Responsible reporting of medical research poses challenges for both journals and journalists to avoid misunderstandings that affect news coverage, say Dartmouth Medical School physicians.
Writing in the July 22 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, they urge both the research and the media communities to anticipate confusion and consider the impact of their messages on the public. Drs. Lisa Schwartz, Steven Woloshin and H. Gilbert Welch of Dartmouth Medical School and the White River Junction VT, Veterans Affairs Medical Center explore how a medical study published this winter led to misleading reports and suggest ways to improve communications of research findings to the public.
The original study, which claimed to document evidence of sex and race bias in the evaluation of chest pain, appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine (February 25). The study was based on a controlled experiment in which primary care physicians watched video-taped interviews of "patients," portrayed by actors (two races, both sexes, and two ages) playing carefully-scripted hypothetical patient scenarios.
After seeing the "patients" on video and reviewing relevant medical information, doctors were asked whether they would recommend cardiac catheterization, in which a thin catheter is threaded into the heart for examination. The investigators then compared how often "patients" of different gender, race and age with identical symptoms and medical histories were referred for the invasive procedure.
The study's main message was that blacks and women were referred for
catheterization 40% less often than whites and men. Responding in the New
England Journal, the Dartmouth authors cite three problems with how the data
were presented: the magnitude of the finding was overstated, the comparison
reported was incorrect, and the implicit assumption -- that cardiac
catheterization always repres
Contact: Hali Wickner
Dartmouth Medical School