A Guide to Reading Health Care News Stories

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Abstract

From April 16, 2006, through May 30, 2013, a team of reviewers from HealthNewsReview.org, many of whom were physicians, evaluated the reporting by US news organizations on new medical treatments, tests, products, and procedures. After reviewing 1889 stories (approximately 43% newspaper articles, 30% wire or news services stories, 15% online pieces [including those by broadcast and magazine companies], and 12% network television stories), the reviewers graded most stories unsatisfactory on 5 of 10 review criteria: costs, benefits, harms, quality of the evidence, and comparison of the new approach with alternatives. Drugs, medical devices, and other interventions were usually portrayed positively; potential harms were minimized, and costs were ignored. Our findings can help journalists improve their news stories and help physicians and the public better understand the strengths and weaknesses of news media coverage of medical and health topics.

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