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New online reporting guide focuses on covering medical studies Date: 09/02/10

Contact: Len Bruzzese, AHCJ, 573-884-5606

COLUMBIA, MO. – The Association of Health Care Journalists has released its latest slim guide, "Covering Medical Research: A Guide for Reporting on Studies." The guide, published with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, is one in a series intended to assist reporters in thoughtfully planning their coverage, and at the same time, serve reporters on deadline to quickly find the best sources or data.Slim Guide: Covering Medical Research

Reporters are inundated with lures to cover the latest medical study or scientific conference paper. And there are some significant milestones being reached in medical research. But, more often, the information reaching the public is way too preliminary or even misleading, say those producing the guide.

"Covering studies is one way to let the public know of important advances in health care," says the guide's lead author, Gary Schwitzer. "But, it is not for those who don't appreciate the complexity of the landscape. Sometimes, what's important is reporting the problems, limitations and backstory of a study."

Schwitzer, a longtime association member, publishes HealthNewsReview.org, a website dedicated to evaluating news media efforts at covering studies, products, tests and procedures. He has specialized in health care journalism in his more than 30 years in television, radio and online outlets.

The guide explains the hierarchy and quality of evidence when it comes to medical studies, how to put each of the types of studies into context for your audience, explaining absolute risk and relative risk and the all-important "number needed to treat."

Schwitzer and lead contributor Ivan Oransky, M.D., the executive editor of Reuters Health, also explain how peer-reviewed journals work, how publication bias can occur and the pitfalls of covering scientific meetings. The guide includes an easy-to-follow checklist for reporters to produce meaningful, yet accurate, news stories.

The guide is meant as an online resource for AHCJ members, is easily surfed on one's desktop and provides live links to even more resources for reporters.

"Covering Medical Research" is the fifth slim guide published in this series. Also available on healthjournalism.org are "Covering the Health of Local Nursing Homes," "Navigating the CDC: A Journalist's Guide to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Web Site," "Covering Obesity: A Guide for Reporters," and "Covering Hospitals: Using Tools on the Web."