Newspaper coverage of neurologic conditions incorrect 20 percent of the time, study shows

ROCHESTER, Minn. -- Twenty percent of all examined newspaper articles about common neurologic conditions had medical errors or exaggerations, according to a study partnering Mayo Clinic physicians and school of journalism experts from Arizona State University.

Researchers say the findings could help improve: communication between physicians and patients, patient attitudes toward various conditions, newspaper coverage of neurologic conditions, and general health care coverage.

The study involved a content analysis of 1,203 newspaper articles published during 2003, with researchers analyzing whether stigmatizing language was used in U.S. newspaper coverage of neurologic diseases. Also performed was fact checking of sources and stories for medical errors.

Newspaper stories were culled from The New York Times, as well as eight regional newspapers with circulation of more than 200,000. Eleven neurologic diseases were the focus, with a total of 21 percent (excluding wire stories) containing language deemed stigmatizing.

Sources of stigma within an article included reporters (55 percent), patients (26 percent), family (17 percent) and physicians (16 percent).

Findings show that 20 percent of analyzed articles had medical errors or exaggerations. Overstating treatment effectiveness was the most common exaggeration.

Researchers also discovered that neurologic conditions with the highest prevalence were among the least covered topics, while less-common diseases such as Alzheimer's were topics in 33 percent of the articles.

Newspapers are among the public's most trusted media for health care coverage and could have a disproportionate influence on reader beliefs about neurologic disorders, the study's authors say.

"Health coverage has a big impact on how people view things," says Joseph Sirven, M.D., a neurologist from Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz. "Sometimes if there's a negative perception, a patient might gi

Contact: John Murphy
Mayo Clinic

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