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Monitoring the quality of medical news reporting: early experience with media doctor

David E Smith, Amanda J Wilson and David A Henry, on behalf of the media doctor study group*
Med J Aust 2005; 183 (4): 190-193.

Summary

Objective: To analyse the reviews of medical news articles posted on media doctor, a medical news-story monitoring website.

Design and setting: A descriptive summary of operating the media doctor website between 1 February and 1 September 2004.

Main outcome measures: Consensus scores for 10 assessment criteria for the medical intervention described in the article (novelty, availability in Australia, alternative treatment options given, evidence of “disease mongering”, objective supportive evidence given, quantification of benefits, coverage of harms, coverage of costs, independent sources of information, and excessive reliance on a press release); cumulative article rating scores for major media outlets.

Results: 104 news articles were featured on media doctor in the study period. Both online and print media scored poorly, although the print media were superior: mean total scores 56.1% satisfactory for print and 40.1% for online; percentage points difference 15.9 (95% CI, 8.3–23.6). The greatest differences were seen for the use of independent information sources, quantification of benefits and coverage of potential harms.

Conclusions: Australian lay news reporting of medical advances, particularly by the online news services, is poor. This might improve if journals and researchers became more active in communicating with the press and the public.

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  • David E Smith1
  • Amanda J Wilson2
  • David A Henry3
  • on behalf of the media doctor study group*

  • 1 South Lakes Medical Group, Dora Creek, NSW.
  • 2 University of Newcastle, Newcastle, NSW.

Correspondence: 

Acknowledgements: 

Media doctor is a project of the Newcastle Institute of Public Health (the population health research arm of Hunter Medical Research Institute), which receives funding from NSW Health through its population research capacity building program.

Competing interests:

None identified.

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