News & Research, Patient Education, Resources

Critical Thinking: Assessing Health Claims in the News

Posting links to news reports related to headaches and pain has made me increasingly uncomfortable. It is important to stay on top of what’s happening with our disease, but reading headlines and brief, one-sided reports isn’t enough.

Media outlets do serve the important role of messenger, but the primary goal of newspapers and radio and TV stations is financial gain. Hailing the miracle cure, shocking study results or any extreme position gets attention, which in turn brings in money. I don’t say this to be critical, but to point out the inherent contradictions in reporting.

Reporters and news sources do have a responsibility to improve the quality of medical reporting, but we’re doing ourselves a disservice waiting for the industry to change. Patients have a responsibility to digest information critically. As I wrote in yesterday’s post about nerve stimulators, we have to question what we learn – no matter if we learn it from the media, doctors or alternative health care providers.

These are some questions I ask when I evaluate news.

  • Is the proclamation in the headline supported by the findings described in the article?
  • Is only one point-of-view presented? Who else may provide a valuable perspective?
  • If it’s about a study, is it the first one to have these results? If not, are the findings consistent with those in other studies?
  • Is cause and effect stated or implied in the article? If so, does the information in the article support this conclusion?
  • Are the side effects covered adequately? Could there be side effects or complications that aren’t addressed?

While writing this post, I found Health Compass, an excellent resource on how to evaluate the reliability of health information. Although the focus of the site is aging, the lessons apply to anyone seeking medical knowledge.

As for The Daily Headache, I sometimes blog about news that doesn’t hold up to these standards. I actively decide if it’s worth sharing even if it doesn’t fit, but I don’t always tell you why or even that I’m doing this. I’ll try to be clearer in the future.