Tip Sheets

Quick-and-dirty refresher for overall medical reporting

By Tara Haelle

Sometimes you just need a quick-start guide to reporting on medical studies or a refresher if you haven’t done it in a while.

Drawing from three different sources, here’s a five-minute tip sheet you can skim between tasks. For a little more detail on each of the items, check out the Poynter guides to fact-checking health claims (drawing from HealthNewsReview.org) and science claims.

  1. Humans aren’t mice (or rats or baboons or macaques or pigs or rabbits…). Be cautious about reporting on animal studies and make it clear that the effects are a long way from applying to humans.

  2. Pay attention to conflicts of interest. (That includes checking your sources’ potential conflicts.)

  3. Read beyond the press release and the abstract — and don’t trust the hype of either.

  4. If it’s an observational study, don’t assume or imply causation.

  5. Be aware of how absolute risk and relative risk differ; include absolute risk as much as possible.

  6. Consider how transparent a study is and pay attention to its design. (See the glossary and key concepts for explanations of different types.)

  7. Find out whether the study has been replicated or is replicating past results, and provide context by including what still isn’t known.

  8. Be wary of relying only on P-values to determine significance of a study: know what p-hacking is and look for clinical significance too.