Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Caution: News Articles Lax In Disclosing Drug Trial Funding

The mainstream media do not report potential sources of bias in medical research, informs a study in the latest issue of JAMA.

The study analyzed news media coverage of medical studies and found that, more often than not the news articles fail to report pharmaceutical company funding. In addition they frequently refer to medications by their brand names, rather than their generic names. Both of which can be possible sources of bias, the researchers suggest.

The trend is critical because medical news articles in the media make up for an important source of medical information for many patients, and even some physicians. So the audience may already be reading commercially inclined information, especially the physicians.

For the purpose of the study the authors identified 306 news articles, of which 175 were from newspapers and 131 were from online sources. Of the 306 news articles about company-funded medication studies, the funding source for the studies was not reported in 42 percent of the articles! That's pretty close to half the medical news in the media.

Aside from the sources of funding, news articles, especially short ones may be skipping other vital information such as the side effects. Experts, believe that news agencies should have explicit guidelines on reporting of medical studies.

However another startling find came to light during the study. Many editors of the 100 most popular publications when surveyed indicated that they identified the funding sources, had drafted polices on medical reporting, etc, a reality check however, revealed a divergence between their perceptions and practice. For instance, of the editors who reported always identifying company funding, failed to cite company funding in about 45 percent cases.

When it's about referring to generic names, one of the problems with many drug names seems to be that they are tongue twisters, but this justification isn't sufficient if accurate reporting is to be achieved. Perhaps firm steps need to be taken, and with time the audience, especially the patient population will get accustomed.

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