Health and Medical News and Resources

General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

[HealthNewsReview.Org Weekly Digest item] – Scientific Conference News Caveat

Those of you who read my posts regularly know one of my themes is to read scientific and medical news items carefully with an eye to interpreting them objectively. *

Here are some excerpts from the 12 November 2012 HealthNewsReview.org weekly update

…the cheerleaders of health care journalism often rush to publish news from scientific conferences that is not ready for prime time – at least not without caveats and context. So that explains our post this week:

An important reminder – for journalists and for the general public – appears in the American Heart Association journal Circulation.  The paper is entitled, “The Conversion of Cardiovascular Conference Abstracts to Publications,” and it is published right about the same time as the American Heart Association’s own huge Scientific Sessions wrapped up for 2012.   We wrote earlier about some of our concerns about news coverage from this meeting.

The new journal article provides sound reasons for why our concerns about conference news coverage are sound. The researchers analyzed abstracts presented at the American Heart Association (AHA), American College of Cardiology (ACC), and European Society of Cardiology (ESC) Scientific Sessions from 2006-2008. Then they checked how many were published.

Drum roll, please….

  • Less than one-third of the presented abstracts were published within two years of the conference presentation.
  • After five years, the rates rose a bit to 49.7% for AHA, 42.6% for ACC, and 37.6% for ESC .

So while some journalists are glued to coverage of these meetings, publishing daily for general news audiences that may not understand the nuances of the limitations of drawing conclusions from talks presented at scientific meetings, most of this stuff isn’t even published in the medical literature for at least 5 years – if ever!

Why does this matter?

Such news coverage creates a rose-colored view of progress in research.  It may not be inaccurate but it most certainly misleads and lacks important context if it doesn’t present caveats about the limitations.

Don’t forget the important JAMA paper, “Media Coverage of Scientific Meetings: Too Much, Too Soon?” which concluded:

“Results are frequently presented to the public as scientifically sound evidence rather than as preliminary findings with still uncertain validity. With some effort on the part of meeting organizers, journalists, and scientists, it will be possible to better serve the public.”..

Related articles at HealthNewsReview.org

November 13, 2012 Posted by | Medical and Health Research News | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Are Medical Conferences Useful? And for Whom?

Credit: Wikipedia Commons

A medical doctor (who himself is a big draw at medical conferences) has recently questioned the motives and utility of medical conferences. [Mythbuster Ioannidis: Are Medical Conferences Really Useful?]

He believes much of the presented research findings  are not fully peer-reviewed, and thus cannot  fully educate, train, or contribute to evidence-based practice. Often findings at medical conferences are seized upon by the popular press and prematurely promoted as having sound scientific evidence. Quite often these findings change with peer review and are later published with the revisions and modified findings in scientific journals.

Excerpt from the 4 April 2012 JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) article
(The full text of this article is by subscription only, these excerpts came from a related posting at HealthNewsReview.org)

An estimate of more than 100 000 medical meetings per year may not be unrealistic, when local meetings are also counted. The cumulative cost of these events worldwide is not possible to fathom.

Do medical conferences serve any purpose? In theory, these meetings aim to disseminate and advance research, train, educate, and set evidence-based policy. Although these are worthy goals, there is virtually no evidence supporting the utility of most conferences. Conversely, some accumulating evidence suggests that medical congresses may serve a specific system of questionable values that may be harmful to medicine and health care.

The availability of a plethora of conferences promotes a mode of scientific citizenship in which a bulk production of abstracts, with no or superficial peer review, leads to mediocre curriculum vita building. Even though most research conferences have adopted peer-review processes, the ability to judge an abstract of 150 to 400 words is limited and the process is more of sentimental value.

Moreover, many abstracts reported at the medical meetings are never published as full-text articles even though abstract presentations can nevertheless communicate to wide audiences premature and sometimes inaccurate results. It has long been documented that several findings change when research reports undergo more extensive peer review and are published as completed articles.* Late-breaker sessions in particular have become extremely attractive prominent venues within medical conferences because seemingly they represent the most notable latest research news. However, it is unclear why these data cannot be released immediately when they are ready and it is unclear why attending a meeting far from home is necessary to hear them. A virtual online late-breaker portal could be established for the timely dissemination of important findings….

…Power and influence appear plentiful in many of these meetings. Not surprisingly, the drug, device, biotechnology, and health care–related industries make full use of such opportunities to engage thousands of practicing physicians. Lush exhibitions and infiltration of the scientific program through satellite meetings or even core sessions are common avenues of engagement. Although many meetings require all speakers to disclose all potential conflicts, the majority of speakers often have numerous conflicts, as is also demonstrated in empirical evaluations of similar groups of experts named on authorship lists of influential professional society guidelines.”

Ioannidis doesn’t discard the entire notion of conferences.  In fact, he projects what “repurposed” conferences might be like:

“Repurposed conferences could be designed to be entirely committed to academic detailing (ed. note: drug company “educational” outreach to physicians). All their exhibitions and satellite symposia would deal with how to prescribe specific interventions appropriately and how to favor interventions that are inexpensive, well tested, and safe. Such repurposed conferences could also focus on how to use fewer tests and fewer interventions or even no tests and no interventions, when they are not clearly needed.”

 

Related Resources

 

April 10, 2012 Posted by | Biomedical Research Resources | , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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