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Remembering Dr. Lisa Schwartz, overdiagnosis and health communication expert

We were extremely saddened to hear about the passing of Dr. Lisa Schwartz, internist, professor, and co-director of the Center for Medicine and Media at The Dartmouth Institute. Along with her husband and research partner, Dr. Steven Woloshin, Schwartz worked tirelessly to help patients, clinicians, and policymakers better understand disease risks and the harms of overdiagnosis.

Schwartz also pushed back hard against the tendency towards hype in health care media, teaching journalists to look closely at studies before labeling them as breakthroughs, and she called out medicalization and disease-mongering, writing about industry’s involvement in promoting conditions like “low testosterone,” “low sexual desire,” and “restless leg syndrome.”

She published more than 150 studies and lay articles about overtreatment and other harms caused by bias, exaggerations, and selective reporting in health care research and journalism; co-authored two books — Overdiagnosis: Making People Sick in the Pursuit of Health and Know Your Chances: Understanding Health Statistics (this book is free online!) ; and taught more than 500 health journalists how to interpret and report medical research.

Throughout her writing, teaching, and presentations, Schwartz was engaging, clear, and funny, whether she was addressing an audience of clinicians, policymakers, or the public.

“One of the things I learned from Lisa is how to use humor, even when the subject is so, so dire,” said Shannon Brownlee, Senior Vice President at the Lown Institute. 

Schwartz and Woloshin also developed valuable tools for improving health care research and journalism, such as a set of “Questions to Guide Reporting,” “Questions to ask about health-related messages,” and the “Drug Facts Box,” a label with effectiveness and safety information for pharmaceuticals as easy to read and understand as a nutrition facts box.

“Lisa and Steve were the dynamic duo fighting overdiagnosis and disease mongering and bad reporting. What a loss for Steve and their family, and for the rest of us,” said Brownlee.