Integrative Care

Quality review of CAM news in the mass media

What does CritiCAM mean?
The term means “critical analysis of CAM news in the media”

What is CritiCAM?
It is a service which assesses jounalistic quality of CAM news in Swedish media. Importantly, CritiCAM is not an evaluation of the effectiveness of the treatment or diagnostic method in question itself, but an assessment of media representation/portrayals of these methods.

How does CritiCAM work?
Experts review and rate media news items on CAM using ten criteria in a continuous, systematic and transparent way. The ratings reflect an average of ratings by several reviewers.

What is the rationale behind the service?
The mass media contain a lot of health information, but quality is uneven, and effects both positive and negative. Individuals need guidance towards reliable and useful information. Decision-makers should find the service worthwhile as a form of real-world horizon scanning.

Where has the idea come from
We have been inspired by the service Media Doctor, which started in Australia in 2004 and now is also available in Canada, Japan, Hong Kong and Germany. In the US, there is a service called Health News Review, which works the same way, and in the UK Behind the Headlines is another kind of health news reviewing service.  Whereas Media Doctor analyses all kinds of health news, CritiCAM is limited to CAM news.

What are the results of Media Doctor?
The services have been documented in scientific articles and in a PhD thesis written by Amanda Wilson in 2011, one of the founders of Media Doctor Australia.  In summary, the initiative has led to a new focus on the quality of health news, but it is hard to document concrete improvements.

Why did we start CritiCAM?
Our objective is to facilitate critical review of  health news and influence the media, public debate and public health in a positive direction.

Who are we trying to reach?
Our primary target groups are health care and pharmacy staff, journalists/editors and decision-makers in both public and private sectors, secondarily also the general public.

Who does the reviewing?
We who do the selecting and rating represent the fields of pharmacy, pharmacology, occupational therapy, medical journalism and registered CAM therapy.

Which news do we review?
It is not possible to review all CAM news, including such genres as editorials, feature stories and so on. We follow the selection criteria of Media Doctor and review news:

  • about new research on a treatment/diagnostic test for use on humans
  • containing statement of efficacy or the lack thereof, safety or the lack thereof
  • published in major Swedish media outlet

How is the rating done?
Review and rating employs the following 10 criteria, used by Media Doctor. If the item satisfies the indicator in question, it is deemed satisfactory, otherwise, unatisfactory. A composite rating score is arrived at by pooling scores of several reviewers, checked to minimize inter-rater variablity.  The indicators are:

  1. Novelty – is it clear if the CAM treatment is really new or not?
  2. Accessibility – is is clear if the treatment is available in Sweden?
  3. Alternatives – is there information given on alternatives to the treatment/s (CAM and conventional ones) under dicsussion and comparative information?
  4. Disease-mongering – are risk factors depicted as diseases, is there mention of the natural course of disease or its natural variability in the population?
  5. Evidence – is the strength of the evidence apparent and how it should be interpreted?
  6. Benefits in quantitative terms – are these given in both absolute and relative terms?
  7. Side effects/harm – is the information balanced in terms of frequency and severity?
  8. Costs – is there information on how expensive the treatment is?
  9. Sources of information – is detailed source information given, and possible conflict of interest.
  10. Press release – is it clear to what extent the item relies on a press release?

 

Sources

Bonevski B, Wilson A, Henry DA.An analysis of news media coverage of complementary and alternative medicine. PLoS One. 2008 Jun 11;3(6).

Wilson A. Wilson AJ. Assessing the Quality of Health News Stories in the Australian Media Using the Media Doctor Website. School of Medicine and Public Health Faculty of Health Sciences, The University of Newcastle, Australia 2010.

 

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