Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Medicine and the Media

Patients in the papers

BMJ 2016; 353 doi: (Published 07 April 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;353:i1948
  1. John Illman, journalist and trainer
  1. London, UK
  1. john{at}

Their stories sell newspapers but patients are vulnerable, reminds John Illman

When patients give media interviews, at vulnerable times in their lives, they share something precious of themselves, often out of a desire to help others. Such patients merit the utmost consideration—but they don’t always get it.

As an example, a UK national newspaper journalist upset two couples who were talking about their experience of erectile dysfunction by saying that she couldn’t believe that a woman would be prepared to live with an impotent partner. The newspaper had asked the women to wear specific clothes and make-up for the photoshoot. One of the couples thought that they were being made to look middle class to reflect the paper’s readership. Both couples said afterwards that they wanted nothing more to do with the media.

Journalistic insensitivity is common. I once wrote about a …

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