Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Read all about it!

I've mentioned the "Behind the Headlines" service before. It replaced the "Hitting the Headlines" service that the National Library for Health used to produce. Although still available through the National Library for Health it's actually produced as part of NHS Choices - the patient information site.

As with Hitting the Headlines this takes stories that are in the news looks at the science behind it. It presents the information in a really useful way. Take a recent example - reports in various papers that chlorinated water causes birth defects. Scary stuff - but it is it true?

The report on this topic is broken down into sections. There's a brief explanation an summary of what the news stories were about, what the stories were based on, and a brief appraisal of that original source. This section alone is useful, but there is more.

There are details of who wrote the paper, the researchers' affiliations, and the publication it appeared in. There is a longer section looking at the study and explaining what sort of study it was an how it was carried out. This is rounded off with an explanation of the researchers' findings and conclusions.

The next section is what the National Knowledge Service thinks about the paper - basically a critical appraisal of the original research. It looks at how the study was carried out, considers the statistical significance of figures in the study, and highlights gaps in the information presented.

The whole piece concludes with links to the original newspaper stories and also to the actual paper that sparked off the whole debate.

I think this is an excellent resource. It's a useful example of how we should look at evidence and appraise it, but also useful for sitting down with patients and explaining to them why they don't need to worry about the latest doom and gloom health headline.

In fact, I like these so much I have a nice RSS feed to bring Behind the Headlines to my Google Reader and from there I often flip them into the current awareness service.

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