A new advancement in medicine or medical breakthrough is often met with praise from the media.
Understanding what the term medical breakthrough actually means can help your health writing stay accurate, focused and credible.
When hearing about new breakthroughs in medicine, you may find most have relevance for advancing patient care.
However, news reports can sometimes blur the lines between advancements in research and breakthroughs in medicine.
By taking a few careful considerations, you can select medical research that is actually an advance in medicine (not just a hyped-up finding) and better inform your audience.
What do we really mean by medical breakthrough?
According to most medical dictionary definitions, like The Free Dictionary by Farlex, a medical breakthrough is a significant step forward in research.
A breakthrough can be anything from a cure for a chronic disease to a discovery of a new pharmaceutical therapy – or even an innovative medical device.
More importantly, breakthroughs provide a greater understanding of treatments, diseases or health topics that can offer hope for further advances.
A breakthrough can hallmark a future change in patient care for an aspect of clinical medicine or the way a disease can be treated or diagnosed.
However, the potential for future research outcomes is not always guaranteed. This is where the lines get blurred and what you need to keep top of mind in your writing.
It is rare for any novel research in medicine to offer a complete cure for a disease, and patients may be misinformed or led to believe otherwise through health buzzwords, hype, misleading health copywriting and sensationalised writing.
Avoid the ‘breakthrough’ hype
When writing about a new development in medicine, you may need to ensure the medical breakthrough has been reported accurately and isn’t purely hype. This means going to the source, reading the original research and the context of the findings.
Advancements and innovation in medicine go hand-in-hand with years of research, money and time that culminate to pioneering therapies, techniques and products. Make sure what you’re reading is the end result rather than the early research and suggested findings.
When reading the original research, you may want to consider the following questions:
- How was the research conducted? Evaluate the clinical trial design and consider the sample size.
- Was the testing done on humans?
- Have the findings been sensationalised or have they been published from a reputable source?
Understanding the significance of the research is crucial not to report on sensationalised research findings from reports on phase I or phase II research, or research not tested in humans.
It’s important to look at phase III clinical trial evidence in humans that has proven patient benefits.
And finally, while it may not be sexy to write the words ‘advancement in medicine’, the term ‘medical breakthrough’ should in these instances be swapped.
Types of medical breakthroughs
Knowing where to find credible sources is an important aspect of writing accurately. You can find medical news alerts from research institutions, medical journals or press releases.
Here are a few recent medical breakthroughs that are credible – the results from this research can have a real benefit for patient care:
- At the end of last year, research from the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute and Sydney’s St Vincent’s hospital successfully resuscitated two hearts donated after circulatory death (DCD) and used the hearts in a heart transplant. The breakthrough means less reliance on brain dead cardiac organ donation.
- Engineers built a bionic eye to treat patients with retinitis pigmentosa, one of leading causes of blindness. The device allows the legally blind finally to see.
- Human genome project. A while ago now, but in 2003 scientists mapped a draft sequencing of all the genes that make up human DNA. The sequencing can help identify single genes that cause diseases and in turn providing better treatment options for patients.
Do you have any suggestions when reading or writing about a medical breakthrough? Share any ideas or thoughts with us.