Media Doctor Australia, a pioneering project based at the Newcastle Institute of Public Health which evaluates media reports about health and medical treatments, has joined the Twitterverse. You can follow them at MediaDoctorAU.

I hope they are tracking readership numbers closely. It will be interesting to know what impact Twitter has on these, although this will depend on how vigorously they engage with the medium.

HealthNewsReview, a similar site in the US run by Gary Schwitzer, is extremely proactive in using Twitter to disseminate not only its findings but also to engage in broader debates around the media and health.

Hopefully Media Doctor Australia will also be chatting directly with journalists, media commentators and the media’s audiences, rather than simply using Twitter to broadcast their latest analysis. If so, there could be some interesting Twitter chats ahead!

Croakey readers might be interested in Media Doctor Australia’s recent analysis of a story about mifepristone, or RU486, in The Australian, which ran under the headline, Abortion pill ‘less safe than surgery’.

The evaluation found:

This story addresses the potentially contentious topic of termination of pregnancy. The article implies that surgical abortion is less dangerous compared to medical abortion when this is not supported in the evidence. Absolute and relative comparisions are quoted without consideration of the emergence of adverse events during the postoperative period of surgical patients. The article compares readmission of surgical patients with hospital presentations of patients having medical abortions at home, two different outcomes. Benefits (comparative) are not accurately described. The emotive headline is also not supported by evidence in the original source, Australian Family Physician Vol. 40, No. 5, May 2011.

In case you missed it, Crikey recently ran a response to The Australian’s article from Professor Caroline de Costa, providing some broader context to the drug’s use. She concluded:

It is highly desirable that the Australian use of mifepristone be carefully scrutinised and that the processes be totally transparent. This certainly appears to be happening, and the results demonstrate that mifepristone used in appropriate clinical circumstances is a safe option for Australian women having to make the often-difficult choice for themselves regarding abortion. What is now needed is extension of the availability of the drug across all Australian states and territories.

Meanwhile, the critique on Twitter of media coverage of health and related issues flows thick and fast from many sources.

You might have seen The Australian splash on the weekend on a story suggesting that Tony Windsor’s New England electorate was getting unfair advantage, under the headline: Loyal lieutenant Tony Windsor royally rewarded.

The article said NSW had been allocated $1.115 billion from the Health and Hospitals Fund. It added: “Although New England is one of 48 federal seats in the state, its $151.6m represents 13.5 per cent of all NSW HHF grants.”

It’s always difficult to know what to make of such crude comparisons, because they don’t take into account factors such as an area’s need, or historic funding patterns.

In any case, the level of analysis clearly did not impress the National Rural Health Alliance (which was closely involved in advising the Independents on rural health), which tweeted this today:

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