Health news watchdog

Name: Gary Schwitzer

Who he is: Founder of HealthNewsReview.org, housed within the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health

The problem: Many stories in the popular press about medical treatments, tests, products, and procedures are misleading, incomplete, or incorrect.

What HealthNewsReview.org does: Schwitzer’s team—five full-time staff and a network of 50 contributors across the country—reviews medical news stories. They base reviews on 10 criteria, including whether the stories mention cost and harms as well as benefits. The organization is now expanding into new areas such as reviewing podcasts and press releases.

Why it matters: Schwitzer thinks shoddy journalism is partly responsible for the huge amount the nation spends on health care, as people make decisions based on what they read and hear. “In the end, we’re trying to help the public improve their critical thinking about health care,” he says.

How philanthropy makes a difference: A significant grant from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation and gifts from other private donors have enabled Schwitzer to serve as ambassador for HealthNewsReview.org instead of creating all the reviews himself. He now spends his time talking about the impact of the organization he’s built (he says he regularly hears that people value the reviews) and why flooding the public with stories that make medical treatments look “terrific, risk free, and without a price tag” matters.

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