Marilyn Mann's guest post on Health News Review highlights how media hype contributes to medical overtreatment, which, she argues, both worsens patient outcomes and increases health care costs. Marilyn's case-in-point is a recent CNN special, 'The Last Heart Attack,' which promoted coronary artery calcium scans as a screening measure to prevent heart attacks. However, Marilyn observes that 'screening with calcium scans and carotid ultrasounds has never been shown to improve health outcomes over traditional risk factor screening alone. With a side order of interviews with Bill Clinton touting his plant-based diet despite thin evidence of efficacy, this is more news from Sanjay Gupta to be taken with caution.
Just days later, Gary Schwitzer also notes on Health News Review that NBC anchor Andrea Mitchell used a lifetime risk statistic in a misleading way while announcing her breast cancer diagnosis. Other breast cancer advocates, while extending their sympathies for Ms. Mitchell, also shared their concerns about misinformation contained in her message.
This is not necessarily surprising. In interviews, CFAH found that journalists are encouraged to write short, definite pieces and avoid ambiguity of any kind. This means not qualifying the findings or describing the limitations of studies, or making statements like 'more research is needed.
Jessie Gruman expands on the consequences of this practice (and the public's complicity and desire for this type of "news") in Our Preference in Health News: Uncertainty or Naked Ladies?: "If questions about the risks of a drug I take are glossed over, why should I inquire about alternatives?"