Death Watch And the Media

CTV and other news channels have given much air-time to the e-coli outbreak affecting the distribution of meat in Canada, where 10 persons have been affected but none have died. This is commendable. However the same news media are asleep at the switch when it comes to reporting on other preventable events which daily cause deaths in Canadian hospitals. Known as “nosocomial” infections, they occur in Canada at the rate of about 1 to 1.4 per hour, 22 to 32 per day, or 8,000 to 12,000 per year. The numbers refer to infections acquired during hospital care which are not present at the time of admission and occur 48 hours after admission.

Hospitals turn out to be dangerous places to visit, some more than others, but prospective patients should be alerted to this danger factor, if their time comes. Such information can be as or more important than knowing the daily weather forecast or minute by minute movements in stock prices. Discussion of “nosocomial” infections is found at http://www.mcgill.ca/law/sites/mcgill.ca.law/files/khoury_lara_healthlawjournal_2009.pdf p.198. (The article also examines some the legal ramifications of this type of illness.)

Canadian news media exhibit the behavior of a gold rush, with all reporters zeroing in on the same story, and slow to seek out new ones. I am not aware of other cases of preventable deaths and illnesses to this extent, but I suspect that journalistic initiative would uncover some. This is where social media can make a contribution, and continue to siphon off audiences from more traditional sources. Social media increases readers, fragments audiences and allows new information channels with search engines able to locate particular topics. Recognizing these new conditions has lead many of the traditional news media to diversify their delivery mechanisms to the extent that it is no longer necessary to subscribe to a print copy if it is available online. Some are not free and require payment, but there are sufficient reliable alternatives for readers to get the news for free, forcing firms to find new funding mechanisms. Readers are limited to 24 hours in the day, and will always seek out cheaper ways to get reliable information.

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