Understanding the Public Impact of a Controversial Medical Publication

40% of Americans turn to the internet for health-related information, resulting in over a billion Google searches daily. Conventional browser searches produce a prioritized list of relevant information sources for the user to choose from.

How AI Search Differs from Conventional Search

In contrast, AI generally presents users with a synthesized summary of available information, known as a “featured snippet”. It is the AI agent therefore, making the judgement of what is the most creditable bits of information to use to construct its final snippet reply. The authority ratings of the medical publications providing the underlying data to the information pool, play a major role in what the AI will include.

A Source of Concern

Recently, the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), a medical source with the highest authority rating, featured a study (the TRAVERSE study) on testosterone treatment in men with hypogonadism, a condition marked by low male sex hormone levels. The TRAVERSE study suggested that testosterone supplementation increased the risk of bone fractures, a finding that contradicts previous research indicating bone density and strength improve with such treatment. Surprisingly, the TRAVERSE study did not include standard bone density measurements, which raises questions about its conclusions.

This study was a secondary analysis of data primarily collected to assess cardiovascular risks. Secondary analyses are typically considered less conclusive than primary outcomes. Despite this, the study’s publication as the lead article in a top journal and its subsequent media coverage have caused confusion among the public, as seen in headlines questioning whether testosterone actually increases fracture risk in men with hypogonadism.

A Potential Solution

The sponsorship of the TRAVERSE study by Abbvie, the pharmaceutical company marketing the testosterone product Androgel used in the study, suggests potential conflicts of interest. Such relationships between medical journals and the pharmaceutical industry can threaten the integrity of medical information.

To preserve the quality of medical data, it may be necessary to digitally separate pharmaceutical industry sponsored research from independent studies. This would help ensure that AI and other information sources maintain the accuracy and reliability of health information for both the public and healthcare professionals.

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