Keywords: Health news, media, Schwitzer, Health News Review
Citation: deBronkart D. Health news review: criteria for evaluating health news reporting. J Participat Med. 2010 Aug 25; 2:e4.
Published: August 25, 2009.
Competing Interests: The author is an informal associate of Gary Schwitzer, frequently retweets the site’s reviews, and has discussed the site’s principles on video with Schwitzer.
Title and address of site: Health News Review, www.HealthNewsReview.org
Sponsorship: This site is funded by the Foundation for Informed Medical Decision Making (http://www.informedmedicaldecisions.org/).
Purpose / Focus: From the site:
“Dedicated to: Improving the accuracy of news stories about medical treatments, tests, products and procedures; helping consumers evaluate the evidence for and against new ideas in health care.” The publisher uses ten criteria (see http://healthnewsreview.org/review-criteria.php) to evaluate health news reporting in mass media. The site publishes reviews and ratings (1 to 5 stars) of health news articles and promotes awareness of its evaluation criteria.
Intended audience: Journalists, citizens, health policy people.
Type of information: Health news reviews.
Community or social networking capabilities: This site contains a publisher’s blog, but no community forum. Readers are welcome to comment.
Descriptive information: Publisher Gary Schwitzer is a former journalism professor at the University of Minnesota who based his site on the methods of Media Doctor Australia, a website located at http://www.mediadoctor.org.au.
Why would someone interested in participatory medicine want to know about this? Learning to decode news articles about health and health care is essential to being a responsible driver of one’s health. It is impossible to act responsibly without good information. Too often the health stories we read have been poorly analyzed and reported on by today’s time-pressured reporters, as Schwitzer’s reviews make clear. The reviews and methodology presented on this site can help patients bring better quality information to the care relationship with their clinicians, and help all parties make better informed decisions.
Careful scrutiny of health news can be a potent enabler of participatory medicine because of the radical differences in focus between the patient, who must care for only their own illnesses and conditions, and the clinician, who must know about and manage many. One of the most often cited facts in the e-Patients White Paper, a founding document of the participatory medicine movement, is physicians’ information overload (see http://e-patients.net/e-Patients_White_Paper.pdf). Dr. Donald Lindberg, director of the National Library of Medicine, is quoted as saying, “If I read two journal articles every night, at the end of a year I’d be 400 years behind.” In a personal conversation in April 2010 I asked him if that’s still true. He replied, “It’s much worse.”
We consumers can help physicians stay informed about our health concerns by scouting or digging for relevant articles. Chances are we are not going to search first in the scientific literature, but rather in the news media. For us, this is where quality matters. We depend on accurate representation of new scientific findings by journalists: Is the finding new? How robust is it? At what point in the development process is the drug or treatment approach? Schwitzer’s team encourages better health news reporting by publicly critiquing the work of specific journalists while at the same time demonstrating to the public the criteria that each of us should apply in our own reading of the news. Because their criteria are presented in lay terms, they enable consumer participation in health decision making.