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July 31, 2017

The role of the media in determining health views

For any given topic of scientific inquiry, the pharmaceutical industry may conduct hundreds of studies and some variance in results can occur.

By GBI Research

For any given topic of scientific inquiry, the pharmaceutical industry may conduct hundreds of studies and some variance in results can occur.

With an estimated one million statin prescriptions given each week, there are often controversial media stories on their use.

Conflicting stories in the same paper

 

Citing expert opinions and scientific studies, The Daily Mail published an article in November 2016 suggesting that the expert consensus is that statins are a waste of time and fail to reduce the risk of heart disease.

It published another negative article on statins in April 2017, suggesting that their side-effects outweigh the benefits.

Just a few months later, on 28 July, the Daily Mail posted a news story outlining the potential for statins to help 2.5 million people with kidney disease, due to their efficacy in treating high cholesterol and heart disease.

The difference between the negative and positive articles was that the findings used in the positive article were backed by the NICE, an independent public body providing guidance on health and social care. NICE reaches its decisions after considering all relevant literature and scientific data, using research techniques such as meta-analysis, and appraising research designs to check for flaws that may bias results.

The articles describing statins as a 'waste of time' relied on weaker evidence, gained from a single study and the opinion of experts, rather than tried-and-tested research methodologies.

The effect this has on the public

Drug adherence is crucial to a drug’s effectiveness and can only be harmed by conflicting stories that leave the public uncertain what stories. These opposing reports cause readers to question the efficacy and safety of the medication.

Following the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccination controversy, a qualitative study found that parents were unsure who to trust regarding health information. Politicians and healthcare providers were percieved as untrustworthy on health issues and had vested interests.

How to fix the problem

To improve how news is conveyed to the public, the pharmaceutical industry should rely more on specific information, such as that gained from regulatory bodies and meta-analysis results, giving less coverage to controversial single studies until a scientific census has been formed or the study has been replicated a number of times with a degree of similarity in the results.

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