Category Archives: Covering medical studies

Scientific journals squabble over conflict-of-interest policies

Tara Haelle

About Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle (@TaraHaelle) is AHCJ's medical studies core topic leader, guiding journalists through the jargon-filled shorthand of science and research and enabling them to translate the evidence into accurate information.

doctor-with-megaphone-and-dollar-signA game of inside baseball is being played between two of the most venerated medical journals, and journalists may want to be sure they have a seat near the dugout. The game centers on one of the most important aspects of reporting on medical studies: identifying and making sense of researchers’ potential financial conflicts of interest.

In nearly every medical study, usually somewhere near the end or on the bottom of the first page, the authors declare any conflicts of interest or disclosures they may have that relate to the topic of the study. For editorials and commentaries, authors include the same, though many high-impact journals do not publish review articles and similar viewpoint-based papers by authors who have real or perceived conflicts of interest. Continue reading

Award-winning reporter explains how she investigated concerns over medical tests

Tara Haelle

About Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle (@TaraHaelle) is AHCJ's medical studies core topic leader, guiding journalists through the jargon-filled shorthand of science and research and enabling them to translate the evidence into accurate information.

Photo: Alison Young via Flickr

Photo: Alison Young via Flickr

The first thing most patients undergo when they have a complaint with an unknown source is a medical test.

It might be a screening test, which looks for the likelihood, or risk, that they have a particular condition, or it may be a diagnostic test, which actually diagnoses the condition.

But how well are these tests regulated, and how much can they tell us? Some are tried-and-true, with a solid base of research that makes them highly valuable in health care. But others may not be all they’re cracked up to be, or they may outright confuse patients and doctors, potentially leading to serious harms. Continue reading

What can reporters learn from the chocolate diet study hoax?

Tara Haelle

About Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle (@TaraHaelle) is AHCJ's medical studies core topic leader, guiding journalists through the jargon-filled shorthand of science and research and enabling them to translate the evidence into accurate information.

Photo: BlueRidgeKitties via Flickr

Photo: BlueRidgeKitties via Flickr

You’ve been fooled. You thought eating chocolate while dieting could help you shed the pounds faster because a study supposedly said so, and outlets all over the place covered it – but it was based on an intentionally faulty, hyped study.

At least, that’s the story that journalist John Bohannon, who was the first author, partial architect and promoter of the study, told in a viral io9 piece. The story exploded in social media as readers, journalists, scientists, ethicists and others argued over what he really proved, whether he should have done it and what lessons can be gleaned from the stunt. Continue reading

Journal’s retraction highlights value of keeping ‘a biostatistician in your back pocket’

Tara Haelle

About Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle (@TaraHaelle) is AHCJ's medical studies core topic leader, guiding journalists through the jargon-filled shorthand of science and research and enabling them to translate the evidence into accurate information.

Science-retractedA now-retracted study in the journal Science once again reveals how important it is that journalists find appropriate expert sources to weigh in on findings before publishing stories about them.

The well-publicized paper, co-authored by Columbia researcher Donald Green and UCLA graduate student Michael LaCour, suggested that opponents of same-sex marriage were more likely to change their minds after talking with gay and lesbians canvassers. But, as Retraction Watch reported last week, LaCour faked the data. The journal initially posted an “Editorial Expression of Concern” but officially retracted the paper Thursday. Green had specifically requested the retraction, but LaCour does not agree with it. Continue reading

Critically assessing nutritional arguments based on evidence: One journalist’s case study

Tara Haelle

About Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle (@TaraHaelle) is AHCJ's medical studies core topic leader, guiding journalists through the jargon-filled shorthand of science and research and enabling them to translate the evidence into accurate information.

Photo: eddie welker via Flickr

Photo: eddie welker via Flickr

Few areas of medical research are as challenging to study as nutrition. Randomized controlled nutrition trials are very difficult to conduct, and individual variation among participants can be much greater than in other areas. Add to that the urgency of the “obesity epidemic” and the multibillion dollar industry of diets, supplements and other weight-loss schemes, and it becomes clear how competing ideologies make it tough to parse the evidence. Continue reading

What that recent emergency department survey didn’t tell us

Joanne Kenen

About Joanne Kenen

Joanne Kenen, (@JoanneKenen) the health editor at Politico, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health reform and curates related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on health reform resources and tip sheets at joanne@healthjournalism.org.

emergency-roomEarlier this month many of us received a news release from the American College of Emergency Physicians about a survey that indicates emergency department visits are rising along with coverage expansion under the Affordable Care Act. This was happening even though one important goal of the health law is to connect people with primary care physicians so they wouldn’t feel compelled to go to the ED for primary care.

While many of us ignored the release or, at most, wrote a brief; some large news outlets did give the survey big play, even linking the increase to expanded Medicaid coverage. The tone of that coverage, at least in a few pieces I saw, was that this was a negative development. Continue reading

E-cigarette panel lit up a debate at #AHCJ15

Tara Haelle

About Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle (@TaraHaelle) is AHCJ's medical studies core topic leader, guiding journalists through the jargon-filled shorthand of science and research and enabling them to translate the evidence into accurate information.

Pia Christensen/AHCJ Greg Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, independent journalist Sonya Collins and Des Moines Register health reporter Tony Leys  listen as public health researcher Judith Prochaska of Stanford Prevention Research Center talks about e-cigarettes.

Pia Christensen/AHCJ Greg Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, independent journalist Sonya Collins and Des Moines Register health reporter Tony Leys listen as public health researcher Judith Prochaska of Stanford Prevention Research Center talks about e-cigarettes.

The Health Journalism 2015 panel on e-cigarette use, or vaping, was anything but dull. Des Moines Register health reporter Tony Leys lined up the selection of guests, including public health researcher Judith Prochaska of Stanford Prevention Research Center, American Vaping Association president Greg Conley and Atlanta-based independent journalist Sonya Collins. The highly divergent presentations of Prochaska and Conley expertly set up Collins’ final presentation to talk about the middle ground she found in her reporting.

The greatest challenge for journalists in writing about e-cigarettes is that they are so new – the data we would like to have are not available yet. The data that we do have are greatly limited. The opinions and perspectives of stakeholders vary greatly and are passionate. Public health researchers who recall the days of Big Tobacco’s lies regarding the harms of cigarettes are deeply skeptical and uneasy about investigating potential benefits or reduced risks from e-cigarettes. Continue reading

6 tips to find success writing for trade publications #ahcj15

Barbara Feder Ostrov

About Barbara Feder Ostrov

Barbara Feder Ostrov is a former San Jose Mercury News medical writer freelancing for Kaiser Health News. Her work has appeared in the Boston Globe, Ms. Magazine, Weight Watchers Magazine and EverydayHealth.com.

Pia Christensen/AHCJPeggy Peck, of MedPage Today, offers her advice on writing for trade publications during a panel moderated by Bob Finn, right, and featuring Rabiya Tuma, left, and Dan Keller.

Pia Christensen/AHCJPeggy Peck, of MedPage Today, offers her advice on writing for trade publications during a panel moderated by Bob Finn, right, and featuring Rabiya Tuma, left, and Dan Keller.

Top editors offered great advice for journalists interested in freelancing for health trade publications during a panel at Health Journalism 2015.

Trade publications for professionals working in health and medicine provide numerous freelance opportunities for journalists, but the work – while rewarding – is different than writing for a consumer audience, panelists said.

Writing for a professional audience requires a familiarity with the lingo and an understanding of the larger context of developments in a particular field, such as oncology or health information technology. Continue reading

Why reporters should check the data in a ‘brief’

Liz Seegert

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic editor on aging. Her work has appeared in Kaiser Health News, The Atlantic.com, New America Media, AARP.com, Practical Diabetology and Home Care Technology report. She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health, Media & Policy at Hunter College in New York City, and co-produces HealthStyles for WBAI-FM/Pacifica Radio.

A recent data brief from the National Center for Health Statistics reported a 23 percent increase in the age-adjusted hypertension-related death rate from 2000 to 2013. In that same period, the rate for all other causes of death combined decreased 21 percent. The report, “Hypertension-related Mortality in the United States, 2000–2013” is part of a series from the Centers for Disease Control on myriad health issues, morbidity and mortality.

Photo: Morgan via Flickr

Photo: Morgan via Flickr

Such reports, while an interesting starting point for a story, can easily be taken out of context and mislead your audience. That’s why building a stable of reliable health care experts to whom you can show the data and quote in your story is important.

The authors of the NCHS brief defined hypertension-related mortality as “any mention of hypertension on the death certificate or as the underlying cause of death.” Continue reading

More interactivity, tips for veterans and newcomers in #AHCJ15 medical research workshop

Tara Haelle

About Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle (@TaraHaelle) is AHCJ's medical studies core topic leader, guiding journalists through the jargon-filled shorthand of science and research and enabling them to translate the evidence into accurate information.

Ivan Oransky, M.D.

One of the most popular and longest-running workshop sessions will return to AHCJ’s annual conference in Silicon Valley with an updated presentation that will benefit research reporting veterans as well as those new to – and possibly intimidated by – reporting on medical studies.

In Thursday morning’s session, “How to accurately report on medical research findings,” presenters Ivan Oransky, M.D., vice president and global editorial director of MedPage Today and co-founder of Retraction Watch, and Gary Schwitzer, publisher of HealthNewsReview.org, will offer a boot camp on medical study coverage. Instruction will range from evaluating the quality of study findings and discussing benefits and harms to responsibly framing findings in news articles and finding appropriate outside commentary on tight deadlines.

Gary Schwitzer

Gary Schwitzer

“There are never enough opportunities to be trained in or to get a refresher course in how to evaluate studies and evidence,” said Schwitzer, now in his ninth year of presenting this type of workshop at the conference. “I can almost guarantee you’ll get some new, practical, hands-on tools, tips and resources to help you do a better job reporting studies – and some healthy skepticism,” he said. Continue reading