How not to cover new medical technologies in an era of health care reform

Regardless the shape and impact of health care reform legislation, how new health care technologies are communicated to the American public is a major issue. And today a reader sent me a new example of how journalism must improve.

The Asbury Park (NJ) Press reports on a local medical center trumpeting its use of two technologies to treat lung cancer – Cyberknife and Super D. The story reads like a hospital news release, using phrases such as:

• “puts hospital on the cutting edge”

• “The intrusive ways of the past to diagnose and treat cancer — by using the needle and scalpel — are being replaced by the electronic hum of computers and the whir of robots.”

• “Riverview is the only medical center in the state with Super D and the latest Cyberknife technology”

• “We have the newest technology in the state”

• “It also means treatment can begin sooner and have a better outcome”

Well, wait just a minute about outcomes. The story contains no data, no evidence, no proof of better outcomes.

In fact, hidden away at the very end of the story is this:

“Academic studies are now underway comparing the effectiveness of Cyberknife cancer treatment to conventional surgery.”

Usually, we want to wait until the studies are done and until the evidence is in before we proclaim that something is “curing the cancer” or that it’s “the wave of the future.” Otherwise that wave can become a tsunami of overuse and runaway costs – before we even know if what’s newer is better.


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March 23, 2010 at 3:59 pm

Good point made. Is it really better than surgery in some cases? Maybe. However it would be wise for people to know whether or not its the best for ‘your’ case. Second opinions are a good thing.
What I find interesting here, is that they didnt show the face mask. I researched cyberknife, and they use some kind of mask over a patient’s head to treat head cases. I think this hospital is inaccurately representing CK treatment by showing the treatment for a head case without showing the mask.