NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Press Reports Focusing on Rare Mistakes Discourage Clinical Trials

March 19, 2002

In all but a few instances, clinical trials of new drugs and medical procedures are overwhelming safe and rarely pose a threat to patients' lives. But sensational reporting focusing on those rare instances of mistakes are likely frightening patients away from new procedures that could save their lives, critics contend.

Such reporting also confuses readers about the role of research in new drugs and therapies, and unfairly smears the reputations of responsible institutions and their professionals.

  • The Association of Clinical Research Professionals contends that the stories convey to the public the sense that "medical research involving human subjects is fraught with dangers and abuses."
  • The association's analyses of 75 articles about clinical trials published in major newspapers in the year ended January 2001 found that 55 of them were negative enough to discourage a reader from volunteering for a clinical trial.
  • Last year, 80,000 trials were conducted in the U.S.
  • According to the Food and Drug Administration, one in 30 patients in such trials experienced serious adverse effects -- and only one in 10,000 died as a result of those effects.

Too often, critics charge, the media disregard the complete story in the interest of the most dramatic one. Stories of life-saving and benevolent outcomes seem to fall by the journalistic wayside, observers note.

Source: Laura Landro, "Good Medicine, Bad Journalism," Wall Street Journal, March 19, 2002.


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