Press Releases by Academic Medical Centers

This article examines the quality of press releases from medical centers that conduct medical research. Since press releases are an important source of information for reporters, their quality may impact the quality of news coverage of health and science.

The authors analyzed press releases in 2005 from 20 medical centers that spanned the full range of medical research quality, as measured by U.S. News & World Report.

Key Findings:

  • Academic medical centers had an average of almost 50 press releases per year. Most press releases promoted research that explicitly claimed relevance to human health.
  • Of press releases relating to human health, more than a third did not quantify results and almost one quarter failed to identify the study size.
  • Only 17 percent of press releases about human research were about meta-analyses or randomized trials, the types of studies with the most robust findings.
  • 40 percent of examined press releases reported on studies with sample sizes smaller than 30, uncontrolled interventions, or unpublished findings. The majority of these press releases failed to identify these potential weaknesses in the studies.

In many cases the press releases from research medical centers do not provide the most important and relevant information about medical studies. These press releases may contribute to poor quality health reporting in the media.