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Superficial health news coverage in flyover country

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An example of cheerleading journalism for local medical centers appeared in the Rapid City (SD) Journal recently. The story was headlined, “Cholesterol machine pulls out LDL.

If only the paper had pulled out a few vital facts. But it didn’t.

The story describes a local medical center’s “new machine” called the Liposorber, to “strain out the bad cholesterol known as LDL.”

The story goes on to explain that the machine itself is not new – stating that it’s been on the market for 24 years!

Hmmm. If it’s so great, what took the medical center so long to get it?

But we never learn how great it is – except through the glowing anecdote of one patient supplied by the medical center. No data about 24 years of use was included. No cost information.

The company website says “Approximately 300,000 treatments with the LIPOSORBER System have been performed worldwide on over 2,500 patients.” Wouldn’t it be good journalism to reflect just a little bit on what’s been learned in that vast experience?

Across all levels of journalism – and of consumer decision-making – we need to get a lot better and a lot smarter about evaluating evidence.

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Marilyn Mann

April 27, 2010 at 11:56 am

I agree this story was lacking in certain respects. The patient who was featured has heterozygous familial hypercholesterolemia (heFH), which occurs in approximately 1/500 people. However, her LDL level, according to the story was 400, which is higher than most people with heFH. Most people with heFH have an LDL level of 250-350. Most of them are treated with statins (and perhaps additional drugs), not with LDL apheresis.
LDL apheresis is almost always necessary for people with *homozygous* FH, but that only occurs in 1/million people.
The bottom line is that very few people need LDL apheresis.
As far as the science goes, it would be observational studies. Randomized placebo-controlled trials are not done on people with such high LDL levels, for ethical reasons.