Background In recent years, the analysis of media dialogue has been recognised in the literature as an important aspect within the area of health research. As patients are becoming increasingly self-educated via the media, it is important to know how the media portray information on PGx to the public.
Purpose To explore, through systematic content analysis, the trends in UK newspaper coverage of pharmacogenetics in general and the potential benefits and risks of pharmacogenetic testing in particular.
Materials and methods A purposive sample of the 10 UK highest circulation national daily newspapers and their Sunday equivalents was investigated, through Jan 2001-Dec 2010. The LexisNexis database was used to identify and retrieve full text articles from electronic archives. A standardised coding frame was developed to facilitate consistent data extraction and analysis. The main researcher manually coded the entire set of relevant newspaper articles while a second independent researcher reassessed a random sample (24%) of the articles in order to estimate the overall reliability of the coding process.
Results Of the 233 articles captured by the search terms, 83 articles met the study inclusion criteria and thus were included in the final detailed analysis. The mean inter- coder κ score was 0.84, indicating good agreement. The vast majority (98.8%) of the articles stated at least one benefit of the application of pharmacogenetics, while only 34.9% of the articles mentioned at least one risk. Overall beneficial effects were mentioned 5.5 more frequently than risks (p<0.001). There was a marked unequal distribution of articles in broadsheet versus tabloid newspapers (P<0.001). There was a positive correlation between the size of the article and both the number of benefits and risks stated (P<0.01).
Conclusions The study demonstrated that pharmacogenetics is a topic of only marginal interest to UK newspaper editors. The majority of articles emphasised the benefits of pharmacogenetics testing while under-reporting the risks whereas a ‘balanced assessment’ is required to allow readers to make informed decisions. This trend of reporting highlighting that journalists have special responsibilities in conveying information (both sides of the story) to the public since readers may make important decisions based on what is presented. One side of a story is not sufficient for the reader; If the benefit is overstated, the public expectation for cure or health improvement may be inflated and unrealistically raised. The opposite is also an issue that is if a risk is overstated, this may generate unnecessary anxiety which could reflect adversely on patient behaviour.
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