Category Archives: Covering medical studies

Greater transparency is resulting in fewer ‘positive’ findings in clinical trials

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.

FreeImages.com/Cristian Bender

FreeImages.com/Cristian Bender

If it seems the newest studies are always reporting some new link – an association between two things or an increase or decrease in this, that or the other – it’s not your imagination.

Positive findings, those which find … “something,” tend to end up in journals more often. But a recent study in PLOS ONE suggests that this trend has decreased, thanks to a change in trial reporting standards around the year 2000. Continue reading

Podcast series launches with discussion of potential harms of screening 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.

MedStudies-blog-HealthNewsReview podcast image2If you want to get a better grasp on the intricacies of screenings and assessing their risk-benefit analysis, there’s now another option to reading about it. The inaugural episode of a new podcast series at HealthNewsReview.org features Hanna Bloomfield, M.D., M.P.H., sounding off on the problem of blanket promotion of cardiovascular screening and similar medical tests. Continue reading

A cautionary tale about relying on white papers as research

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.

questions-and-moneyWhite papers can be useful tools for journalists. Ideally, they provide authoritative, in-depth information from government or nonprofits about specific policy, diseases, programs, or issues. However, they can also be powerful marketing tools, used by corporations to position a specific product or service as the “solution” to whatever the “problem” is.

Then there is the white paper released by a nonprofit, but developed with corporate financial support. Continue reading

Journalists must succeed where politicians fail in risk communication

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.

Image: wackystuff via Flickr

Image: wackystuff via Flickr

With no new cases of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) in South Korea since July 2, the outbreak appears to have ended. Commentaries such as a recent Nature editorial are assessing the damage and the response – and the damage of the response.

In total, 186 people became sick with the virus and 36 died. Yet the response to the virus in South Korea shared something in common with the response to Ebola in the United States during the West African outbreak last year: It was over the top, largely because public officials have yet to master adequate risk communication. Continue reading

Freelancers face unique conflict-of-interest dilemmas

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.

Yan Arief Purwanto. (Creative Commons license)

Photo: Yan Arief Purwanto via Flickr

Previously, Covering Health has addressed two kinds of potential conflicts of interest that health journalists should watch out for: those of journal article authors and those related to sponsors of journalist trips or other training opportunities.

For freelancers, there’s yet another COI maze to navigate: ensuring that work for one client doesn’t create a conflict for another, present or future.

This sounds simple enough: Don’t cover the same research for two competitors, for example. But in today’s freelance ecosystem, avoiding these conflicts has become more complex, especially with the various types of clients freelancers might have. Continue reading

Context, context, context: How journalists can avoid confusing readers with the latest research findings

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.

Whatiguana via Wikimedia Commons

Whatiguana via Wikimedia Commons

A recent editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association explored the responsibility that journals have to public health in reporting on the association – or lack thereof – between adverse events and different drugs, devices or vaccines.

Reporting on these kinds of studies is a mainstay for most regular health beat reporters: Every week a new study says that this drug may increase the risk of that condition, or that this device is no longer thought to increase the risk of some other condition.

While the editorial points out the journal’s responsibility in publishing these studies, so that doctors can discuss risks of treatment possibilities with their patients, what is a journalist’s responsibility on reporting these findings? And how do journalists avoid fatigue – and help their readers avoid fatigue – with findings that regularly contradict each other (eggs and heart disease, anyone?) or that have been reported dozens of times already but never go away (e.g., vaccines not causing autism)? Continue reading

President’s Corner: Stark reflects on conference, latest AHCJ developments

Karl Stark

About Karl Stark

Karl Stark, the assistant managing editor for business, health and science at The Philadelphia Inquirer, serves as president of the AHCJ board of directors.

Photo: Kris Hickman/AHCJAbraham Verghese

Photo: Kris Hickman/AHCJAbraham Verghese

Health Journalism 2015 made me smarter.

I’ll give two examples. First, there was the pleasure of listening to Abraham Verghese, physician and master storyteller, who works in the heart of Silicon Valley, the foundry of disruption, and is quite up to date.

But he also believes in the touch and the rituals of the physical exam. He insisted that we not discard the old values when we take up new gadgets. And he talked about how compassionate listening is a sublime thing and part of the ritual of being a doctor.

Listening is part of the ritual of being a journalist too, which probably explains why his talk was so inspiring.

Another highlight was listening to independent journalist Heather Boerner talk about how she crowd-sourced funding for her book, “Positively Negative: Love, Pregnancy, and Science’s Surprising Victory Over HIV.” Boerner wrote 9,000 words for a $100 assignment. (There is a diagnosis for this: It’s called “journalism.”)

Read more …

Evidence-based reporting leads to award-winning exploration of robotic surgery

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.

Laura Beil

Robotic surgery has exploded in popularity in recent years, but is that because it actually improves patient outcomes over traditional surgery methods or because of marketing campaigns? That is one of the questions Laura Beil dove into in her award-winning story for Men’s Health, “What’s Wrong With Robotic Surgery?

In a story that involved months of reporting, Beil “used FDA and legal documents to explore concerns over the safety” of a prostate robotic surgery procedure and wove together her findings “into one concise narrative that engaged and informed Men’s Health readers.”

The reporting required FOI requests for adverse events from surgery (along with documents related to recent inspections and findings), legal documents from malpractice lawsuits and a class action suit against the manufacturer, and dozens of scientific studies to determine whether robotic surgery represented an advance in treatment.

Beil also describes the pushback after publication, adding that posting corporate responses online is a powerful way to expose unjustified pushback. Read about how she did her reporting.

Fellowships on medical research can take your reporting further

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.

One of the best ways to become skilled in reporting on medical research is to immerse yourself in the experience of learning from the experts. That is precisely what two different fellowships offered by AHCJ will provide to applicants selected to participate in early fall.

The AHCJ-National Library of Medicine Health Journalism Fellowship and the AHCJ Fellowship on Comparative Effectiveness, supported by the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, both provide travel expenses (within the U.S.), lodging and a food stipend for a full week of specialized learning. A membership (or renewal) to AHCJ is included as well.

These fellowships – basically immersive, hands-on workshops – are ideal for greenhorns and veterans. If you have never used a medical study to report a story, or if you read a half dozen of them each week, each of these provide an opportunity for you to take your reporting a step further. Continue reading

Use national statistics to localize findings, dig for enterprise stories

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.

FreeImages.com/Shannon Pifko

FreeImages.com/Shannon Pifko

The National Center for Health Statistics published the latest data on 2014 births last month, and these reports can be unexpected gold mines for enterprise reporting.

The reports themselves are very dry – literally just the most recent statistics available on a particular data set with little to no analysis. However, that means most journalists will be reporting just that – the data without much analysis – while others can take some time to compare the numbers to past reports and look for trends. Continue reading