Medicine and the Media (as part of the EBHC Summer School)

This three-day workshop will form part of our Evidence-Based Health Care Summer School and is designed to enable communicators of evidence-based medicine to reduce uncertainty when reporting evidence.

Problems with health messages in the news, press releases, public health messages, blogs, and social media are well known. Messages are often exaggerated, oversimplified, lacking in context, or uncritical. As a result, the public often lacks key information and context needed to make sense of the health claims or decide whether to believe them. Such poor communication matters because it may promote unrealistic beliefs about health risks and treatment harms and benefits, and may lead to wasteful or harmful health decisions.

The key goals of the Workshop are to enhance participants’ critical thinking skills, and encourage a sense of healthy scepticism and foster the confidence to apply it. Participants will learn how to interpret and reliably report the results of medical research:

o Understand medical evidence, convey it in understandable fashion, and distinguish it from opinion

o Examine and reflect on their own or others’ preconceived views about medicine and health to de-bias reporting

o Recognize limitations inherent in the scientific process (i.e., inference from limited samples to broad populations)

o Convey the strengths and limitations of common study designs and statistical analyses

o Address external issues that inhibit presenting the full story (e.g., financial or other conflicts of interest, editorial biases)

o Provide an advanced set of tools (tip sheets, online primers and practice modules) to place new research findings in the context of the results of other studies on the same or similar topic

o Hone skills in covering stories that hold meaningful messages for the public (i.e., identify studies with high quality evidence assessing patient important outcomes)

o Address appropriate use of patient anecdotes in medical stories to avoid “stacking the evidence” in an unwarranted direction

o Optional skills sessions covering for example, searching for reliable medical research, understanding systematic reviews, grading evidence.

Topics covered include: Basic study design, common statistical and epidemiologic concepts, principles of risk communication, medical screening and overdiagnosis.