Tag Archives: heart attack

The pitfalls of made-for-media scientific research

In our archive, you’ll find plenty of discussion about how the rhythms and demands of the newsroom impact media coverage of science, but what about the other side of the coin?


Photo by youraddresshere via Flickr

What about those odd times when it appears that scientific researchers and publishers time their releases to get the most attention from the mainstream media?

When that question was begged by the overwhelming attention given to a study of heart attacks during two 1980s Superbowls that just happened to be released in time for this year’s big game, “Dr. Wes” Fisher examined the study on his blog. In this case, it seems, a well-timed news hook by the study’s authors may have triumphed over solid research. As an anecdote for all the unquestioning, “will-ya-look-at-this!” headlines, Fisher offers a quick laundry list of the study’s shortcomings:

  • Selection bias
  • Contamination bias
  • Co-intervention bias
  • The use of diagnosis codes culled from death certificates

(Hat tip to R. W. Donnell)

Online guide focuses on covering medical studies

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 behind a new AHCJ reporting guide on covering health studies.

The guide will help journalists analyze and write about health and medical research studies. It offers advice on recognizing and reporting the problems, limitations and backstory of a study, as well as publication biases in medical journals and it includes 10 questions you should answer to produce a meaningful and appropriately skeptical report. This guide, supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, will be a road map to help you do a better job of explaining research results for your audience.

Researcher: Screening could save young athletes

Writing for Time, Eben Harrell looks into whether athletes should be screened for cardiac problems in an effort to prevent sudden cardiac death (SCD). The condition, in which the heart suddenly stops working, is more likely to strike down athletes than it is their couch-potato counterparts.

There is evidence that screening, including the electrocardiogram, can prevent most cases of SCD.

Analyzing data from 42,000 athletes in the northeastern Veneto region of the country between 1979 and 2004, Italian researchers found that ECG screening resulted in an almost 90% drop in sudden cardiac deaths. Incidence of SCD among the unscreened non-athletic population did not change significantly during that time.

Noting the ECG’s shortcomings – it costs about $500 and produces false positives 7 percent of the time – Harrell adds that there is some evidence that a simple physical examination could be equally effective.


Find tips about reporting on the health of student athletes and links to a number of articles, tip sheets, journal articles and other resources in AHCJ’s new “Reporting on sports injuries in school-age children” tip sheet.

Lack of equipment, protocol could be deadly

Judith Graham of the Chicago Tribune reports that the city’s ambulances don’t have equipment that can detect whether a heart attack is an ST segment elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI), the most consistently deadly kind of heart attack.heart

Complicating the situation, only about half of Chicago’s hospitals can perform the preferred treatment for STEMI heart attacks – balloon angioplasty – expeditiously around the clock, Feldman said. Yet the Fire Department takes heart attack patients to the closest hospital, regardless of its medical expertise.

In other U.S. cities, that equipment allows paramedics to alert hospitals so that doctors can be fore prepared to treat the patient as soon as they arrive at the hospital. Other cities also have hospitals that are designated as “STEMI ready” and paramedics can bypass closer hospitals to take patients to one that provides appropriate care.

Experts say that without the equipment, “”treatment is often delayed, increasing the chances that the patient will suffer permanent heart damage or die.”