Is the Dearth of Journalists a Death Knell for Health Research?

It could be said that much of the health research done in the past three decades has been lost in a tsunami of health information. Just try iterating health data through even the most sophisticated search engines; your result will almost always be a sticky mass of disjointed facts. And once you’ve piled them up don’t expect Boolean logic to explain the rationale behind the evidence or assist in contextualising it.

Like it or not, we are entering the age of the information Dinosaur: voracious in its appetite but too unwieldy to survive in our finite health environment. To stream this deluge and bring our ailing health information back from the brink we urgently need specialized doctors. The problem is the folk who once made sense of it are also a dying species.

These days it is rare to see or hear from a health journalist. Gone are the reporters who used to add depth and breadth to the facts through skilled interviewing, disciplined research and sheer doggedness. Instead we are suffocating in the sensationalist and superficial reporting of both the good (a potential new drug advance that is rarely followed up) and the bad (usually a treatment or hospital disaster that is almost always chased to an unsatisfactory conclusion) and packaged as either a ten second grab or condensed into 150 characters.

IBM’s Newton shows much promise but is short on health care applicability.

Newer and faster ways of spinning a yarn require advanced thought technology. IBM’s Newton, for example, shows much promise but is short on health care applicability. Sure it can tell the difference between the bow of a boat and a bow tie but it is unlikely to be able to lead decision makers, clinicians, patients and families to make informed decisions about bow legs.

Health is a primary concern for most audiences, especially voters. Yet public communication channels consistently fail to provide reliable sources of trusted health information. This is a problem because uncertainty and insecurity leads to impulsive and often ill considered decisions at all levels, e.g. about who should provide healthcare and how it should be delivered. Simple dichotomies, such as to privatise or not to privatise, often miss the point.

We humans are much more than what we read and write. Indeed, our multi-dimensionality is yet to be explored and integrated in ways that can build confidence in healthcare decisions. But without trusted commentators informed decision-making will be limited to the types of research that lend themselves to a one line message.

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