A new study shows people are being needlessly worried or being given false hope by media coverage that fails to give the full picture about new types of medical tests.
Researchers from Bond University and the University of Sydney analysed more than 1100 English-language articles from around the world that covered new types of diagnostic medical testing.
The tests included a range of new technologies, from liquid blood biopsies to detect cancers to using the Apple Watch to detect atrial fibrillation.
The study’s senior author, Dr Ray Moynihan from Bond University, said they were particularly concerned that while the articles touted the benefits of the new testing methods, many did not go into the potential risks or harms.
“Almost two-thirds of the stories we looked at didn’t make any mention of potential harms from the tests, and that is just a massive oversight,” Dr Moynihan said.
“That is an incredible omission and does a disservice to the reader, because it creates this false hope around these tests.”
Dr Moynihan said it tied into the current debate in medical circles over the problem of overdiagnosis; namely, of looking too closely at otherwise healthy people and performing unnecessary medical interventions as a result.
“Some of [these tests] could be extremely valuable, they could be life-saving for some people,” he said.
“But for many other people, when you use tests on healthy people, you inevitably get false positives and overdiagnosis. People who would never have had any noticeable medical problems are labelled and treated needlessly.”