of the word ‘epidemic’ are decidedly “medical,” our current understanding of it is often colored by “politics and media and popular culture.” And as someone who podcasts about opioids and other drugs, he questions whether our traditional medical model for what constitutes an epidemic (and how one can be fixed) too often ignores this complex social milieu.
It’s an intriguing read for those who revel in the nuance of language to be sure, but also those involved in health care who spot an “illness” on a grand, social scale and ask: “What’s the vector(s)?”
Liz Szabo’s long investigative piece on the doctor who shifted the discussion on vitamin D is doing a lot to shift the public focus back where it belongs — on how industry money influences where and how individuals and society spend their health care dollars.
The image that emerges of Michael Holick, MD, a Boston University endocrinologist, the subject of the expose, is that of a supplement evangelist for hire.
Holick’s role in drafting national vitamin D guidelines, and the embrace of his message by mainstream doctors and wellness gurus alike, have helped push supplement sales to $936 million in 2017. That’s a ninefold increase over the previous decade. Lab tests for vitamin D deficiency have spiked, too: Doctors ordered more than 10 million for Medicare patients in 2016, up 547% since 2007, at a cost of $365 million. About 1 in 4 adults 60 and older now take vitamin D supplements.
Szabo spends some 2,000 carefully researched and documented words describing how Holick went about elevating vitamin D with his many industry partners — including the tanning industry, and testing and drug companies. The piece concludes on a somewhat higher note, suggesting that vitamin d is losing its “luster.” Szabo summarizes some of the failed clinical trials showing a lack of benefit and studies showing how much we’ve spent on vitamin D testing and supplementation.
This is the kind of investigation we need to see more of if we ever hope to bring transparency and good policy-making into the forefront of our complicated, expensive and often fraudulent health care system.
Please Note: These stories have not been subject to our rigorous, 10-criteria systematic review for accuracy, balance, and completeness. Rather, they represent pieces of health care journalism and opinion writing that members of our staff found compelling and wanted to share with others.
5-Star Friday is a regular feature on HealthNewsReview.org. You can find a list of previous installments HERE.