Friday, April 23, 2010
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Newspaper coverage is biased against people with epilepsy in reporting of auto accidents according to a Mayo Clinic study featured at the recent American Academy of Neurology Conference in Toronto.
Joseph F. Drazkowski, M.D., neurologist at Mayo Clinic in Arizona, an author of the study, said that the public has misconceptions about people with epilepsy and their ability to drive. The study points out that drivers with epilepsy have only a 1/500-1/10,000 increased risk of accidents than the general public. However, newspaper coverage has created a "perceptual mismatch" between statistics and general awareness, said Dr. Drazkowski.
"We want people to know that not everything you read in the paper is factual," he said. "With the study, we wanted to look into whether there was media bias related to coverage of car crashes involving epilepsy patients and it seems that they tend to make the paper a little bit more than you'd expect."
Driving eligibility of persons with certain medical conditions is regulated and varies from state-to-state. According to the Epilepsy Foundation of America the most common requirement for people with epilepsy is "that they be seizure-free for a specified period of time and submit a physician's evaluation of their ability to drive safely" and that they re-submit medical reports periodically.
Mayo doctors say the study was conducted because print news is the second most important medical information source for the public, after physicians. Biased newspaper coverage of epilepsy and driving can color public perception and ultimately impact legislation that might unfairly restrict driving.
"When we look at statistics, people with many other medical conditions, such as cardiac disease, psychiatric conditions or other conditions that could impair their driving are still allowed to drive without restriction, whereas people with seizures or epilepsy are not," Dr. Drazkowski said.
When news coverage paints the wrong picture it adds to the misconceptions and bias against people with epilepsy, Dr. Drazkowski said. The study looked at 678 stories in 12 major U.S. papers and determined that sensationalism and stigmatizing language exists. For instance, using the word "fits" instead of seizures or epilepsy implied psychological issues. Also the word "seizures" is often used to describe diabetic attacks or cardiac events.
"We wanted to start a dialog within the medical profession and with our patients," Dr. Drazkowski added. "We encourage people to get the facts, understand and be aware. Hopefully, by raising the issue we can help the person with epilepsy try to achieve a better quality of life."
In addition to Dr. Drazkowski, authors of the study include Mayo Clinic physicians Srijana Zarkou, M.D., Katherine H. Noe, M.D., Ph.D., Matthew T. Hoerth, M.D. and Joseph I. Sirven, M.D.
The American Academy of Neurology Annual Conference was held in Toronto, April 11-15.
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