Thursday, April 26, 2007


When I was a little kid, I saw an episode of 20/20 where they did an expose on doctors who had defaulted on their student loans. (I think it was John Stossel). And they followed some doctors to their front door and asked why they were such deadbeats! Now, I grant you, defaulting on a student loan isn’t a stand up thing to do. But let’s put this in perspective: According to the Health and Human Services website (click here), approximately 150 million dollars in HEAL loans (now discontinued) is still owed by professionals, and guess how much of that is from allopathic doctors…19 million! So 90% of these defaulted HEAL loans is owed from non-physicians. The New York Times doesn't highlight this, as the title of this article from 1981 clearly indictaes who their beef is with. “Those deadbeat doctors” they scolded.

I mention this, not to talk about the student loans racket (we can take that up another day), but to give you an idea about how doctors are generally portrayed in the media, and how the media can make it more difficult for doctors to practice medicine. A recent article appeared in the Archives of Internal Medicine examining the effects of aspirin on mortality in women, and looked specifically at the effects on cardiovascular disease and cancer. I can’t link to the article, but the conclusion was that there was a 43% reduction in the risk of mortality from cardiovascular disease with the use of aspirin! That’s great! The Associated Press started their press release thusly:

Aspirin in low to moderate doses may lower the risk of death in women, particularly those who are older and prone to heart disease, a 24-year study of nearly 80,000 women suggests

Fantastic! Oh, but wait, this result disagrees directly with FIVE other good studies that said there is NO benefit for women from aspirin for cardiovascular disease. What gives? The AP doesn’t really specify. They do say this:

However, experts cautioned that the results are not definitive and that women should not take aspirin as a health preventive without talking to their doctor.

Nice! They manage to weasel out of it by putting it on the doctor to sort out the confusion. Thank you, o’ glorious AP! I guess they didn’t want to enter into a boring discussion about why observational studies aren’t so good, and how superior, placebo-controlled trials like the Woman’s Health Study are often more conservative in their findings, but also more reliable. No, why bother. Let’s just let a patient read this item, then he can scratch his head, and inundate his doctor with a bunch of conflicting advice. Or, maybe the patient will just throw up his hands and say “Gee, the doctors can’t even agree with themselves. So screw it. They probably don’t even know what they’re doing.”

Why did the Associated Press even write this piece? It doesn’t change the current thinking that aspirin does not prevent primary coronary disease in women and this information only confuses patients. The reason is the AP has to write articles for junk newspapers so we all have something to read on the subway.

This is just one example of studies published in the mainstream press, with no responsibility taken by the media for the disinformation that can spread. Some might argue that a well-informed patient is a better off one. That may be true. But with limited expertise, this knowledge can hamper patient care, as illustrated above. Also, the public doesn’t realize that one study alone proves nothing! Because the mainstream media don’t want to mention this uninteresting fact!

Please, a plea from me to the media: STOP making things worse!!! Leave the conclusions and the education of patients to scientists and doctors.


Mike S. said...

I agree wholeheartedly. That would be great for the scientists and doctors to get out there and tell the patients the real news. It would be a breath of fresh air for a mainstream magazine to actually hire a scientist to write the science and medicine columns. Too many researchers I have worked with however, like to stay in their hole and not communicate with the outside world. I wish these people would talk to the press or speak out somehow! This society needs more intellect contributing to the daily news.

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