Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Health writers: Beware the ill-informed patient

I'm a health writer so I read sites like The CardioBrief blog. I don't expect to gain any insights on how to write my stories. But, I found this post from last week and it made me pause.

You always need real people in your stories. When you're writing about an illness, you need to find someone with that illness, and it can be hard.  Now we have "patient communities" on the Internet. But, not all patients speak with the same voice . And, as Larry Husten reminds us here, they can be wrong.

 Here’s a thought that probably won’t gain me many new friends: I am really sick and tired of the excessive role given to patients in news stories about health and medical issues.

Consider the recent avalanche of news stories about the FDA’s two-day hearing on Avastin for breast cancer. Nearly every story included respectful, uncritical and often fawning coverage of the patients who spoke at the hearing and who demonstrated outside the hearing. They all said the same things: Avastin saved my life. I wouldn’t be here without Avastin. I demand the right to choose Avastin.

If it were scientists making these claims the reporters (or at least the good ones) might ask them some hard questions: what is the evidence for your claim? How do you know the drug saved your life? They might even point out that for every person standing there being interviewed there might be many more unable to give interviews because they were dead. They might point out (and educate their readers along the way) that anecdotes are not evidence...

No comments: