This article on one woman’s successful diagnosis and treatment for sleep apnea is an example of a local newspaper feature whose main benefit is to raise awareness of a little-understood condition. The article accomplishes this.
But the article falls far short of journalistic best practices in several significant ways:
The article makes no mention of the costs of the testing for sleep apnea, the CPAP device itself or the continuing costs of operation. All are considerable. The article does not indicate whether any of the costs are covered by insurance or Medicare.
The article makes no attempt to quantify the benefits of treatment generally for people treated by CPAP. Nor does it attempt to do so with the featured patient, beyond the self-reported of success.
While not precisely a harm, low compliance is a serious problem with CPAP patients, many of whom do not get used to the device and stop using it. Non-compliance continues the patient’s exposure to the serious consequences of sleep apnea, including cardiovascular, cognitive and mood issues, impaired relationships and work performance, and danger from falling asleep while driving.
Other treatment problems include failure to adjust the machine over time, and failure to replace the non-durable elements such as hoses and face mask. All can compromise treatment efficacy.
The article provides no evidence of the efficacy of CPAP treatment beyond the patient’s successful experience.
The article states that "Obstructive sleep apnea affects 20 million Americans." But no source is given for that estimate, which may be inflated. Also, the story veers toward disease mongering because it spends a significant amount of space detailing the experience of a woman whose quality of life is severely affected by apnea. Are we to believe that 20-million Americans are so affected?
The only source interviewed, beyond the patient herself, is the sleep specialist who treated the patient. Because the patient works for the facility that treated her, she is not a fully credible source.
The article briefly mentions surgery and changing sleep position as options, but does not provide sufficient detail about their variety, limits and potential applications. Some patients prefer trying behavioral changes, especially weight loss, or mechanical devices before using CPAP; this should have been acknowledged. There is an experimental treatment that stiffens the upper palate that, while not been widely used or studied, might have been worth mentioning.
The article implies, correctly, that the continuous positive airway pressure treatment is widely available via sleep treatment centers.
The article makes no claim that CPAP treatment is novel.
We can’t be sure if the article was prompted or informed by a press release, but we do know that it discusses only one patient who is an employee of the only sleep center that is cited in the story.