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Impact of the mass media on health care: A model based on reporting of the women's health care initiative

1 August 2003


The mass media, including television, radio, the internet, newspapers and magazine organizations, increasingly report on medical research findings. Often times, even prior to publication of a study in a peer reviewed medical journal, news groups will report scientific findings to a watchful public. The impact of this media reporting on health care decision making by patients has not been thoroughly studied to date. One example of a well-reported study was the findings of the hormone therapy arm of the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) study. Since then, further findings of the WHI study and other major research studies on the benefits and harms of hormone therapy have been widely publicized. Nearly all news organizations reported on this study some extent. The ramifications of these reports have not been scientifically studied. Specifically, it is unclear how many women nation-wide chose to discontinue their use of hormone therapy based on mass media reports. Rural women in particular are of interest given their frequent lack of access to immediate health care and their sometimes limited access to the mass media. This study examines the impact of media reporting of the WHI study on rural central Oregon women. A telephone survey was conducted to 100 randomly selected women who are patients at a rural central Oregon family practice clinic. The hypothesis was that a statistically significant number of women would not cease use of hormone therapy without consulting with their health care providers based on media reports. Of women surveyed that had stopped hormone therapy within the last year, 57.1 % of subjects had discontinued hormone therapy in the last year. Of those, 33.3% stopped based on media reports and without consulting their health care provider, while 58.3% stopped at the recommendation of a health care provider, and 8.3% based on the recommendations of friends and family. Educational level and media outlet accessed by subjects had no impact on their decisions to continue or stop hormone therapy.


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