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  • Writer's pictureLeanna Coy, FNP-C

Mastering the Art of Critical Review for Reliable Health Content

Updated: Mar 30


Thick paper document with red editing marks from a hand holding a red pen.

Health information is everywhere, whether or not you recognize it. From your morning news shows to the commercials that run between segments. Magazine articles, mailers from your grocery store, and blog posts you find online all carry health content. The content will recommend products, tout new discoveries, or offer advice on ways to "better" yourself. When you are bombarded with health content from so many sources, sometimes with differing viewpoints, it is easy to get confused or overwhelmed by the information. The average consumer is challenged to determine which health content is truly valuable and why some content is not.

Poorly researched or biased information will foster mistrust and confusion. An example is a patient I saw who happily told me she had stopped all her medications. These included medications for diabetes, hypertension, and thyroid because she "didn't REALLY know what is in them." She instead chose to follow a detox regime she read online. Poorly researched and biased information makes managing healthcare more difficult for healthcare providers and more dangerous for consumers.

One of my fellow writers suggested I look at the defunct HealthNewsReview when writing my own material. HealthNewsReview was a site that reviewed and rated news stories and press releases on health-related topics to help the average consumer develop an educated opinion on what they were reading. Their review criteria for the elements of a good health news story were spot on. Their review criteria critically looked for the following:

  • How well a treatment or intervention actually worked based on the data

  • The quality of the evidence being presented

  • The medicalizing of normal human experiences to sell things, also known as disease-mongering

  • Is a product or intervention actually “new,” or is it just being reworked or repackaged

  • Comparison of the new treatment or intervention with existing options

  • Is the true cost of a treatment or intervention provided

  • Are risks or harms of the product or intervention adequately conveyed

  • The availability of treatments, tests, or interventions being touted

  • The identification of conflict of interest along with the use of objective, independent resources that don’t have a conflict of interest

  • Is the story just a news release without any additional reporting

As I always try to improve my writing, I am adopting some of these criteria for my own use to critically look at articles and post my thoughts here. Since I also read stories related to health care and not just products or treatments, I will also look for slippery-slope arguments that are made. Examples of slippery-slope statements in healthcare:

  • Concerns have been raised regarding genetic (DNA) testing and how it could be used against people, potentially allowing insurance companies to deny coverage or employers to discriminate against specific health issues by denying employment.

  • Opponents of euthanasia argue that assisted suicide for terminally ill patients will potentially become widely accepted and extend to non-terminal conditions.

My critical look at health content will not likely be as strict as the work done by HealthNewsReview. However, I hope to continue to improve health content, my own writing, and help you, the reader, better understand what is being presented.


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