Responsible reporting on medicines, tests and treatments

The following tips have been developed to help journalists accurately and responsibly reflect independent, reliable evidence in their writing and reporting on medicines, medical tests and treatments.

Responsible reporting on medicines, tests and treatments

The media is a partner to Australia’s National Medicines Policy, which aims to bring about better health outcomes for all Australians, focusing especially on people’s access to and wise use of medicines.

The following tips have been developed by independent not-for-profit organisation NPS MedicineWise and endorsed by the Australasian Medical Writers Association to help journalists accurately and responsibly reflect independent, reliable evidence in their writing and reporting on medicines, medical tests and treatments.

NPS MedicineWise has regular media releases and has spokespeople available to speak about the evidence-based quality use medicines, medical tests and treatments.

1. Provide evidence-based information

Stories that aren’t based on independent evidence, or that describe unsafe use of medicines by a particular person or group of people, can encourage the unsafe use of medicines in the wider community. Balance the stories with the evidence.

Important considerations:

  • Early research may be promising, but it does not mean the medicine is effective and safe. It is just a first step in a journey.
  • Non-qualified public figures or celebrities don’t always give safe and effective evidence-based recommendations.
  • Comments by one professional may not necessarily reflect the position of their professional body on whether the medicines are effective and safe.

2. Be wary of anecdotes

Please note when it’s just an anecdote.

Personal stories and case studies are valuable in reporting, creating context and connection to the audience, making the topic easier to relate to and to understand. Anecdotal evidence is, however, not the same as strong scientific evidence from clinical trials (human trials).

Make sure your report reflects the level of evidence that is available to support what you’re saying or implying.

Some tips for explaining how much evidence is available

  • If there is not yet much evidence at hand but research is underway, consider terms such as ‘early research suggests’ or ‘more research will be needed to see if this treatment can...’
  • Provide a link to the research being mentioned.
  • State what is not known, like ‘this medicine is used to treat x, it is currently unknown if it is effective for y’.
  • Use absolute risk (e.g. the risk of being struck by lightning in one year is one in 700,000) where possible instead of relative risk (e.g. a new product reduces the risk of being struck by lightning by 50%)
  • Add approximate time frames for further research needed, if appropriate.
  • AusSMC (the Australian Science Media Centre) has tips on reporting science and assessing scientific evidence.

3. Use clear language

A clear term can make the understanding firm.

Support health literacy by using clear language to explain concepts.

Some tips to support health literacy

  • Use everyday words
  • Test readability – being understandable by a 13-year-old increases the reach of your message
  • Animations, infographics or icons can improve understanding

An article in Croakey discusses health literacy and discusses basic principles to support people’s understanding of health concepts.

4. Check your source

Promote a reliable source as a matter of course.

There is a lot of information out there, and your readers, listeners or viewers can be easily overwhelmed. Use a reliable source, and name that source in your reporting.

Information should be evidence-based and up-to-date. It is important to help people find reliable information. NPS MedicineWise has tips for consumers about where to find information about health conditions, medicines, tests and treatments and information on how medicines are approved in Australia.

Some examples of trustworthy sources

  • NPS MedicineWise: Independent, not-for-profit and evidence based, NPS MedicineWise enables better decisions about medicines, medical tests and other health technologies. NPS MedicineWise receives funding from the Australian Government Department of Health.
  • Department of Health: The Australian Government Department of Health seeks to promote, develop and fund health services for the Australian public.
  • Therapeutic Goods Administration: The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) is part of the Australian Government Department of Health and is responsible for regulating therapeutic goods including prescription medicines, vaccines, sunscreens, vitamins and minerals, medical devices, blood and blood products.
  • Better Health Channel: Better Health Channel provides health and medical information that is quality assured, regularly reviewed and up to date. It is fully funded by the Victorian Government.
  • healthdirect: healthdirect Australia helps provide all Australians with access to trusted professional health information without time or geographic restrictions. Services include the healthdirect Nurse Helpline and health information, after hours GP helpline, Pregnancy, Birth and Baby, mindhealthconnect, the National Health Services Directory and My Aged Care.
  • Australian Institute of Health and Welfare: The biennial ‘Australia’s Health’ reports are the most comprehensive and authoritative source of national information on health in Australia.
  • The Cochrane Collaboration: This is a not-for-profit, global, independent network of health practitioners, researchers, patient advocates and others, working to make evidence generated through research useful for informing decisions about health.
  • BPAC New Zealand: is an independent, not-for-profit organisation whose role is to deliver educational and continuing professional development programs to medical practitioners and other health professional groups throughout New Zealand.
  • Ministry of Health, New Zealand: The New Zealand government ministry works across the health sector to deliver better health outcomes for New Zealanders.
  • Health Navigator New Zealand: A not-for-profit community initiative to provide one place for New Zealanders to find reliable and trustworthy information and self-care resources.

Peak bodies for particular conditions or patient groups are important sources of reliable information for a particular topic.

NPS MedicineWise has information to help consumers find reliable information about medicines.

Choosing Wisely Australia has five questions to ask your doctor or healthcare provider.



Please feel free to contact us and share the tips.

Matthew Harris, NPS MedicineWise Communications & PR adviser: (02) 8217 9229, 0419 618 365 or [email protected]