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Jewish World Review Sept. 11, 2000 / 10 Elul, 5760

Peter H. Gott, M.D.

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Consumer Reports

Who was wrong? Hospital or TV news? -- DEAR DR. GOTT: Is there an emergency treatment for strokes? I saw on television that ex-President Gerald Ford was supposed to have suffered a stroke, yet no emergency therapy was administered.

DEAR READER: The standard therapy for strokes is now "clot-busting" medications (TPA and others) that will reduce neurological damage, provided they are administered WITHIN THREE HOURS of the onset of the stroke. Such was not the case with former President Ford, as I understood the facts.

You do, however, raise a crucial point: media responsibility. I, too, watched a news segment about this (NBC Nightly News, Aug. 3, 2000) and was appalled by the irresponsible tone of the report. Gerald Ford was admitted to a prominent Philadelphia hospital after having experienced some neurological symptoms.

He was later discharged. According to NBC, he may have been treated inappropriately: no neurological consultant was called in the middle of the night, Mr. Ford was evaluated by an emergency room physician only, and the ex-president was not given clot-buster medication. I believe this is tabloid journalism at its worst, and here's why:

The Ford family was forthright in maintaining that the care given was exceptional. The family members had nothing but praise for the Philadelphia doctors. Why, then, did the TV news medium choose to undercut this approach with unjustifiable criticism?

Second, given the former president's symptoms, was an emergency neurological consultation necessary or even appropriate? Probably not. Not all patients with neurological symptoms need to be seen at 3 a.m. by a neurologist. Was the news suggesting that Mr. Ford should have been treated any differently because of his celebrity status? I hope not. This implies a two-tiered model of medical attention that could well undermine political egalitarianism.

Third, emergency room physicians are well-trained members of the medical team. They are far from being second-rate practitioners.

Finally, the patient's symptoms had been present for more than three hours; therefore acute therapy was not indicated.

The TV analysis was unnecessarily misleading. It was, simply put, lousy journalism. If the Ford family had bona-fide objections, they should -- of course -- be allowed news coverage. But this was not the case. NBC took a cheap shot at the medical profession and should, in my view, publicly apologize.

This unfortunate tendency -- the compulsion to bad-mouth doctors without suitable evidence -- is a popular practice that is becoming more prevalent. It serves no useful purpose other than to pander to the basest instincts of the public. Any valid news-gathering organization that editorializes, when it should simply be reporting the facts, ought to be ashamed of itself.


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