One of the key sources of health-related and medical information are university press releases (PR). This study by Maike Winters et al. aims to a) explore the relation between the quality of PRs from medical universities and their corresponding news stories and b) to identify the likelihood that specific scientific and interest-raising measures appear or are omitted in PRs and news stories (NSs).
In total, 507 PRs from 21 medical universities in Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, the USA and the UK were retrieved and analyzed. It was found that important measures of a scientific study were often omitted: included reporting important study limitations (present in 21% of PRs, 21% of NSs), funding (59% of PRs, 7% of NSs) and conflicts of interest (16% of PRs, 3% of NSs). One limitation of the conducted study is that the quality of the underlying scientific papers (SPs) was not analyzed, and it could therefore not be determined if the quality of PRs and NSs is associated with the quality of SPs.
Nevertheless, the authors conclude that “the lay public and health personnel as well as policy makers, politicians and other decision makers may be misled by incomplete and partly inaccurate representations of scientific studies which could negatively affect important health-related behaviors and decisions.”