“Media Messages about Screenings and their Role in Overdiagnosis and Overtreatment.” By Gary Schwitzer, Engaging the Patient.

“Disclaimer: the following is not an anti-screening message. It is, however, a call for improved accuracy,  balance and completeness in messages about screening tests.

As part of health literacy month, Schwitzer explains that while some journalists have excelled at explaining the trade-offs of potential benefits and potential harms from screening tests, far more they promote unhelpful themes:

  • Emphasizing or exaggerating potential benefits while minimizing or ignoring potential harms
  • Framing screening as if it were a mandate, not a choice
  • Emphasizing patient anecdotes of people who claim their life was saved by screening – something that can’t be proven
  • Missing the stories of people who make rational decisions not to be screened, or the stories of people who regret making ill-informed screening decisions

It is far easier to report about screening using only the perspectives of those who promote screening – some of them with a vested interest. It is far more difficult to explain nuance, evidence, and reasons why there can be harms from a supposedly simple screening test.

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