CBS hypes “one of biggest medical advances since the scalpel”

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A reader asked me to comment on a CBS News weekend story on high-intensity focused ultrasound. After looking it up, I can now see why he asked.

The hyperbole was off the charts:

• “It may be one of the biggest medical advances since the scalpel”

• “huge breakthrough”

• “it’s like a James Bond movie, you zap the target”

• “results are startling”

The results may have been startling in the one patient profiled, but, as we frequently remind readers, the plural of anecdote is not data.

Yes, there are some good data on this approach for uterine fibroids. However, treatment of uterine fibroids is one of the key areas for informed, shared decision-making – a concept never introduced in this “gee whiz” piece, which trumpeted:

“Research facilities worldwide, including here at the National Institutes of Health are studying focused ultrasound to treat everything from epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease to prostate and bone cancer.”

I always balk at that “everything from” phrase. And, yes, while ultrasound is being studied in these different uses, that doesn’t mean any is ready for prime time use.

I also don’t understand why CBS, with two designated physician-reporters, would assign a piece like this to their Congressional correspondent. Isn’t there enough health care reform news on Capitol Hill to keep Congressional correspondents busy?

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John Joseph Gleason

June 20, 2011 at 1:48 pm

They also appear to have violated the patients HIPPA confidentiality by showing her full name on the operative image.

Michael Kirsch, MD

June 22, 2011 at 9:07 am

The plural of anecdote may not equal data, but it sure generates headlines. Another example of seduction by medical ‘journalists’.