American College Of Surgeons - Inspiring Quality: Highest Standards, Better Outcomes

All the News That's Flawed to Print - the Good, the Bad & the Future of Health Journalism

Is health news … bad for your health? According to, 70 percent of health reporting fails to meet basic journalistic standards. On today’s show, the publisher of the media watchdog explains how to be a smart consumer of health news (here’s a hint: turn off your TV). And later in the show, a day in the life of a health news veteran.

Listen to this episode.

Segment 1: The Watchdog [1:38 - 16:20]
Guest: Gary Schwitzer, Publisher, HealthNewsReview.Org

gary_schwitzer_A friend e-mails you a recent New York Times article about a new generation of pacemakers that communicate directly with doctors. The headline reads "New Tools for Helping Heart Patients." It sounds cool.    

But would you read the article differently if you knew that Health News Review only gave the article a two-star rating ... out of a possible five?

Since 2006, Health News Review has acted as a kind of watchdog on the health journalism industry, focusing on news stories that make a therapeutic claim about specific treatments, tests, products, and procedures. The non-profit's two dozen reviewers - all of them practicing physicians, journalists, or experts in public health - use a set of 10 standardized criteria to evaluate each article; and each article is reviewed by up to three different members of the Health News Review team. Among the criteria reviewers use: does the article discuss costs; is there evidence of disease mongering or conflict of interest; and does the story appear to rely solely on an industry news release.

In the case of the New York Times article about pacemakers, Health News Review determined that the story failed to adequately discuss the new devices' benefits versus their potential harm; and didn't give a realistic evaluation of the costs.  

Gary Schwitzer is the publisher of Health News Review. He's worked as a journalist and educator for more than three decades, including 14 years as a television medical news reporter. Until earlier this year, Schwitzer was on the faculty of the University of Minnesota's School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Segment 2: The Veteran [16:37 - 27:52]
scott-hensley Guest: Scott Hensley, Host of NPR's Health Blog "Shots"

So what's it like to be on the receiving end of a Health News Review ... review? Is the site's criteria fair? Is it helpful?  Among the news outlets that publisher Gary Schwitzer praises for consistently good health reporting is National Public Radio. Joining us now is Scott Hensely. A veteran health reporter, Hensley is the host of NPR's health blog, "Shots." He's also a former reporter at The Wall Street Journal.