The site, known for its systematic reviews and ratings of news stories about health care, had been funded since 2005 by the Informed Medical Decisions Foundation but lost its funding July 1, 2013. Continue reading
In the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Blythe Bernhard takes a look at the fruits of the slow, steady advances hospitals and health providers have made into local television and print news. In recent years, sponsored segments and partnered content have insinuated themselves into broadcasts, columns and news-esque advertising spaces.
According to Stacey Woelfel, news director at KOMU-Columbia, Mo., partnership offers are more likely to come from medical institutions than from other sectors. There’s no denying that cash-strapped media outlets have welcomed the extra revenue, and the numbers show that providers have come out ahead as well.
Photo by purple_onion via Flickr
Hospitals that promote their services during news broadcasts say the exposure is more effective than pure advertising. The Mayo Clinic in Minnesota launched its own news department a decade ago to distribute its “Medical Edge” stories to media outlets nationwide. A Mayo survey showed patients’ stated preference for the hospital increased about 60 percent within three years of the news service’s launch. Hospital executives said the business value of “Medical Edge” was more than 10 times the cost of producing it, according to the Columbia Journalism Review.
But media critics, including AHCJ member Gary Schwitzer, say that providing all that valuable exposure may involve ethical compromises on the part of news organizations. After all, they’re ceding some control over the content they air.
“It looks prestigious, it looks clean, it looks expert, but this is information that is coming from and being bought by one medical center source,” said Gary Schwitzer, publisher of Health News Review. “Who has vetted that to say that is the best information, and when are we going to hear from other players in town?”
And, by forming these partnerships, news organizations are allowing hospitals to become the gatekeepers for medical news, and thus indirectly allowing financial concerns to dictate what is considered newsworthy. To illustrate the quandry, Bernhard mentions a 10-month cancer prevention series that was created through a partnership between a St. Louis local hospital and a TV news station. It includes weekly news segments, regular two-minute paid ads during commercial breaks and even monthly phone banks and online chats. Cancer prevention is certainly news, but AHCJ’s president told Bernhard there may be other reasons why it’s driving this particular news and advertising blitz.
Cancer is big business for hospitals competing in a “medical arms race” to attract patients with insurance to fund hospital investments in MRI scanners and robotic surgical instruments, said Charles Ornstein, president of the Association of Health Care Journalists and senior reporter at ProPublica, a non-profit investigative newsroom based in New York.
“There’s a reason they chose cancer instead of diabetes care for the uninsured population,” he said.
Even a medical topic as seemingly straightforward as cancer prevention generates differing viewpoints and requires health reporters to reach out to multiple sources, Ornstein said.
For disclosures of the Post-Dispatch‘s own partnerships, see the final subheading, “Popular topic.”
- Research: Local television encourages fatalistic view of cancer
- Ind. station runs ‘canned’ story about Fla. boy
- Hospital says it gives content to short-staffed media
- SF Bay Area station runs sponsored health ‘news’
- Tompkins: Don’t reward station for ethical breach
- State’s paid promotions appear to be newscasts
Gary Schwitzer, AHCJ member and HealthNewsReview.org publisher, calls for more precise language when describing medical tests and to make a bit of an example of Prevention magazine on his blog. The March issue of the magazine leads with a story titled “4 Screening Tests Women Fear.” The problem? The story’s about mammograms, colonoscopies, endoscopies and MRIs. And two of those things, Schwitzer writes, are not like the others. Emphasis mine.
…Only 2 of the 4 tests discussed are screening tests.
Yes, mammograms and colonoscopies are screening tests – used in an apparently healthy population looking for signs of trouble.
Endoscopies and MRI scans — as discussed by Prevention in this case — are not screening tests but diagnostic tests used to help diagnose what is the problem in people with signs or symptoms of something wrong. Screening tests are for people believed to be healthy. Diagnostic tests are for people believed to have a problem.
Schwitzer’s not just splitting hairs here. As he explains, getting these distinctions right can have real-world health impact.
The semantics are important. Lumping diagnostic tests like endoscopy and MRI in with screening tests like mammograms and colonoscopies can give readers the impression that everyone should consider all of them. And, no, not everyone needs to be worried about when to have their next endoscopy or MRI scan…
Medien-Doktor.de, the German version of America’s HealthNewsReview.org and Australia’s pioneering Media Doctor site is set to launch in November. Gary Schwitzer, publisher of HealthNewsReview.org and longtime AHCJ member, recently visited Dortmund, Germany, to consult on what will be billed as “the German HealthNewsReview.”
Last week, (University of Dortmund Professor Holger Wormer and freelance journalist Marcus Anhäuser) brought in more than a dozen of the people who will be story reviewers for the German site. And I helped give them background on our US effort and offer some tips on how to apply our 10 standardized criteria when reviewing stories. (I remember clearly when I got this kind of help five years ago from Dr. David Henry, who helped found the Media Doctor Australia site.) They were an impressive group – all journalists – but many with advanced science or medical degrees. And they work in many different media – online, print, radio, TV, books.
Schwitzer writes that the site will include “interesting new twists,” some of which he may even adopt over at HealthNewsReview.org. Medien-Doktor.de isn’t live yet, but Schwitzer managed to snap a photo of the draft homepage.
According to Schwitzer, this is the fifth installment in the Media Doctor lineage of sites designed to hold health journalism accountable.
Gary Schwitzer, publisher of HealthNewsReview.org, announced that he has resigned from his position as an associate professor in the University of Minnesota’ School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
He announced the resignation on Twitter and through a video on Facebook, in which he explains that he made the move so he could devote his time to HealthNewsReview.org, his blog and “other writing and professional workshops.”