What We’re Reading: Evaluating Health News

The profusion of health news stories reported in newspapers and magazines and on TV can be overwhelming—and sometimes confusing. It seems that you can’t open a paper or turn on the TV without hearing about the latest medical study and how essential it is to your well-being. Careful readers may wonder whether the attention-grabbing headlines really match up with the claims of the original studies.

Registered nurse Debra Manzella, at About.com’s Diabetes Blog, shares this concern. She thinks that the problem is not so much the health studies themselves, but the fact that they are “grossly over-simplified” by the time they make it into your daily newspaper.


So how can you learn to look at health news with a more discerning eye? A good place to start is HealthNewsReview.org. This Web site, published by journalism professor Gary Schwitzer, enlists a team of reviewers from the fields of medicine, journalism, health services, and public health. The reviewers track down health-related articles from newspapers and magazines across the country, as well as stories that appear on TV news, and submit them to a rigorous review for accuracy, clarity, balance, and depth. (A full description of the review criteria is available here.) The reviewers then give each article a rating of one to five stars depending on how well it measures up to the criteria.

By using the same skills employed by the reviewers at HealthNewsReview.org, you can become better at telling when the health news information you come across is sound—and when you may have to do a little more research before you know the whole story.

This blog entry was written by Assistant Editor David Golann.

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  • Jeff

    I’ve been reading about Vicor’s PD2i Cardiac Analyzer. It uses an algorithm that can assess a patient’s risk risk to die from Sudden Cardiac Death (SCD) by analyzing heart beats. The PD2i has the ability of predicting SCD, with greater than 95% sensitivity and 81% specificity within a six month period. The test can be administered in a cardiologist’s office in 20 minutes.
    This device could save a number of lives.

  • Steve Parker, M.D.

    Thanks for bringing Health News Review to our attention. Most of the reviewers seem to be Harvard medical school professors. Everybody who gets excited about medical news in the popular media should check out this website. I especially appreciated the section on “absolute versus relative risk.”

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