Medical Center Press Releases Often Lacking Key Details

Many overstate importance and clinical relevance of studies but omit cautions and limitations
By Eric Metcalf
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, May 5 (HealthDay News) -- Press releases from academic medical centers may often overstate the importance of research findings while failing to acknowledge relevant limitations of the studies, according to research published in the May 5 Annals of Internal Medicine.

Steven Woloshin, M.D., of Dartmouth Medical School in Hanover, N.H., and colleagues analyzed 200 randomly selected press releases produced in 2005 by 20 medical centers chosen from U.S. News & World Report's medical research rankings.

The authors note that among the 113 releases covering human research, only 17 percent promoted published randomized trials or meta-analyses, which are the strongest designs. Forty percent, however, reported on studies with limitations such as small sample sizes or uncontrolled interventions. Out of the full 200, 44 percent promoted animal or lab research, out of which most explicitly stated relevance to human health.

"The quickest strategy for improvement would be for centers to issue fewer releases about preliminary research, especially unpublished scientific meeting presentations, because findings often change substantially -- or fail to hold up -- as studies mature," the authors conclude. "Forty percent of meeting abstracts and 25 percent of abstracts that garner media attention are never subsequently published as full reports in medical journals."

Two co-authors have received honoraria from the National Institutes of Health.

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