How Mainstream Media Hype Health Care

A post on the Health Beat Blog provides a clear assessment about mainstream media coverage of health care. It isn’t a critique based on ideological grounds, it describes an editorial review process by health practitioners who read articles and watch television reports and assess them against a set of pertinent questions. A response is sent to journalists offering further conversation.

A description of the process is at the link above.

There’s a tendency among some writers, however unintentional, to write stories about new advances in medicine from the point of view of corporations and medical institutions because they are the sources. Logically, corporate communicators frame stories to their benefit.

But the result, according to blog writer Maggie Mahar, is stories that don’t give us the full context, are too simplistic and don’t tell us the economic costs and benefits of new procedures, treatments or drugs. The gradual result is an uninformed public which has increasing expectations and demands for new, and sometimes costly, procedures and tests that may not be appropriate in every case. The way we’re introduced to new advances leaves us without the information to be discriminating patients.

This results in unnecessary tests and increasing health care costs. I recall hearing a physician recently say that when he first started his practice he attempted to dissuade patients from tests he felt were unnecessary and too costly. It was an attempt to practice medicine responsibly.

However, a physician nearby had less compunction. He got a reputation for being thorough because he used more tests. To maintain their practices, other physicians responded in kind. The result was more tests and procedures of questionable value provoked by competitive economic pressures.

At least, that’s how the physician telling the story saw it. The point is, a patient not well-informed about the risks and costs of such tests and procedures, and unclear about their usefulness lacks a solid basis upon which to make a judgment.

Add to this the daily parade of messages from pharmaceutical companies laying out symptoms and medications along with the admonishment to discuss them with your doctor, and the strength of the corporate message is clear.

With strong advertising and journalism that frames stories to reinforce it, the individual is left to fend for herself. Journalism that provides us with more complete information upon which to base judgments is much more useful, as the Health Beat Blog points out.

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