Gary Schwitzer hosted the last Health Wonk Review of 2011 at Health News Review today, and it’s an excellent edition. It’s the first time he’s hosted, but you’d never know it by looking at the HWR that he’s put together. And one of my favorite articles in this year-end HWR also comes from Gary. It’s a piece about the blurring of the lines between medical journalism and healthcare advertising. Gary lists numerous health-related “news” snippets that he came across this year, many of which are just advertising or press releases disguised as news.
The days of news being disseminated once per day via newspapers and a few times a day via morning and evening TV and radio news programs are long gone. News is updated constantly now, and people expect to see brand-new stories every time they go online. There are fewer trained journalists ready to carefully research and write the news stories, and plenty of bloggers and freelance writers who are more than willing to write articles for anyone who will pay them to do so. And not all of those articles disclose the fact that the writer may have been paid for the story by a party that has a vested interest in the story getting out.
On the other hand, medical research is a hot topic. New research is constantly being conducted and not all of it is biased or funded by companies with a conflict of interest. We just have to be careful when we read medical “news”. Check the sources. If the story is about a study, look to see who funded the study. If the story openly promotes a particular product (or hospital, or health insurance policy, or a specific cutting-edge treatment, etc.), it’s wise to question whether the story is actually unbiased, researched medical journalism, or advertising pretending to be news.
Enjoy the rest of the HWR, and have a wonderful holiday weekend!