Increasing violence against medical workers and strained relationships between doctors and patients in China has prompted a review of the media's role and responsibilities in reporting disputes.
Local Chinese media reported this month that a woman in Xiangtan county, Hunan province, who died after giving birth by cesarean section was left on her own by doctors and nurses as she lay bleeding.
The claim spread wildly online and was retransmitted by other media, provoking public outrage and criticism of the maternity hospital for its supposed negligence.
Negative comments about the hospital ran unchecked until local health authorities released the results of an investigation that concluded the woman died of multiple organ failure caused by amniotic fluid embolism, a rare condition, in which amniotic fluid or other surgical debris such as fetal cells or hair enters the mother's bloodstream and causes an allergic reaction.
It can occur during pregnancy or in the immediate postpartum period, and carries a high likelihood of death.
The hospital spared no effort to save the patient, the investigation found.
"The case has exposed a series of problems in the media. First, sufficient knowledge and professionalism in news reporting is very important, especially in the fields of medicine. Less objective news reports will be produced because of a lack of experience and medical background," said Zhang Zhian, deputy dean of the School of Communication and Design at Sun Yat-sen University.
"Some journalists fail to remain impartial and to record objective facts. They may easily show sympathy for the 'weak' or be influenced by public opinion," Zhang added.
Deng Liqiang, director of the Chinese Medical Doctor Association's legal affairs department, said on Friday that the media should remain rational and careful when reporting medical disputes to avoid harming both patients and doctors.
"A lot of things happen in hospitals every day, all about life and death. Some media twist the facts as they report these cases so as to attract more readers. This often undermines trust between doctors and patients," Deng said.
"Every medical case has its own features. Some journalists mislay their working principles and are selective about the truth, which ultimately stirs hatred－from society at large and patients toward hospitals and medical workers," Deng said, adding that media should help create a relaxed and rational information environment.
In recent years, China has seen a growing number of medical disputes, some of which featured violence against medical workers. This week, in Yueyang, Hunan province, a 31-year-old man was sent to a hospital with a knife wound in the chest and was pronounced dead despite emergency treatment.
A group of the patient's relatives beat the attending physician, forcing him to kneel in front of the dead man. They blocked the entrances of hospital buildings and smashed property before they were stopped by the police.
After that, more than 100 doctors from the hospital protested the attack, calling for a safer environment for medical workers. Local health authorities said the doctors had given the patient timely emergency treatment.
Lyu Chunrong in Hunan contributed to the story.