Any information coming from a commercial source should be reviewed by independent experts before claims can be made and verified.
Getting evidence checked by experts helps to qualify the study results and avoid inaccurate reporting, which we saw in the fish oil and prostate cancer case.
Even in the case of breaking medical news, you need to take time to review the appropriate data.
This can be difficult when deadlines are mounting and you’re under pressure to assess these medical breakthroughs.
And if your publication wants to get the edge up on the competition and get their own stories published first, the pressure is most definitely on.
But in the interest of independence and credibility, accurate reporting must be a priority.
It’s up to you, the medical writer, to make this happen.
The different standards of medical news writing
Gary Schwitzer of Healthnewsreview.org is a campaigner for quality health reporting.
His recent post here discusses the apparent different standards of medical writing compared to business writing with examples of medical writing gone wrong.
According to Schwitzer: “A common theme in many of these stories is the failure to include an independent perspective. They are often based on (lifted from) news releases, industry news conferences, or interviews with only company execs. It’s the kind of single-source journalism that doesn’t work anywhere, anytime. But in health news stories, it’s malpractice.”
Is bad medical news reporting akin to malpractice?
Schwitzer likens bad medical news reporting to malpractice.
Harsh, but true.
Health reporters influence the way the general public manage their health – whether we like it or not.
The worst that could happen in this latest example is, as Raeburn says, “plugging the drug even though we haven’t yet seen the data on whether the drug works.”
But in other circumstances, readers can be swayed by health news reports of effective drugs and remedies – and this can have serious implications.
Be a credible medical writer
When you’re writing medical news, always remember to:
- Check your facts
- Go back to the original source when you’re reporting on research
- Speak to independent experts
- Don’t take the information presented in a press release at face value
- Remember that press releases are written by PR executives, not journalists
- Question the results if they are presented by pharmaceutical companies
- Don’t make claims unless you are certain they can be verified
- Learn how to write quality content that is understandable and actionable.