Addressing tensions when popular media and evidence-based care collide

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Background: Health care news stories have the potential to inform and educate news consumers and health-care consumers about the tradeoffs involved in health-care decisions about treatments, tests, products, and procedures. These stories have the potential to influence not only individual decision making but also the broader public dialogue about health-care reform. For the past 7 years, a Web-based project called has evaluated news stories to try to improve health-care journalism and the quality and flow of information to consumers. Analysis. applies 10 standardized criteria to the review of news stories that include claims about medical interventions. Two or three reviewers evaluate each story. The team has evaluated more than 1,800 stories by more than a dozen leading U.S. news organizations. About 70% have received unsatisfactory scores based on application of these criteria: reporting on costs, quantifying potential benefits, and quantifying potential harms. Conclusions: Inaccurate, imbalanced, incomplete news stories may drown out more careful scrutiny of the evidence by many influential news organizations. Unquestioned claims and assertions about the benefits of medical interventions are passed on to the American public daily by journalists who are supposed to vet independently any such claims. Communication about these issues is, in itself, a major health-policy issue.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberS3
JournalBMC medical informatics and decision making
Issue numberSUPPL.3
StatePublished - Dec 6 2013
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The project was supported by the Informed Medical Decisions Foundation of Boston, MA, from August 2005 through July 2013.

Funding Information:
Foundations could do more. It seems that for every specialized science/medical/health journalism graduate program that has survived (e.g., University of Georgia, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, New York University, Boston University, University of California-Santa Cruz, Columbia University, MIT), others are shut down for apparent economic reasons (the University of Minnesota master’s program in health journalism, the Johns Hopkins University master’s program in science writing, and the Florida Atlantic University science writing program). Foundations could help support such efforts. was supported by the Informed Medical Decisions Foundation for 8 years, but that funding ends in 2013 with no replacement funding in place at this time. Its German counterpart, Medien-Doktor ( benefits from foundation support. But the pioneering effort of this genre, Media Doctor Australia (, stopped publishing in 2012 because of lack of funding, the same fate that befell a Media Doctor Canada project earlier. Foundations could help these efforts as well.

Funding Information:
The Knight Foundation supports an annual Medical Evidence Boot Camp at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The California Endowment funds training, Web publishing and fellowships at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. The investigative journalism of ProPublica’s newsroom (— much of it on health care issues—is supported by the Sandler Foundation, the Knight Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Ford Foundation, and the Carnegie Corporation.


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