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Dr. Murray Feingold

Dr. Murray Feingold: How reliable is the medical information we read?

By Dr. Murray Feingold

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Because you are reading this article, you have some interest in health. Media health information programs and articles are very popular. But how reliable is the medical information that you see, hear or read?

Studies have shown that a great deal of health information presented in the media is incorrect or misleading. This is particularly true concerning medical information found on the Internet. Despite this, people still use the Internet as their major source of medical information and where they go to find answers to their health questions.

Many years ago, when I first became involved in the media to discuss health issues, there were very few physician reporters or consultants. That has drastically changed. Also, non-physician medical reporters came on the scene. As a general rule, the accuracy of the reports improved when these “specialists” became involved.

Subsequently, a new form of providing medical information has appeared - medical TV and radio talk shows. They have become very popular. How reliable is the information provided on these shows? A recent study was done to answer this question, and the results were published in the prestigious British Medical Journal.

Two television shows were studied, “The Dr. Oz Show” and “The Doctors.” Forty episodes from each show were randomly selected to be evaluated. A group of medical experts then determined the accuracy of the recommendations that was provided and if they were supported by scientific studies.

The researchers found that approximately 50 percent of the recommendations provided on these two shows did not have any scientific evidence to support them or the available scientific evidence contradicted what was recommended.

Researchers concluded that the public should be skeptical about recommendations made on medical talk shows.

You may ask how reliable is the information provided in my medical columns? In an attempt to make the information as reliable as possible, the majority of information I provide comes from peer-reviewed medical articles. That means, the article has been reviewed not only by the editors of the journal in which it has been published, but also by two or three experts in the area that is being discussed.

This methodology is not perfect, but in my opinion, it is the best method we have today to report medical data.

But, no matter where your health information comes from, keep an open mind and don’t take it for granted that it is correct - even if it was written by me.

Massachusetts-based Dr. Murray Feingold is the physician in chief of The Feingold Center for Children, medical editor of WBZ-TV and WBZ radio, and president of the Genesis Fund. The Genesis Fund is a nonprofit organization that funds the care of children born with birth defects, mental retardation and genetic diseases.

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