The role of the media in medicine

medicine-televisionEarlier this year I looked at a mobile innovation that was designed to help ensure that patients take the right medicine each day.  It was born out of studies suggesting that as many as 40 percent of patients are failing to take their medicine as prescribed.

A recent Australian study highlights the challenges the medical profession face.  It looked at the role the media plays in our medical regimes, and found that its influence is often far from benign.

The study, from the University of Sydney, focused on cholesterol lowering statin medicines, and the rigor of patients maintenance of their medicine regime after the airing of a television program that was critical of the drug.

The impact of the media

The researchers tracked around 191,000 people and found that in the aftermath of the program some 14,000 fewer people took their statins than would have been expected.

“In the eight months following the Catalyst broadcast, an estimated 60,897 fewer people had statins dispensed than expected. If patients continue to avoid statins over the next five years, this could result in between 1,522 and 2,900 preventable, and potentially fatal, heart attacks and strokes,” the authors say.

The program questioned any links between heart disease and high cholesterol, therefore casting doubt on the benefits of statins in reducing cardiovascular disease.

The program prompted widespread derision from the healthcare industry, who accused the program makers of misrepresenting scientific evidence and doing little more than scaring people.

The show was subsequently removed by the broadcaster after they found that it had breached their internal standards, but had the damage already been done?

“The impact of the program was not only immediate, but long-lasting. Statin dispensings were significantly lower than expected for the entire 8-month post-broadcast period we examined. It is unclear how long this change will last,” the authors say.

Sadly, the most likely candidates for stopping were those most at risk of cardiovascular disease.

The authors believe their study highlights the real and unnecessary consequence of poor reporting in the media of a medicine.

The role of the media

“The media has a critical role to play in questioning the status quo and in helping people to make sense of health information. These findings demonstrate the power of the media and how serious the consequences can be if reporting is not balanced and informed,” the authors say. “The ABC should be praised for facilitating dialogue about concerns raised by the program and for withdrawing the program when it was found to have breached their standards.”

I’ve written previously about the importance of accurate health related information online, and this study reminds us of the crucial role the mainstream media plays in ensuring patients have access to the right information.

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One thought on “The role of the media in medicine

  1. It's sad, and I don't think the media do anywhere near enough to check the validity of stories before publishing them. Scare stories are so easy to whip up and so hard to dampen back down again!

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