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Press Press

The problem with medical advice columns

BMJ 1999; 319 doi: (Published 02 October 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;319:928
  1. Ann McPherson, general practitioner
  1. Oxford

    Studies show that patients get most of their health advice from the media. Doctors, however, are fond of blaming broadcasters and journalists for inaccurate reporting and scaremongering. But is this criticism justified? After all, much of that advice is offered by doctors writing health columns.

    The accuracy of information in the lay press was recently examined in Canada The study looked at a random sample of 50 advice columns on geriatric problems which were written by doctors and published in 11 different Canadian daily newspapers in 1995 (see News, BMJ 11 September, p 658). The group of geriatricians who evaluated these columns found that 28% gave potentially life threatening advice, in 22% critical issues were not clearly identified, and in 14% opinion was likely to be interpreted as fact.

    Given the number of patients now arriving at general practitioners' surgeries clutching newspaper articles, it is time for a wider review of these advice columns. Various methodologies have been developed to produce measures of quality for consumer health information—such as DISCERN, an instrument for judging the quality …

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