Yet another reason to control the press at your meetings

This article in the Sun-Herald points out another reason to make sure the right message from your meeting goes out to the public: The dreaded "oops factor."

    warnings on antidepressants about suicide risks. The war over whether Americans are getting the right advice on fat, calories and carbs. The shocker that hormone therapy increases some health risks instead of easing them.

    It's enough to make a patient wonder if doctors can get it right.

    It's not just patients who wonder. The National Institutes of Health will sponsor a forum on medical studies next month, featuring prominent scientists from around the country. The punch line of the title: "Why Do We Sometimes Get It Wrong?"

One of the reasons for medical reversals, according to the article, is that "Public attention goes not just to studies that are published in medical journals, where they have been reviewed by other scientists. The media also is reporting on studies at medical meetings, even though those results are often preliminary." Some, like Dr. Lisa Schwartz, associate professor at Dartmouth Medical School, even accuse meetings of being more about getting ink than peer discussion and review.

This article in The Hindu further explores the topic:

    "Frequently, the presentations represent work in progress. Unfortunately, many projects fail to live up to their early promise; in some cases, fatal flaws emerge," the paper states [quoting a 2002 JAMA article].

    It goes further to say, "Press coverage at this early stage may leave the public with the false impression that the data are in fact mature, the methods valid, and the findings widely accepted. As a consequence, patients may experience undue hope or anxiety or may seek unproved, useless, or even dangerous tests and treatments."

It's all about controlling the message, working with the press to make sure that if a preliminary study comes up with a headline-provoking result, they know to stress that the findings are preliminary and more work needs to be done. The vultures among us may take it and run with it anyway, but responsible journalists are in the business to let people know what's really going on, not that we've discovered a miracle pill that will melt off 50 pounds with no diet or exercise. This article, while aimed at containing bad news, offers some good strategies for dealing with the press.

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