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pharmacy
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quality and safety of health care
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TGA
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The debate about health reporting: let’s keep it moving forward

In case you missed them, there were two stories in today’s Crikey bulletin looking at the role of PR in generating media coverage of health issues. This one critiqued how Nick Miller at The Age reported on a new leukaemia drug, and this one quoted a range of journalists and PR people (including yours truly) suggesting that PR has a big hand in media coverage of health issues.

Two quick points on these stories (and, if you keep reading, some links to other news in media coverage of health issues):

• A twinge of regret at seeing Nick Miller singled out. I don’t know him personally (although I do follow him at Twitter), and I am not a regular reader of The Age. But I have only heard good things about his work from various sources, and I do think he deserved some credit for subsequently owning up on his blog that his story had been lacking, and explaining why and how this happened. If only more of us would do the same.  There are plenty of other, far more deserving targets. On the other hand, that’s the way the media works, I guess. Someone makes one slip and we splash it, regardless of all the other good work they might do. So, the industry that dishes it out must also take it on the chin.

• Re the story highlighting the role of PR in generating health coverage, it was – as Ray Moynihan pointed out – hardly telling us anything new. I suppose it’s still worth hearing these things again and again, but it would be nice to try and take the discussions a step further perhaps. Why does all this matter? What impact does it have? How does it distort patient care, policy and funding? ETC. I would have been far more interested if some of these questions had been addressed. But perhaps they will be (I am not privvy to where this Crikey series is heading).

While we’re on the subject of media coverage of health, here are a few other links that may be of interest:

•  A new study of how US newspapers and magazines report cancer found that reports frequently discuss aggressive treatment and survival but rarely discuss treatment failure, adverse events, end-of-life care, or death. “These portrayals of cancer care in the news media may give patients an inappropriately optimistic view of cancer treatment, outcomes, and prognosis,” the authors concluded. Perhaps these findings answer some of the questions I raised above, about the impact of promotional coverage. (The abstract is freely available here but you have to pay to access the full article, published in Archives of Internal Medicine.)

• Two new papers arising out of the Australian Health News Research Collaboration (with which I have a tangential connection), looking at TV news coverage of young people with mental illness, and of colorectal cancer.  The second paper can be freely downloaded here.
Mackenzie E, Chapman S, McGeechan K, Holding S. “A disease many people still feel uncomfortable talking about”: Australian television news coverage of colorectal cancer. Psycho-Oncology  2010;19:283-8.
Henson C, Chapman S, McLeod L, Johnson N, Hickie I. Room for improvement: mixed portrayal of young people with mental illness on Australian television news. Aust NZ J Psychiatry  2010; 44 (3): 267-272.

• And finally, some good news. This blog from the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University profiles several journalists doing worthy work reporting on global public health issues – with support from various not-for-profits. Which seems a fitting end point to this post: critique is good and helpful, but so are constructive initiatives to help promote healthier reporting. Wish there were more of them…

Comments 5

  1. Doctor Whom says:

    I’d guess if I was Media Watch I’d be hopping into Nick Miller too. But isn’t that just part of the same problem. Without taking away from the fact that Nick should have been a bit more sceptical and asked around a bit more surely a journo should be able to trust the word of a Professor of the specialty in which s/he is commenting.

    It’s not as if we are like the USA were anyone who has taught even one guest lecture on motivation at a TAFE College is called Professor – here at least a Professor has to have published a few peer reviewed paper and know a bit about the scientific method – surely?

    “Biggest breakthrough in 30 years in cancer” – yeah sure *yawn*

    I haven’t looked at the research but would I be being cynical to think that:

    (1) the paper isn’t published yet
    (2) therefore it hasn’t been replicated, or,
    (3) critically analysed by others

    At least it appears as if it was a human trial instead of the usual “breakthrough” that is unpublished, and a trial of a few overweight rats or rabbits.

    I think its time for Crikey to combine the journo , media health threads and do a Cancer Cure watch and count the number of items each paper has a “breakthrough” – or cancer cure in a year and award a prize for the most attempts.

    I suggest calling the award the This Day Tonight or Oprah award – or the more patriotic, fashionable and appropriate – Sr Mary McKillop Award.

    I have noticed that people “battle” or “bravely fight” cancer whereas people “suffer “from depression or sustain fractures. How come people don’t “bravely fight” against
    broken legs or ingrown toenails?

  2. It does seem a pity to single out Nick Miller, as like Melissa I’ve interacted with him on Twitter and he seems to be pushing health journalism into a more public/transparent sphere. At least he was before he moved to state politics.

    The reality of contemporary overstretched journalism means that PR will play a big role. I don’t think we’ll be able to stop reports of individual studies or wonder drugs, so how can we make them better? I know that it would be desirable for journos to add caveats to reports of study findings, but based on my discussions with family and friends I don’t think people are paying that much attention.

    I’ve noticed some reasonable reporting of meta-analyses on TV/radio in recent times. How could we promote these in a way that makes sense to the public? For example that they’re based on the findings of a lot of studies and could be worth paying more attention to? I guess the challenge is that there’s no PR machinery backing up the Cochrane Collaboration.

  3. Doctor Whom says:

    How could we promote these in a way that makes sense to the public? For example that they’re based on the findings of a lot of studies and could be worth paying more attention to? I guess the challenge is that there’s no PR machinery backing up the Cochrane Collaboration.

    Ben it isn’t very sexy.

    Wheres the grabbing headline in

    ” Scientists re-affirm progress is a long slog”
    or

    “New expensive study confirms what we already know”

    “Cochrane announces we should look at evidence from many well designed studies before announcing miracles”

    or

    “Vatican announces its abandoning the sainthood strategy and handing miracles over to the Cochrane Collaboration”

  4. William says:

    Well Doctor Whom, you know as well as I that health care isn’t that sexy…so it has long puzzled me why reporting of health has to be made so. It would help no end if we could escape the seemingly perpetual need for ‘boom’ or ‘bust’ medical journalism.

    Reporting of ‘miracle’ drugs still in Phase I/II (or worse animal models) that have a high chance of never reaching clinical practice and anecdotal reports of miraculous recoveries that statistically are never likely to be reproduced in another individual with in the same circumstances might make for good copy but simply mislead the public.

    Counter that with the fascination with medical catastrophe; rogue doc creates chaos in small regional centre, vaccination scare campaigns based on shaky evidence. All need reporting but this seems to be all we get.

    Where is the middle ground of balanced informative commentary and education? Medical journalists have a critical role in public health that to me seems completely squandered in the interests of commercial expediency.

  5. Leo Braun says:

    “Why does all this matter? What impact does it have? How does it distort patient care, policy and funding? I would have been far more interested if some of these questions had been addressed”… http://blogs.crikey.com.au/croakey/2009/12/03/what-rights-do-cancer-patients-have/#comment-1615

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PIJ Commissions 2021
Public health and population health
#PreventiveHealthStrategy
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Health in All Policies
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Croakey Conference News Service 2013 – 2019
2013 conferences
Australian Centre for Health Services Innovation Forum 2013
Australian Health Promotion Association Conference 2013
Closing the Credibility Gap 2013
CRANAplus Conference 2013
FASD Conference 2013
Health Workforce Australia 2013
International Health Literacy Network Conference 2013
NACCHO Summit 2013
National Rural Health Conference 2013
Oceania EcoHealth Symposium 2013
PHAA conference 2013
2014 conferences
#IPCHIV14
AIDA Conference 2014
Congress Lowitja 2014
CRANAplus conference 2014
Cultural Solutions - Healing Foundation forum 2014
Lowitja Institute Continuous Quality Improvement conference 2014
National Suicide Prevention Conference 2014
Racism and children/youth health symposium 2014
Rural & Remote Health Scientific Symposium 2014
2015 conferences
#CPHCEforum
#CRANAplus15
#HSR15
#NRHC15
#OTCC15
Population Health Congress 2015
2016 conferences
#AHHAsim16
#AHMRC16
#ANROWS2016
#ATSISPEP
#AusCanIndigenousWellness
#cphce2016
#CPHCEforum16
#CRANAplus2016
#IAMRA2016
#LowitjaConf2016
#PreventObesity16
#TowardsRecovery
#VMIAC16
#WearablesCEH
#WICC2016
2017 conferences
#17APCC
#ACEM17
#AIDAconf2017
#BTH20
#CATSINaM17
#ClimateHealthStrategy
#IAHAConf17
#IDS17
#LBQWHC17
#LivingOurWay
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#OTCC2017
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