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Steven Hochman '09 publishes research in The Journal of the American Medical Association

Steven Hochman '09 has a very impressive line to add to his post-collegiate resume, and he won't even graduate for several more months.

He is one of four co-authors of “News Media Coverage of Medication Research,” a seven-page research article published in the October 1st edition of JAMA, 300 (13). The other authors are Steven’s brother Michael Hochman, MD (lead author); David Bor, MD; and Danny McCormick, MD, MPH. All are Harvard Medical School researchers at the Cambridge Health Alliance in Cambridge, Mass. An abstract is available here.

Their research reveals that 42 percent of mainstream news articles on pharmaceutical studies didn’t disclose the funding sources of those studies, which are often the same companies marketing the drugs. They also found that two-thirds of the articles surveyed referred to medications by their brand names, rather than the less expensive generic versions, which can lead to consumer confusion.

Hochman was invited by his brother to participate in research in the data-intensive study.

“Many drug studies are funded by the pharmaceutical companies that market the drugs,” Hochman explains. While studies published in medical journals list the funding sources, there is no “set standard for noting funding sources when the popular media presents study results to the general public. In this light, as the general public considers medication choice, they may be misled by studies selected for their successful outcomes, and may not be aware when the research has been company funded.”

To uncover how prevalent this issue is, Hochman spent the summer of 2007 coding news articles from popular online and print media sources about drug studies, noting if the funding source was mentioned and if the generic name, brand name or both were used. The final data set was comprised of hundreds of articles.

As part of the study, the authors also surveyed health editors at major newspapers to learn about their medical research reporting practices. They found that just three percent of media surveyed had written policies governing disclosure, and just two percent had policies requiring medications to be referred to by their generic names.

“We hope that publishing this article helps alleviate these problems,” says Hochman. “It feels really good to have all this work published, especially in such a well known journal as JAMA, but I'm mostly just excited that I got the chance to experience the world of ‘real life’ medical research, especially in a public health related field, which is where I see myself in the future.”

Hochman, who is a Geology major, plans to continue his interest in medical research by applying for a Fulbright grant to study “the health disparity between the Maori and non-Maori population in New Zealand as a function of the two-part nationalized and private healthcare setting.” He’s particularly excited about the project because he hopes that it will not only be another step toward medical school, but that it will also help him play a role in promoting a nationalized healthcare system in the United States.