Kate Johnson's Medical Musings

Life through the eyes of a medical journalist

Director’s Corner: A Beautiful Brain – in Memory of David R. Colman (1949 – 2011).

June 2011

                       Dr. Colman was the Director of the Montreal Neurological Institute.

Last June I sat in David Colman’s office – having accepted his invitation for a private tour of  “the Neuro”.

Had I known he had less than a year to live, how much longer I would have lingered!

There was so much more I had hoped to learn from him, so much more he had to give – not just to the world of science and medicine – that loss is inestimable – but also to the world of writing and philosophy.

Dr. Colman’s unexpected death this month has left a surprising emptiness in me – I only ever met the man once. But his monthly blog musings (Director’s Corner, which he called his “monthly opportunity to vent”), and our occasional e-mail exchanges gave me insight and inspiration, as I’m sure they did for many.

A busy agenda had been arranged for me that day at the Neuro – yet our conversation was unhurried, drifting easily from current affairs, to the new iPad, to multiple sclerosis and myelin. He scribbled diagrams on my notepad, explaining the complexities of his research on cancer metastasis, and finally, as I moved reluctantly towards the door, photos of his daughters, one of them the same age as my own, turned our conversation to parenting. Continue reading

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June 11, 2011 Posted by | Medical Writing, Neurology | , | 1 Comment

Can you Trust the Latest Canadian Contraceptive Guidelines? “The Bayer Facts” are Revealing in Their Omission.

April 4, 2011

By Kate Johnson

If it wasn’t for “the Bayer facts”, the new contraceptive guidelines from the Canadian Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (SOGC) would be rather underwhelming.

But stripped down they are alarmingly revealing: “an egregious example of the extreme,” according to Dr. Allan Sniderman, a McGill University cardiology professor who has called for widespread medical guideline reform. Continue reading

April 4, 2011 Posted by | health journalism, medical ethics, Medical Writing, Pharmaceutical industry, Uncategorized, Women's Health | , , , , | 3 Comments

Canadian Contraceptive Guidelines Shun Disclosure

By Kate Johnson

As published April 4, 2011 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal – full story

April 4, 2011 Posted by | health journalism, medical ethics, Medical Writing, Pharmaceutical industry, Uncategorized, Women's Health | , , , | Leave a comment

Lab to Headlines – the Science/Media Collaboration

Published in the June 2010 Journal of the American Medical Writers Association

By Kate Johnson

Bench to Bedside to Breakfast News

June 11, 2010 Posted by | health journalism, Medical Writing | , | 2 Comments

Scanning the Scrum at the Association of Health Care Journalists. News and Navel-Gazing Challenges for Journalists and Scientists Alike.

April 26, 2010

By Kate Johnson

I got to head out of town for the Association of Health Care Journalists’ (AHCJ) meeting last week in Chicago. It was great to connect with so many other people who do what I do – or a version of it.

And there was an interesting mix of news and navel-gazing – the latter being of particular interest to me.

Despite the buzz about the first two big name speakers – both of them fizzled on the podium. Oddly, I thought it was an excellent way to kick off the meeting because it underscored a fundamental issue facing health and medical journalism. Continue reading

April 27, 2010 Posted by | health journalism, Medical Writing | , | 1 Comment

The Media and Medical Miscommunication

February 25, 2010

By Kate Johnson

In the loud noise that echoed worldwide after the Lancet’s stunning retraction of Andrew Wakefield’s controversial paper on the autism/MMR vaccine link, there was an equally stunning whisper from the journal’s editor Dr. Richard Horton, that is still bouncing around disagreeably in my head.

In a nutshell, it was a cloaked threat to the public’s right to know.

“The lesson we’ve learned is that anything we publish will be picked up and used. It certainly made us much more risk-averse, much more conservative,” he told National Public Radio.

“We now try to be even more cautious about the kinds of work we publish, recognizing that you cannot have a closed discussion in the scientific community about anything today. Everything is accessible to everybody, at any time.”

Yes, he acknowledged the journal’s mistake in publishing the fraudulent paper. In fact, he called it a “system failure”. “We failed, I think the media failed, I think government failed, I think the scientific community failed,” he said.

But then he dropped the “too much information” bomb. Continue reading

February 25, 2010 Posted by | health journalism, Medical Writing | , | 1 Comment

Medical Journalists – Where are They (We) Going?

January 8, 2010

By Kate Johnson

It’s cold and snowy in Montreal and the other day, as I was skiing down a crusty slope, icy crystals stinging my eyeballs, I closed my eyes. I couldn’t help it. When sharp objects fly into your cornea, your lashes instinctively close – even if you are hurtling down an icy hill at top speed. I could have had a catastrophic crash (such things do happen in the blink of an eye), but I followed my blind instinct, and everything was fine. And even before my eyes had re-opened I realized, that this is what I – and many other journalists are doing right now, everyday, in our careers.

Winter has descended on the age-old profession of journalism, changing the landscape so drastically that all the landmarks are gone. Little remains of the theories and ground rules I studied for my journalism degree. “The business” as I knew it when I started out 23 years ago has transformed beyond anyone’s wildest predictions, “undergoing a level of change that presents both unprecedented peril and possibility”, according to health journalism expert Gary Schwitzer.

Continue reading

January 9, 2010 Posted by | health journalism, Medical Writing | , | 2 Comments

Big Pharma and the Media: Reporters should work with Medical Journals for More Accountability

December 10, 2009

By Kate Johnson

The media is more often criticized than praised when it comes to reporting health and medical stories, but one recent example highlights an important role for the media in the field of medicine.

The pharmaceutical giant Roche is facing pressure from the medical community about accountability  – and the media is playing a valuable role.

This week, the British Medical Journal published a string of articles, an editorial, and an account of a media/medical journal investigation that “cast doubt not only on the effectiveness and safety of oseltamivir (Tamiflu) but on the system by which drugs are evaluated, regulated, and promoted,” writes Fiona Godlee, editor in chief of the BMJ. Continue reading

December 10, 2009 Posted by | medical ethics, Medical Writing | , , | 3 Comments