I've seen the trend play out all over the country: local journalists give lots of free publicity to local medical marketing maneuvers, seemingly throwing aside sound, basic journalistic skepticism and critical inquiry.
Yesterday I wrote about the Minneapolis Star Tribune and its commercial-like coverage of the local HealthEast Care System's webcasts of surgical procedures.
Recently, that same hospital system got fawning "gee-whiz" coverage on a kidney stone procedure from local WCCO-TV. That story is reviewed - not favorably - on the HealthNewsReview.org website. The review says, in part, "The story says 'After Dr. Portis presents results of his study, he thinks doctors everywhere will want to adopt it. ' But we have no idea how many are using it now, nor is there any independent evidence that anyone else will adopt this approach. ... The story lets the physician-researcher say that 'his approach has a 95 percent success rate with a single treatment and quicker recovery time. ' But there is no evidence given to substantiate that."
Evidence seems to be lacking in these stories, doesn't it?
You'll find both the Star Tribune and the WCCO stories on HealthEast's website where it touts recent news coverage. In fact, there seems to be a special pipeline between the HealthEast marketing department and WCCO, which has seven stories listed on the HealthEast "In the News" website.
In a recent financial report, HealthEast bragged that hospital admissions were up over the previous year "which management attributes to increases in market share resulting from higher visibility in the local media regarding high tech services such as the CyberKnife and the Da Vinci Surgical System."
The Da Vinci system has been hyped in the Star Tribune, even in a sports story. Ill-explained CyberKnife billboards have littered area freeways. It is not the job of journalism to give donations to marketing campaigns for high-tech webcasts, CyberKnifes or robotic surgical systems. Rather, journalism may want to spend more time on the costs of such technologies, the evidence to support (or refute) the use of such technologies, and questions of access for the 45-million Americans without health insurance.