Health reporters study the alternatives

Healthcare media tend to write breathlessly about new medical breakthroughs, even though it may be years before patients actually see real benefits.

Healthcare media tend to write breathlessly about new medical breakthroughs, even though it may be years before patients actually see real benefits.

But when it comes to alternative treatments, some of which have been around for centuries, media resistance remains fairly high.

"There is a bias among traditional health reporters regarding alternative medicine, and it may be the same bias that consumers and doctors have," says Patty Gibbs, who represents AcuBead, a pain-relief strip based on the ancient theory of acupressure. "Many people still consider alternative treatments a bit flaky."

Dean Draznin of Fairfield, IA-based Dean Draznin Communications adds, "There is generally a push back when you're talking about alternative health products, so that must be handled with finesse. When dealing with the mainstream press, you have to establish [both] the credibility of the spokesperson and the research behind the product."

It's not just traditional healthcare reporters who are demanding scientific research to support alternative-health claims. "I continually tell people we're not New Age and we don't want anything anecdotal," says Betsy Robinson, managing editor of the print publication Spirituality & Health. "If it's not backed up by a reputable, scientific, peer-reviewed study, we're not interested."

Harry Bosk, founder of Baltimore-based Bosk Communications, says even though the bar may be higher for alternative medicine stories, there's no doubt rising consumer interest is driving the media to take a closer look.

Bosk represents the Tai Sophia Institute, a school for the "healing arts" in Laurel, MD, and says he never pitches "alternative" stories, finding better success with the term "complementary medicine," which suggests a combination of traditional healthcare with other therapy forms. But he adds that recent stories questioning the effectiveness of some traditional drugs and treatments are creating more press opportunities.

"A year ago, when there was a lot of concern about Celebrex and other anti-inflammatory drugs, I got a lot of calls from reporters seeking experts to talk about herbal alternatives," he notes.

Draznin cites a recent New York Times feature estimating that the market for alternative and complementary medicines was $27 billion. He says the story was indicative of the slowly changing attitudes of reporters.

"There was very little negativity [in the piece], which has traditionally not been the case," he says. "[But] you still have many in the healthcare media that follow the herd and don't want to put their necks out. It's often a long time after an alternative health trend surfaces before you start to see mainstream coverage."

PITCHING... alternative medicine

The bar is higher for alternative medicine stories. You need solid science and certified experts to support any pitch

Leverage breaking medical news, such as an announcement that a drug is being pulled from the market, to pitch alternative treatments for that ailment

The same PR rules still apply for alternative medicine. You need compelling patient stories and good visuals, in addition to studies and experts

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