One of my favorite articles in Grand Rounds this week comes from Gary Schwitzer, who is very good at calling a spade a spade. Earlier this year, Gary called out the media for recommending the over-consumption of healthcare, and now he’s addressing the problem of pharmaceutical companies and medical product manufacturers paying journalists to run their press releases as bona-fide news items.
Posts like this are good to keep in mind whenever we read stories in the media regarding new technology in healthcare, recommendations for medical treatment, and cutting-edge pharmaceuticals. Is the article truly research-based journalism, or is it a press release in disguise? Was the magazine/newspaper/website paid to run the article, or did the author receive an incentive to write the article in a particular fashion?
More and more patients are turning to the internet to answer questions about their health (here’s another interesting Grand Rounds article about that issue), which is quite understandable: many of us turn to the internet to answer questions about everything these days. But it can be hard to sort through the overwhelming amounts of information in order to find data that is truly based on medical science and not influenced by special interests or quacks. Articles that seem a bit too glowing or one-sided might actually be hype created by the manufacturers of whatever product is being described. This is unfortunate, and hopefully not many news outlets are running press releases posing as objective journalism in trade for cash.
Pharmaceutical companies now have to disclose financial incentives given to doctors. Maybe companies in the health care industry should also have to disclose incentives given to the media as well.