Author Archives: Tara Haelle

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.

Resources for responsibly reporting on supplements during the pandemic

Photo: Special via Flickr

One of the biggest challenges of covering the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic has been the proliferation of inaccurate information. That includes misinformation, propaganda, disinformation, conspiracy theories and, most pernicious of all, fake cures and treatments.

Some of the misinformation about substances that supposedly can treat COVID-19 is downright harmful, such as bleach or colloidal silver. The problem is so bad that the U.S Food and Drug Administration began issuing warning letters to multiple companies in early March to stop selling products that they said were fraudulently claiming could be used against coronavirus infections. Continue reading

How to be more effective in communicating risk to readers

Photo: Sasha You via Flickr

One of the most challenging aspects about reporting on medical research is the need to convey risk in a meaningful way to readers. Human brains are not wired to understand risk in the way we need to understand it in the 21st century. Our brains evolved to assess risks for very different environments and threats than those we face today ― particularly in a time of pandemic. Continue reading

These data resources can help localize studies on medical facility quality control

Photo: Scott & White Healthcare via Flickr

If you cover medical studies for national publications, you rarely have to worry about localizing it to one particular region. But local and state journalists typically have to go deeper when covering a national study for region-specific publications. A new obesity prevalence study is out? How does that compare to obesity rates in your state? In your county? In your city? In your schools? Continue reading

New data source useful when covering health care professionals

Photo: Deborah Crowe

So much of reporting on medical studies focuses on drugs, treatments, preventive care, health outcomes, risk factors and similar aspects of individual health. It’s easy to forget that there is a whole other area of literature concerned with the people who provide care.

More and more studies are examining burnout and mental health among physicians, nurses and other providers, for example. Health policy often relies on research about workforce trends and shortages. But many of studies only look at the whole nation or a particular region, making difficult to localize the data if you’re not a national reporter. Continue reading

Protect readers’ time and bandwidth from unpublished trials

Photo: Thomas Leuthard via Flickr

Every week for years, I’ve received press releases about studies starting up. This one looking at heart disease, that one about a common cancer, and still another on a rare childhood disease. I’ve written about precisely zero of them. When the public relations person follows up, I’ll explain: “I write primarily about peer-reviewed research. Let me know when it’s published.”

If you write for business, pharma or medical trade publications, there may be times when you write about the initiation of a study. Even then, it’s typically more important to wait until the study is actually underway and there’s something to say about it. And for consumer publications, I can’t think of any reason to talk about an upcoming individual study that hasn’t begun. Continue reading

Survey findings on mental health during COVID-19 potentially helpful in reporting

Photo: Nenad Stojkovic via Flickr

I’ve written already about the mental health toll the COVID-19 pandemic and associated management strategies, such as physical distancing, are having and will have on the population. Then I received a press release from the health information site Healthline that put some numbers to that toll, both from their internal data and from a nationwide survey from the public opinion company YouGov.

Healthline in May launched a special section on mental health during the pandemic that’s full of quick service pieces on managing anxiety, stress, depression, panic attacks and similar experiences during the pandemic. Some of these stories can provide ideas for similar pieces for your publication, or be jumping off places for deeper dives into the medical research on mental health during major crises. Continue reading