February 3, 2012
By Rebecca Cheung
VANCOUVER, BC, Feb. 3, 2012/ Troy Media/ – Canadians were recently informed that federal spending on health care would continue to increase annually by six per cent, until 2016. After 2016, increases in federal funding will be based on economic growth, more specially on growth in the GDP.
As discussions ensue over what this will mean for Canadians, there are accompanying issues that will be raised: the impact of aging populations on our health system, rising drug and technology costs, health care accessibility, among many others. Now is a particularly important time for Canadians to discuss what matters most to us, and for the media to present the evidence on what is and isn’t working in health care funding and delivery.
A link to health experts
It was with the renewal of the Health Accord in mind that Dr. Noralou Roos, founding director of the Manitoba Centre of Health Policy and professor at the University of Manitoba, and Dr. Sharon Manson Singer, a former BC deputy minister, and past-President of the think tank, Canadian Policy Research Networks, launched EvidenceNetwork.ca (www.evidencenetwork.ca). The goal of this non-partisan network and its accompanying website is to link journalists with experts on high profile health policy issues.
EvidenceNetwork.ca is funded by the Canadian Institute for Health Research (CIHR), and the Manitoba Health Research Council (MHRC), and provides names, phone numbers and email addresses of more than 50 experts in health policy at academic centres, organized by specialization, across the country. These researchers are ready, willing and trained to talk to media about complex health issues putting them in touch with current evidence.
The website also summarizes key controversial health issues, and provides background documents that can help journalists, and others, understand the spin, and provides links to current news pieces on the topics.
Having worked both in government and academic circles, Roos and Manson Singer often saw a disconnect between evidence on controversial health policy topics and how it was reported by journalists.
‘As an academic, I was always reading the paper and thinking ‘that doesn’t reflect what I know about the issue,” Roos said.
The professor of Community Health Services at the University of Manitoba described reading several newspapers articles that seemed to promote myths and misconceptions about the future and sustainability of Canadian healthcare.
‘Even though there is a lot of evidence out there, it is somehow never really communicated in a way which is understood,’ Roos said.
EvidenceNetwork.ca is also advised by journalists and professors at Canadian journalism schools who provide their insights on how academics and the media might work together more effectively.
‘I see EvidenceNetwork.ca as enabling the training and education of journalists about evidence-based health policy issues . . .as well as providing a platform for researchers and journalists to talk to each other and be sources in each other’s work,’ EvidenceNetwork.ca advisor Dr. David Secko, a professor with the department of Journalism at Concordia University, wrote in an email.
Secko also mentions some practical challenges that typical Canadian health and health policy journalists face, including keeping up with evolving scientific evidence, securing reliable sources, deadline pressures and budget cuts. EvidenceNetwork.ca hopes to help address some of these challenges for journalists.
Not based on solid evidence
Sharon Manson Singer agrees that reporting on health policy issues can be a challenging endeavor, ‘Often information that’s handed to a reporter can look convincing, but it might not be based on solid evidence.’
‘Good journalism involves going back to the source of the stories,’ Manson Singer, said. ‘Journalists – and readers too – need to ask themselves ‘How confident am I about the information?”
EvidenceNetwork.ca might be a good place to start.
Rebecca Cheung is an intern with EvidenceNetwork.ca. She has just completed her studies at the UBC Graduate School of Journalism.
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