Signs your PR isn’t as ethical as your patient care
It’s easy to get fired up when you have “news” to share – a research paper published, a physician invented a “life-changing” device, a “miracle” patient story.
Well, calm down, champ. Here’s why: Too often press releases from health care organizations overstate successes and understate risks, costs and other issues.
Poor press release fallout
The end result is less credibility, more questions from the public and an increase in misinformation that won’t serve the organization or the public well in the long run.
Having a drug that cures baldness isn’t great if it also gives 90 percent of users uncontrollable diarrhea 23 hours of the day. Just saying.
10 questions to solve your problem
So great – we have a problem. No, it doesn’t run the gamut of health care organizations, but it’s often enough that savvy journalists take notice and will call you out. So will social media followers. So may your colleagues. That’s embarrassing. The bigger issue is you’re doing the public a disservice.
Luckily, the easiest way to prevent succumbing is to ask the 10 questions (listed below) that one of the best critical health journalism sites, healthnewsreview.org, asks of every article and news release it critiques.
- Does the news release adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?
- Does the news release adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?
- Does the news release adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?
- Does the news release seem to grasp the quality of evidence?
- Does the news release commit disease-mongering?
- Does the news release identify funding sources and disclose conflicts of interest?
- Does the news release compare the new approach with existing alternatives?
- Does the news release establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?
- Does the news release establish the true novelty of the approach?
- Does the news release include unjustifiable, sensational language, including in the quotes of researchers?
The gold standard
Gary Switzer, a long-time health care journalist, launched healthnewsreview.org, which holds journalists and health care organizations accountable for the news they publish. It’s an outstanding and challenging project, but one that remains needed – and more relevant than ever – as medicine and the health care industry increase in complexity.
If you know about it, fantastic. Let its brilliance and simplicity guide your communications and don’t be swayed by pushy physicians or an organization’s self interests. If not, get to know it – or find out the hard way as I did.
Incoming flashback… I thought I published a release that was airtight. It included conflicts of interest, potential side effects – everything the public needed. But with the persuasion of a researcher, I omitted information he claimed wasn’t necessary. Turns out, healthnewsreview.org disagreed.
Cue embarrassment, told-you-so’s and frustration. This was the first time I had seen the site, which launched after my time as a health care journalist. I was grateful.
Yes, our release was put on notice but I now had a resource to help me build my case that press releases need to undergo the same scrutiny as other health information. This wasn’t a new set of headphones we were selling – it was public health information that could have serious ramifications.
So next time you wonder if your release is serving the public and your organization as best as possible, ask these 10 questions. Your ego – and organization – will thank you.