Tough guy

Tough guy

Health Journalism professor Gary Schwitzer’s new Health News Review rates health news stories on a 5-point scale. Stories are rated according to several criteria, including:

  • If the story makes clear how novel the treatment is
  • If the story describes where the treatment is available
  • If the story describes other treatment options
  • The credibility of the story’s sources

Five stories have been rated since April 4, of which 1 received 3 stars, 3 received 2 stars, and 1 received 1 star. No stories received 4 or 5 stars.

The site may provide useful feedback for journalists and editors, but it is only marginally useful for consumers. Mostly we learn that articles are poorly written and don’t cover all the key information. Too few articles are reviewed and it’s time consuming to go through the commentary.

In my view, consumers who want better information about treatments would do better to try to read the professional literature –the abstracts of the original studies or objective sources such as MedPage Today and UpToDate.

April 19, 2006

4 thoughts on “Tough guy”

  1. But most consumers aren’t at all able to understand the complex jargon in medical studies, what outcomes are truly statistically significant, and the studies won’t examine cost.

  2. I agree completely with Kate. Your average consumer doesn’t have the first clue where to even find the original articles and certainly doesn’t have the background to interpret the multi-syllabic mumbo jumbo that we let pass for scientific literature. I won’t even get started on the issue of statistics. I’ve found that even among individuals with non-health related graduate degrees, there is some uncertainty about where to find the relevant studies and how to interpret them.

    While the site may not be perfect, it is a step and it lets consumers know that they aren’t getting the full picture. The purpose of the site isn’t to provide full disclosure for the articles reviewed, but rather to let consumers know that there’s more than meets the eye in the media’s presentation of healthcare-related news.

    As far as the volume of articles reviewed, the site just got up and running. Give it a little bit of time before you call for final rites.

  3. As publisher of, I want to correct several misleading statements in the original post.

    1) In 3 weeks we’ve posted more than 70 reviews on the site, not 5. That’s “too few”?

    (2) There are currently 7 stories on the site that have received 5 stars and more have received 4 stars. As with the comment above, it appears that you only looked at the home page. That’s like judging a book by its cover.

    (3) We evaluate news stories not treatments. So the comment “consumers who want better information about treatments would do better to try to read the professional literature” is off point. We don’t sell drugs on the site either, so consumers shouldn’t come to the site for that either.

    (4) Hundreds of consumers who have written us don’t say “it is only marginally useful.”

    (5) Nor do they say it’s “time consuming to go through the commentary.” To the contrary, many consumers have written that they appreciate the breadth and depth of our review commentary because they don’t get this kind of information anywhere else.

    Thank you for allowing me to set the record straight about our goals and about our early experience in reaching consumers and journalists.

  4. Thanks for the comment. I’m pleased that you’ve received strong positive feedback from consumers. I still think the value is mainly for journalists and editors, and I hope they are reading your commentary and taking it to heart.

    Maybe my story count was incorrect, however when I wrote the piece on April 19 I could only find five stories from the previous two weeks. I didn’t just check the home page.

    I checked the archive page just now and for the whole month of April there are 21 stories listed. Am I missing some?

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