What the public learns about screening and diagnostic tests through the media

Amanda J Wilson, Jane Robertson, Benjamin D Ewald and David Henry
Med J Aust 2012; 197 (6): . || doi: 10.5694/mja11.11504
Published online: 17 September 2012

Better journalistic standards for reporting on medical tests will mean better informed health care consumers

Screening of healthy groups in the population and diagnostic testing on suspicion of disease are fundamental components of health care delivery and disease prevention. As the general media are important sources of health information for consumers, accurate and balanced reporting is essential. Media reporting of diagnostic tests is skewed towards screening tests, particularly cancer screening, and the quality of coverage appears poor.1-3 However, there are no data on how well the media cover stories about diagnostic tests used to confirm disease. The statistics used to quantify diagnostic test accuracy (sensitivity, specificity and the predictive value of positive and negative tests) are difficult to understand, so conveying this information to the public is a challenging task for journalists.3,4 In this article, we review stories written about diagnostic and screening tests in the Australian media, and propose some questions that journalists covering these topics could use.

  • Amanda J Wilson1
  • Jane Robertson1
  • Benjamin D Ewald1
  • David Henry2

  • 1 University of Newcastle, Newcastle, NSW.
  • 2 Institute of Clinical Evaluative Sciences, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.


We thank Marc Bevan for major contributions to this article through data collection and analysis, writing and editing.

Competing interests:

No relevant disclosures.


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