A Precautionary Tale

PpLast week during an interview, one of my clients referred to the "precautionary principle" as it relates to the healthcare industry implementing new technological innovations. He loosely stated that healthcare had taken the principle to new heights and that it now seems to operate under the rule, "If any bad result from an action is possible — at all — do not proceed with that action."

It got me thinking about the media as it relates to health topics and specifically medical devices: has this principle started to trickle down into the way medical innovations are covered in the press?  The answer to myself was, "To some degree, yes."

I agree that the media has a responsibility to be cautious about setting expectations among patients/consumers related to outcomes and availability. They also need to keep safety in mind and should require clinical data in support of any new procedure or device. But, when national health segments on "Sleep" report on the benefits of dark, cool rooms and debate the pros and cons of hard versus soft pillows, and "Macular Degeneration" segments remind people to take their vitamins, aren’t we missing a huge opportunity to introduce patients/consumers to the growing number of proven, FDA-cleared procedures and devices available today?

With more and more patients relying on various media outlets — rather than the doctor’s office — for their health information, I hope the media hasn’t opted for precaution over the chance to educate their audience about sound medical advances.