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Mass media allows information to be transferred almost immediately after it becomes available throughout the world; this has some advantages and disadvantages when it comes to health care issues.
One obvious advantage to this ability to disseminate information quickly is that, if there is a crisis, millions of people can learn about it very quickly and efficiently. In the case of, say, a man-made disaster which has released toxic materials into the air or water, the media can deliver the warning. If there is an epidemic or outbreak or when there are new discoveries and research, the same thing is true. The media is an efficient delivery source for health care (or any other) news which must be delivered quickly to a large audience.
One obvious disadvantage is that the media can also disseminate misinformation. Because research results are often open to interpretation, because the time for any one news story is usually limited, and because being the first to "break" news is now paramount, it is quite possible for the media source to distort the information it is given. Perhaps the media source "cherry picks" the information, highlighting only the most sensational or controversial aspects of the story. Maybe the information is long or complicated and the media source incorrectly or incompletely summarizes the data. It may be that commentary (what someone thinks or believes about the material) takes the place of the actual news. Attention to detail and factual analyses (true reporting) are often sacrificed in the rush to be first or to make a splash in the headlines.
While these concerns can and do apply to issues other than health care, information that can impact personal and public health must be delivered correctly. The potential for trouble is high, and the risks of flawed or partial information increase exponentially as the media coverage increases.
The obvious conclusion is that handling health care news in the media must be intentional to be effective.
In an article in the Journal of Health Communication, Liana Winett and Lawrence Wallack wrote that "using the mass media to improve public health can be like navigating a vast network of roads without any street signs; if you are not sure where you are going and why, chances are you will not reach your destination."
The eNotes link I attached below is an excellent resource for further analysis specifically about mass media and health care issues.
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