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Paper Chase

News media coverage of medication research: reporting pharmaceutical company funding and use of generic medication names.

JAMA. Oct 1, 2008;300(13):1544-50.
Hochman M, Hochman S, Bor D, McCormick D.

Department of Medicine, Cambridge Health Alliance, and Harvard Medical School, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, USA. miehochman@challiance.org

Abstract:

CONTEXT

The news media are an important source of information about medical research for patients and even some physicians. Little is known about how frequently news articles report when medication research has received funding from pharmaceutical companies or how frequently news articles use generic vs brand medication names.

OBJECTIVES

To assess the reporting of pharmaceutical company funding and generic medication name use in news articles about medication studies and to determine the views of newspaper editors about these issues.

DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS

We reviewed US news articles from newspaper and online sources about all pharmaceutical company-funded medication studies published in the 5 most prominent general medical journals between April 1, 2004, and April 30, 2008. We also surveyed editors at the 100 most widely circulated newspapers in the United States.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES

The percentage of news articles indicating when studies have been pharmaceutical company-funded and the percentage that refer to medications by their generic vs brand names. Also the percentage of newspaper editors who indicate that their articles report pharmaceutical company funding; the percentage of editors who indicate that their articles refer to medications by generic names; and the percentage of newspapers with policies about these issues.

RESULTS

Of the 306 news articles about medication research identified,130 (42%; 95% confidence interval [CI], 37%-48%) did not report that the research had received company funding. Of the 277 of these articles reporting on medications with both generic and brand names, 186 (67%; 95% CI, 61%-73%) referred to the study medications by their brand names in at least half of the medication references. Eighty-two of the 93 (88%) newspaper editors who responded to our survey reported that articles from their publications always or often indicated when studies had received company funding (95% CI, 80%-94%), and 71 of 92 (77%) responding editors also reported that articles from their publications always or often referred to medications by the generic names (95% CI, 67%-85%). However, only 3 of 92 newspapers (3%) had written policies stating that company funding sources of medical studies be reported (95% CI 1%-9%), and 2 of 93 (2%) newspapers had written policies stating that medications should be referred to by their generic names (95% CI 1%-8%).

CONCLUSION

News articles reporting on medication studies often fail to report pharmaceutical company funding and frequently refer to medications by their brand names despite newspaper editors' contention that this is not the case.