Call it a retraction. Call it a correction. Call it important to correct the record.
Back in January, I led the charge in criticizing ABC’s Bill Weir for his report on Dr. David Agus’ book, “The End of Illness,” and Weir’s claim that a CT scan Agus recommended may have saved Weir’s life. You can read that original criticism here.
Well, last night, Weir and ABC corrected the record. On the air (not in the link I just provided), Weir acknowledged that there are legitimate questions about whether his original report did more harm than good. Important excerpts of the online correction:
“When I saw that interaction, I’d say it broke my heart,” said Dr. Richard Besser, former acting head of the Centers for Disease Control and chief medical editor at ABC News. ”He may truly believe that seeing that white spot in an artery around your heart means that you could drop dead from a heart attack. But, you know, the experts in cardiology I talk to say that there’s just not the data to support that. You know, as we get older, we all get plaque forming in our hearts.”
Dr. Steven Nissen, chairman of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, agreed.
“You have minimal calcium,” he wrote in an email after seeing my results. “In my view, performing a calcium scan on an otherwise healthy, 44-year-old man in not medically acceptable.”
After four other doctors supported these concerns, I realized I’d fallen into a raging debate over the value of full-body scans and what they are really able to find in the heart. Because of the radiation exposure and the chance a “false positive” could send a patient into a spiral of costly and potentially dangerous procedures, neither the American Heart Association nor the FDA recommends this test for people without obvious symptoms or genetic risk.
This was news I never received before taking the scan. And afterward, aside from describing mid-jog heart attacks, Dr. Agus never put my calcium score in context. A month later, I came across an article by Dr. Paul Grayburn in the New England Journal of Medicine that said a coronary-artery calcium score “below 100 indicates low risk, and a score above 300 indicates high risk.”
My score was 49.
When “The End of Illness” came out in paperback, I couldn’t help but notice that Dr. Agus had devoted much of his new foreword to my case, using me as an example of the power of preventative technology.
Over and over again, we have tried to help educate journalists about screening tests…and even specifically about heart CT scans…whether it be the little Sioux Falls Argus Leader or the much larger Minneapolis Star Tribune or the even larger CNN.
A physician friend once told me that the battle for health care reform is fought one foxhole at a time. It is is clear that the battle for accurate, balanced, complete health care journalism is fought one foxhole at a time as well. And we will continue to jump in as many of those foxholes as we can.
Speaking of CNN and retractions/corrections, the Poynter Institute website reports that “CNN removes story about hormones affecting a woman’s vote.”
And the beat goes on.