Sergel talks deciphering medicine

With medical discoveries made every day, Robert Sergel is the one who separates the mundane from the truly game-changing.

“There is way too much use of the word ‘breakthrough’ today,” Sergel, a managing editor for medical science for the ABC News team, said at a Pierson College Master’s tea last Friday.

For 11 years, Sergel has worked with ABC to evaluate which scientific studies merit reporting and airtime on subsidiary networks across the country.

To help decipher the deluge of medical discoveries coming from research labs across the globe every day, Sergel pioneered ABC’s computerized medical contact database.

“We had these different studies coming from Norway and Sweden,” Sergel said, referring to a set of studies about mammography screenings. “We wanted to know, what did experts recommend?”

Today, Sergel’s database currently contains contact information for over 4,000 doctors and scientists who are leaders in their fields. He emails them regularly to ask for opinions on new medical studies and uses their input to decide what the network should cover. Sergel’s database even rates doctors’ abilities to do interviews on air.

“These are the things we do to try to bring a better approach to how we cover medicine,” Sergel said.

Sergel said his database system makes his reporting more accurate and stay ahead of the curve on new medical trends. Still, he added that he often receives emails and press releases from doctors with “information that’s just plain wrong.”

“I’m sitting there with a stack of news releases, and I flip through them, saying, ‘NO, NO, NO, NO!’” Sergel said, waving his arms in the air.

Several audience members said they found the talk thought-provoking.

“This was really interesting because I think doctors need to better understand how the media and medical coverage work together,” said Valenita Vinate, an exchange student from Florence, Italy currently pursuing a master’s degree in public health at the School of Medicine. “They should play a bigger role in that.”

Pierson College Master Harvey Goldblatt said he was fascinated by the way Sergel emphasized the importance of medicine and communications.

“What is teriffic is the way in which Sergel managed to deal with that intersection,” Goldblatt said.

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