Medicine and the media : communicating medical news to those who need it most

Sammanfattning: Introduction. There is a growing need for better communication of medical findings, knowledge and news to obtain an improved health situation globally, but this is impeded by barriers in the communication chain from academia to patients. Accurate interventions could lead to improved communication skills for researchers and health professionals, better access to medical experts for journalists, empowerment of patients and more effective communication strategies in the new media landscape. Aim. To increase the knowledge about how to communicate important medical findings from the academia to a wider audience with the aim of influencing the public to make use of new knowledge for better health. Focus is on the responsibilities of the medical profession and journalists. Methods. In study I focus groups discussions, a survey directed to health journalists and telephone interviews were performed aiming at identify barriers to high quality medical reporting in the media and strategies to address them. 148 respondents participated in the survey, which resulted in a response rate of almost 22 %. In study II a similar set of methods were used: medical experts participated in focus group discussions, personal interviews were held with experts and a survey was conducted, all aiming at identifying medical experts’ views on obstacles in meetings with journalists. A total of 118 experts participated, which represented 20 % response rate. In study III a quantitative content analysis was used to compare the quality of press releases with their corresponding news articles. The presence or absence of scientific and interest-raising measures were compared. Press releases about new scientific findings were collected from 21 medical universities in five countries. Study IV explored the information-seeking behaviour of young female adults with a diagnosis of one or more chronic illnesses via four focus groups discussions. The aim was to examine the participant’s assessments of the medical information and news that they found in the media and how this applied to their expectations and wishes for information from different sources. Data were analysed by qualitative thematic analysis approach. Results. Study I-II: Journalists identified nine barriers to a better informative value in medical reporting: Lack of time, space and knowledge; competition for space and audience; difficulties with terminology; problems finding and using sources; problems with editors; commercialism. Medical experts identified six main barriers to a better medical reporting: Headlines; deadlines; choice of topic or angle; journalist’s level of medical knowledge; differences in professional cultures; opinions of colleagues. Study III: Quality scores of press releases and their news stories were significantly correlated. The quality of news stories were lower than the quality of press releases. Quality measures that was frequently omitted were: Study’s limitations; funding; conflicts of interest. Study IV: Social media was reported as a dominant source for health information. Respondents expressed a great need for new, relevant, reliable, accurate and valid information about their diagnoses. They had considerable difficulties to understand medical studies and to sort out reliable sources. The lack of information containing a holistic view with medical as well as life style aspects was prominent. Conclusion. Altogether the findings contribute important information for possible interventions aiming at diminishing barriers to improving medical reports in the media. Positive effects of such interventions can be expected on society’s health policies, patients’ use of health care services and individual health decisions. Actors contributing to the transmission of medical information, knowledge and news are supportive for changes. Medical experts show strong interest in interaction with the media and contributing their science to lay people. Medical reporters want to improve their working skills and evaluate strategies to overcome identified constraints. The need for future research is obvious in areas like health literacy, development of new media and patients’ empowerment.

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