Health journalists need to be held to a higher standard

I have been critical in the past with the health reporting in some major media publications.

The NEJM has a nice perspective piece (via Gary Schwitzer) on the issue from Susan Dentzer, editor-in-chief of Health Affairs. In today’s 24/7 news cycle, health stories provide ample opportunities for “gotcha” headlines. Nothing captures the public’s attention like reporting a drug scare, a botched surgery, or hyping the latest miracle drug or procedure.

The problem is, there’s a possibility that both doctors and patients may act based on what they read and hear, and although journalists “are not clinicians, but [they] must be more than carnival barkers; [they] must be credible health communicators more interested in conveying clear, actionable health information to the public than carrying out [their] other agendas.”

The nuance inherent in medical stories can be difficult to report, and are not huge ratings grabbers. The best medical stories always present multiple facets of a health issue, and one-sided medical stories meant to shock and awe should be approached with caution.

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