Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Quality of Consumer Health Writing Today

A couple of days ago I started a thread on a medical writing "Yahoo! group" about consumer health writing. Here's my original message:

"I've noticed that most of the issues dealt with in this group are
related to clinical writing.

Although working in/for industry may pay better, consumer health
writing is still an important aspect of medical writing that we should
not ignore.

My perception is that most health-related articles in the media today
are written by non-specialized freelancers who hop from topic to topic
and who only write about weight loss and alternative medicine.

What do you think?"

One of the problems with consumer health writing today is poor research. Back in grad school my mentor insisted on going to the scientific literature first and interviewing the experts (not just one, but several).

Have you read a health-related article on a newspaper that quotes the same guy every other paragraph and the rest are indirect quotes? I have seen tons of those.

Or what about the health sections in some magazines that look like a copy-paste text from WebMD?

Okay, enough with my rambling. There are still some good health writers/reporters out there like Anita Manning (USA Today) and Larry Altman (New York Times).

For the rest of us, we should read and reread books like News & Numbers: A guide to reporting statistical claims and controversies in health and other fields by the late Victor Cohn and Lewis Cope, or the Health Writer's Handbook by Barbara Gastel.

As professional medical writers we should apply the same quality standards to consumer health articles than we apply to clinical writing. We owe it to our readers.

No comments: