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How the Media Covers Digital Health Topics

The digital health revolution is empowering people to better track, manage, and improve their health.

And the tools are there – smartphones, wireless devices, desktop apps, patient portals, and many more – all able to monitor, analyze, and report health data on an ongoing basis.

But where do people go to discover what tools and technologies are available to help them manage their health?

Well the Internet is a leading source of information. Pew Research indicates that 85% of U.S. adults use the Internet, and 72% of those get their health information online. But do people look for information about digital health on traditional news media outlets like CNN, Foxnews or NBC news?

And if they do, what kind of information do they find once they get there? In fact while we’re on the subject, how much of the digital health conversation do traditional media outlets cover anyway? Is it helpful and productive or is it biased?

 

How traditional news media outlets cover the topic of 'digital health.'

How traditional news media outlets cover the topic of ‘digital health.’

 

These are the questions I sought to answer when I embarked on an amateur study. My hope is that it will spark some interesting conversations or better yet, yield some insights for real research by experts like Susannah Fox.

Methodology

I chose three top news websites [based on popular ranking] including CNN.com, Foxnews.com and Huffington Post. In each case, I went to the news site and did a search for ‘digital health’. Then I reviewed two articles from the first page of SERP and made an evaluation of the site based on:

  • Volume of ‘digital health’ articles published (on the first page of SERP);
  • Indication of various perspectives;
  • Reporter’s bias;
  • Presence of any misinformation;

Results

#1. CNN.com

  • Volume of articles published: Out of 10 results on the first page of SERP there were 8 articles covering the subject of digital health.
  • Indication of various perspectives: Headlines about digital health were either positive or neutral. The content indicated that CNN has a generally favorable view of the subject. However they also did a good job covering both the pros and the cons of digital health e.g. some of the cons discussed were privacy issues, fear, suspicion, etc.
  • Reporter’s bias: Bias is a hard thing to evaluate especially when you’re not trained to spot it. But some statements, which seemed to indicate some bias caught my eye. For example:

“There is a realization that consumers want, and need, products to connect them with their physicians, their medical records, and with relatives who are helping to manage their care…”

Or,

“In the not-too-distant future, you’ll receive a full diagnosis and cure from your smartphone before you have even realized you’re unwell.”

  • Presence of any misinformation:  Here’s an interesting statement from this article:

“ Our informed insight will mean that the doctor’s role will change. They will become coaches, rather than a source of initial diagnosis.”

I’m no expert, but the idea of the doctor’s role changing to that of a coach is pretty absurd. And even if there are apps and devices that can diagnose disease, such technologies empower the patient, but don’t necessarily diminish the doctor’s role.

 #2. Foxnews.com

  • Volume of articles published: Out of 10 results on the first page of SERP there was 1 article covering the subject of digital.
  • Indication of various perspectives: Based on the one digital health article available on Foxnews, the headline of that article i.e. ‘6 Technology Trends That Will Change Your Family’s Health’ was neutral. The content of that article did not reveal any opinion or perspective but simply reported the facts.
  • Reporter’s bias: The reporter doesn’t offer a personal viewpoint about digital health except to say, “…as technology continues to evolve, digital health tools will play an even bigger role in how we stay healthy and fit.”  This reads more like a statement of fact rather than a personal perspective.
  • Presence of any misinformation: In discussing the ubiquitous nature of mobile health apps, the reporter quotes technology enthusiast, Robin Raskin who says, 

“The next time you go to your doctor, you may be just as likely to get an app as an aspirin.”

Embellishment? I think so. The comparison of apps to aspirin is like apples to oranges. To suggest that a time will come when aspirin and apps will be interchangeable is misleading since most apps don’t even treat illness in the first place (that’s why many of them don’t need FDA approval).

#3. Huffington Post

  • Volume of articles published: Out of 10 results on the first page of SERP there were 10 articles covering the subject of digital.
  • Indication of various perspectives; Most HuffPo headlines covering digital health were neutral except for two, which showed a favorable perspective i.e. “5 Digital Health Trends of 2013: Turning Lemons into Lemonade” and “The Long-Awaited Revolution: Digital Health Innovation.”

Also statements such as, “The year 2013 is an exciting time to have a brain indicate that HuffPo is incredibly excited about the digital health conversation. They do a great job covering all the opportunities digital health has to offer, but unlike CNN there is little mention of problems, challenges or people’s concerns.

  • Reporter’s bias; In addition to having a one-sided approach to this conversation, HuffPo regularly makes bold statements that leave no doubt in a reader’s mind what side they’re on.

Statements such as this, The technologies that are emerging are super-exciting, but it’s going to take a sea of change in attitude to make patients (and their doctors) get involved in self care,” seem to be scolding the skeptics.

And others like this, I believe 2013 will bring a higher form of capitalism in health care…I am excited to be a part of that process and a witness to the creativity and innovation of a difficult market,” firmly establishes their position.

(By the way among the articles sampled from HuffPo, there is no disclaimer that says, “The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.”)

  • Presence of any misinformation; There was no noticeable presence of misinformation on Huffington Post.

Conclusion

Traditional news media outlets cover the topic of digital health differently. Some have an overwhelming interest in the subject (e.g. Huffington Post) while others don’t seem to think it’s a very important one at all (e.g. Fox News).  This tells you which media outlets are committed to telling the story and which ones aren’t.

None of the media outlets appear to have a negative view of the digital health revolution. However CNN did a great job giving equal attention to both the pros and cons of digital health. Huffington Post gave the subject more positive coverage than any other media outlet while Fox wasn’t swayed one way or the other.

There were some misleading statements on both Foxnews and CNN, although these didn’t appear to indicate a blatant intention to mislead.

In any case, it would be great if all leading news media outlets took this conversation seriously and gave it the full attention it deserves. There needs to be more coverage of all sides of the story not just the rosy side. I also think it’s OK for reporters to have an opinion about the subject, but the publication should make it clear whether they endorse that opinion or not. Finally, any kind of misinformation (no matter how insignificant) can cause readers to lose trust in a publication.

Over to You

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this subject. Based on your experience, how do you see news media outlets covering the digital health conversation?

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