Of media and medicine
ABC News Senior Medical Contributor Dr. Tim Johnson is concerned the dance between the media and the medical community is producing two real dangers for consumers.
"I'm worried about misinformation and the idea that the latest and newest technology is the best," Johnson told the crowd gathered last week as part of Medical Education Week's J. Antony Swartz-Lloyd Media Grand Rounds. The event honors the former Senior Vice President of Communications and Public Relations at BIDMC.
Johnson illustrated his fears with a reference to the 1990s, when several notable oncologists said bone marrow transplants treated breast cancer better than chemotherapy. Media reports prompted women and their families to demand transplants, suing medical facilities that refused this course of therapy.
A few years later, three studies confirmed that bone marrow transplants were no better than chemotherapy when it came to treating breast cancer. "The practice of these transplants disappeared practically overnight," Johnson said. "But this is after so many women endured these costly and dangerous procedures."
Johnson detailed a chronological history of the relationship between the medical community and reporters beginning in the 1950s and 1960s. During this period, Johnson said both sides were suspicious of each other and shared little information. Then, the medical community began sharing health news with the media as soon as it was published in a reputable medical journal. Yet, the competition now among physicians for patients and among media outlets for viewers has led to an information highway "full of traffic and litter on both sides of the road," Johnson said.
"In 1984, I become a full-time reporter for ABC News and at that time, the three major television networks saw 95 percent of the viewing audience tuning into their 6:30 p.m. newscast each night," Johnson said. "Now, less than 40 percent tune in. More people are getting their news from the Internet without knowing if the information they are reading is accurate. I worry about the current role of media as it interacts with medicine as both fight for their audiences."