Cleveland Doctor Urges Media To Slow Down Reporting New COVID-19 Treatments
In today’s fast-paced news cycle, it can be difficult to keep up with new information and studies about COVID-19.
While the public wants information about the latest COVID-19 drug or treatment, medical journals and media outlets often move too quickly, or don't provide context, said Cleveland Clinic neurologist Dr. Gabor Toth.
Hasty media coverage can lead to the spread of misinformation, Toth said.
“Sometimes the media is quick to pick up some things that are maybe a little more sensational or higher-impact,” Toth said. “If that data is not verified, it can rapidly get around and cause kind of a public frenzy.”
While the studies and data being reported may be true and factual, more context is often needed, Toth said.
“They draw these hasty conclusions from data that is not necessarily widespread, applicable to everywhere,” he said.
One example of this, Toth said, is media coverage of a study earlier this year that reported otherwise healthy young COVID-19 patients had experienced strokes. Some articles made the broad generalization that indicated a “surge” of this happening, he said.
“Nobody is doubting there aren’t patients like that … but the point is, it’s not necessarily generalizable everywhere, all regions, and all areas, and all young patients with COVID-19,” Toth said.
Generalizations like these can cause people to have anxiety and misconceptions about the virus, he said. He is especially concerned that some people have delayed doctors’ appointments out of fear of getting COVID-19, he said.
This is not only an issue with radio, TV, and digital news sites, but also an issue for academic journals where most medical studies are published, he said.
It is ultimately up to medical journals to make sure they are reporting accurate, high-quality information in the first place, Toth added.
Two peer-reviewed journals had to retract studies earlier this year after questions were raised about how the data had been collected, Toth said.
“It’s a big blow to the journal to have to go through this, to pull back an article that was published. It’s a little bit embarrassing,” he said.
This is a "wake-up call" that medical journals need to stick to their rigorous review policies when publishing studies, he said.
He also recommends journalists look to expert sources, such as public health experts, to interpret data and give analysis in their articles, he said.
There are steps news consumers can take as well, Toth said. Consumers should get their news information from multiple sources and seek out news stories that include analysis from experts.
Still, combatting the spread of misinformation is easier said than done, he said.
“I really don’t know the answer, quite honestly. It is a tough and difficult time to, kind of, get the right information,” he said.
Toth recently co-authored a paper detailing these concerns in the Journal of NeuroInterventional Surgery.