Steven Woloshin is co-director of the Center for Medicine and Media at The Dartmouth Institute and a general internist. He and research partner, Lisa Schwartz, have worked to improve the communication of medical evidence to physicians, journalists, policymakers, and the public to help them see through excessive fear and hope created by exaggerated and selective reporting in medical journals, advertising, and the news.
Their research themes include: medicine in the media, the science of effective risk communication, prescription drugs, overdiagnosis, and the marketing of medicine. Woloshin and Schwartz’s seminal work helped to establish the field of health-related numeracy. He and Schwartz created the “drug facts box”, drug-benefit and harm-data summaries shown in clinical trials to improve consumer decision-making. The FDA’s Risk Communication Advisory Committee unanimously endorsed the box and Congress directed FDA to consider it (S.3507 Affordable Care Act). While the FDA has not yet implemented boxes, they replicated Woloshin and Schwartz’s findings, acknowledged to Congress that boxes influenced their Guidances and created the Trials Snapshots website with drug box content. Based on their work developing “risk charts” the National Cancer Institute created the Know Your Chances website.
Woloshin is a frequent contributor to major media outlets, including The Washington Post and The New York Times and co-authored two books: Know Your Chances and Overdiagnosed. For more than a decade, Woloshin and Schwartz have led the “Medicine in the Media” workshop with the NIH, teaching over 500 health journalists how to interpret and report medical research. In announcing that Woloshin and Schwartz received the 2017 McGovern Award from the American Medical Writers Association, President Lori Alexander said, “These two physicians are my heroes because of their commitment to improving the quality of messages directed at lay audiences.”
Woloshin is a founding member of the Steering Committee for Preventing Overdiagnosis, an annual, international conference, Advisory Board member of AllTrials, and collaborator in Informed Health Choices (improving critical thinking skills in schools).
He earned a BA from Boston University, an MS from the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, and a MD from the Boston University School of Medicine.
Q: What did you want to be when you grew up?
A: I still don’t know
Q: Who is/was your role model?
A: I am very lucky and have had many wonderful clinical and research mentors
Q: Tell us about a meaningful moment in your career
A: When Lisa Schwartz and I decided to do everything together – research, teaching, and life.
Q: If someone asked you to suggest a book to read, what would you recommend?
A: Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, if they don’t have much time, Dante and the Lobster by Samuel Beckett (it’s just a short story)
Q: What do you like to do in your down time?
A: What is down time?
Q: What is your favourite cuisine?
Q: What is your favourite place in the world?
Q: Who would you most like to thank, and why?
A: Lisa – she knows why!
Q: What are three things you would change in medicine?
A:Less of it when it’s unlikely to help
More healthy skepticism
- Schwartz LM, Woloshin S, Black WC, Welch HG. The role of numeracy in understanding the benefit of screening mammography. Ann Intern Med 1997; 127: 966-972.
- Woloshin S, Schwartz LM. Giving legs to restless legs: A case study of how the media helps make people sick. PLoS Med 2006 3(4) e170: 0452-0455.
- Schwartz LM, Woloshin S, Fowler FJ, Welch HG. Enthusiasm for cancer screening in the United States. JAMA 2004; 291:71-8
- Schwartz LM, Woloshin S. Lost in transmission–FDA drug information that never reaches clinicians. N Engl J Med. 2009 Oct 29;361(18):1717-20.
- Woloshin S, Schwartz LM. Communicating data about the benefits and harms of treatment: a randomized trial. Ann Intern Med. 2011 Jul 19;155(2):87-96.
- Woloshin S, Schwartz, LM, Black WC, Kramer BS. Cancer screening campaigns – getting past uninformative persuasion. N Engl J Med 2012; 367:1677-1679.
- Wiener RS, Schwartz LM, Woloshin S. When a test is too good:How CT pulmonary angiograms find pulmonary emboli that do not need to be found. BMJ 2013 346:3368 doi: 10.1136/bmj.f3368.
- Woloshin S, Schwartz LM. US Food and Drug Administration Approval of Flibanserin: Even the score does not add up. JAMA- Intern Med 2016 doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.0073
- Woloshin, S, Schwartz LM, Welch G. Know your chances: Understanding health statistics. University of California Press (November 2008).
- Welch HG, Schwartz LM, Woloshin S. Overdiagnosis: How the pursuit of health can make you sick. Beacon Press (January 2011)