This winter, in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in Haiti, CNN chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta, MD, and other doctor-reporters deployed to cover the story were scrutinized in the media for their decisions to treat patients while network news cameras rolled.
The video above, depicting Gupta treating an infant, was frequently referenced during the ethical debate. In critiquing Gupta's coverage, Bob Steele, a Poynter Institute journalism values scholar, told a Los Angeles Times blog:
If it's imperative that [Dr. Gupta] intervene and help medically, then take him out of his journalistic role and do that. But don't have him covering the same stories in which he's a participant. It muddles the journalistic reporting. It clouds the lens in terms of the independent observation and reporting.
To help doctor-reporters balance their twin roles, Tom Linden, MD, a medical journalism professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has now proposed a set of guidelines for clarifying the boundaries between medical and journalistic practices. In an article (.pdf) in the current issue of Electronic News, Linden writes:
This merging of reality television and medical journalism put physician reporters in a journalistic ethical gray zone...News executives might well chafe at these restrictions, but physician journalists should stand their ground and not allow themselves or their patients to be used to boost ratings for commercial gain. The public has a right to know, but physician reporters have a duty to protect their patients from exploitation and to keep the boundaries between their dual professions intact.
Linden says that:
- Medical professionals shouldn't report about their own health-care efforts.
- Standard practice should be to seek a parent's or guardian's approval before interviewing and featuring a child in a radio or television news report, whether they're in the United States or abroad.
- A physician reporter who treats a patient shouldn't feature that patient (or ask that patient for permission to be featured) on a radio or television report.