This story on an implanted pacemaker to control previously uncontrolled high blood pressure called it a “breakthrough” a “game-changer,” and said it has “proven highly effective” and could help millions.
Strip away the hyperbole and the story failed to:
The medical editor who reviewed this piece for us said it was one of the worst he’s reviewed in three years.
There was no discussion of estimated price for this device and treatment. If it’s not too early for the network to say this is "proven highly effective" and a "game-changer," then it’s certainly not to early to discuss costs.
There was no information provided about the extent to which this device might be expected to reduce blood pressure or any information about its impact on cardiovascular events.
One patient mentioned noticing every once in a while that the device was there. The patient who was interviewed said that there were no downsides that he was aware of. However – this does not adequately describe the harms of an implanted medical device, nor possible side effects from stimulating the baroreceptors.
The story gave no data – just saying the device had "proven highly effective." The piece provided no indication about the percentage of individuals whose pressure was reduced with the use of this device; it also did not indicate the extent to which pressure was reduced. Further – merely showing that the device lowers blood pressure is not enough evidence of benefit. Studies would really need to demonstrate thatuse of the device results in a decrease in heart attacks and other cardiovascular events. Just because lowering BP in medication trials does this doesn’t mean that lower BP with the device would do this.
It didn’t exaggerate the seriousness of uncontrolled high blood pressure.
Besides a patient, two doctors involved in the clinical trial (one of whom is the CEO and president of the company manufacturing the device) were interviewed for this segment. There were no independent clinicians or physiologists interviewed to provide background and some perspective about the device reported on.
Medical therapy for the control of hypertension was mentioned during the course of this segment. There was no discussion of other medical devices currently being investigated for the purpose of controlling blood pressure or lifestyle factors that affect blood pressure and cardiovascular risk. There was no discussion of secondary causes of hypertension or interventions that can be used to improve adherence to treatments that have been shown to lower cardiovascular risk.
The broadcast segment did not emphasize that the device is currently being tested in clinical trials and is not available outside of the trials.
The broadcast described the device as a ‘breakthough’. It is premature to use this terminology as the device is still only being studied to determine whether it is effective for this purpose. However – the broadcast was clear that this was a new application of the technology.
We can’t be sure if the story relied solely or largely on a news release. We do know that physicians at only one medical center appeared in the segment.