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Media Management Of Women's Health

A recent survey showed that nine out of ten Americans (93%) view their doctor as their most trusted medical information source.  Yet of these same respondents, four out of ten (40%) admitted that they actually get most of their health information from television, slightly higher than the percentage (36%) who got their information from physicians.  A study conducted for the Society for the Advancement of Women's Health Research (SAWHR) showed that 73% of women prefer women's magazines as a source of health information.  Other sources commonly cited included family and friends, newspapers, books, and the Internet, which is the fastest growing source of health information for consumers.  Of consumer segments on the Internet, women ages 18-45 represent the fastest growing sector.  Of all Internet searches conducted last year, 10% were for women's health information.

For the past five decades, the American media have closely followed every new Baby Boomer trend.  Now, with record numbers of women entering mid-life, menopause has become the news hot flash of the 1990's.  Currently, 4000 women per day in the US and Canada are entering menopause.  By the year 2000, there will be 50 million menopausal American women.  What was once only whispered about in ladies' rooms is now cover story material in the news rooms. Surveys have shown that more than 80%--4 out of 5-of mid-life women depend on the general media for their health information. Yet, despite extensive news coverage, women are far less knowledgeable about menopause and its treatment options than one would expect.  For example, a recent Gallup poll concluded that 6 out of 10 of women surveyed could not name the two major female hormones involved with menopause (estrogen and progesterone) and nearly half of the women surveyed were "not sure" which hormones are commonly prescribed in "hormone replacement therapy" (HRT).  We also know that of postmenopausal women not taking HRT, two out of three have never discussed this with a physician.  Similarly-and equally as unacceptable-we know that a majority of women at high risk for osteoporosis have never discussed this with their physician; 7 out of 10 women with incontinence had never discussed their leaky bladder with their physicians.  Why this code of silence?  Do women simply feel more comfortable getting their information elsewhere?  Or are we too intimidated-or rushed-to ask our physicians to address our health concerns?

Partner with your provider:  do your own background health research, but discuss your findings-and your questions-with your physician.  But beware of making your own diagnoses from media sound-bite messages, even when the spokesperson is a physician.  While an on-air physician may be well qualified, knowledgeable, and reputable, the fact that they have extremely limited time to discuss complex medical topics means that they must speak in the broadest generalities.  They haven't met you, listened to you, or examined you; don't let them diagnose you. . .even if they are the top expert in their field.  Remember that when a doctor is on television, they may be in your living room, but you are not in their examining room.

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 As a physician and a woman’s health advocate... I worry about how much of the health information in the media is actually correct. 

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