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General medicine
Using claims in the media to teach essential concepts for evidence-based healthcare
  1. Matt Oxman1,2,
  2. Laurence Habib3,
  3. Gro Jamtvedt1,
  4. Bente Kalsnes4,
  5. Marianne Molin5,6
  1. 1Faculty of Health Sciences, Oslo Metropolitan University, Oslo, Norway
  2. 2Centre for Informed Health Choices, Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Oslo, Norway
  3. 3Department of Computer Science, Oslo Metropolitan University, Oslo, Norway
  4. 4Department of Communication, Kristiania University College, Oslo, Norway
  5. 5Department of Nursing and Health Promotion, Oslo Metropolitan University, Oslo, Norway
  6. 6Department of Health, Bjorknes University College, Oslo, Norway
  1. Correspondence to Matt Oxman, Faculty of Health Sciences, Oslo Metropolitan University, Oslo NO-0130, Norway; matt{at}mattoxman.com

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Introduction

Health claims in the media: part of the problem

Healthcare students and professionals, as well as patients and everyone else, are exposed to countless health claims—particularly claims about the effects of interventions—spreading further and faster than ever, via the Internet. Many of the claims are unreliable, such as those that conflate correlation and causation.1 2 Meanwhile, many people are unable to critically assess their reliability.

For example, here in Norway, a survey conducted in 2019 among a representative sample of the population—including healthcare professionals—indicated that a majority of Norwegians are unable to apply several fundamental concepts for assessing health claims and making informed health choices, such as the importance of similar comparison groups for finding intervention effects (149 of 771 participants were able).3

The combination of unreliable claims and inability to critically assess those claims can lead to uninformed choices (including shared decisions) and be a barrier to evidence-based healthcare (EBHC). Logically, this is a major explanatory factor in the known, worldwide overuse of ineffective and harmful medical services4 and underuse of effective services.4 5

Part of the solution?

However, can the abundance of health claims in the media also be a resource for teaching EBHC? News stories, social media posts and advertisements are simple, familiar, relatable and entertaining, by design, as opposed to scientific literature, which typically includes jargon and excludes narrative. Therefore, health claims in the media may be an appropriate place to start for inexperienced students in the health sciences, as well as other non-professionals, when learning how to think critically about health information.

In this article, we describe the development and large-scale implementation of an educational intervention that systematically takes advantage of health claims in the media to help university students learn how to apply Informed Health Choices (IHC) Key Concepts.6 These concepts are as essential for making informed personal health choices, as for …

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