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Doctors weigh brain-oxygen monitor


3 Star

Doctors weigh brain-oxygen monitor

Our Review Summary

This article provides a good overview of arguments for and against use of a brain-oxygen monitoring system for heart surgery. It also provides an excellent explanation of how the device works, and how it may reduce risk of cognitive damage following surgery.

The biggest problem with the story is the lack of evidence and quantitative data about cognitive harm both with and without the device. While the story implies that conclusive data are not available, it should have cited the most relevant research and provided the necessary caveats.

Finally, a failure to mention the option of beating-heart surgery for some patients–a technique shown to reduce risk for cognitive damage–is a significant oversight.


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?


The story indicates both the price of the machine ($30,000) and the cost per use ($200) — a valuable bit of reporting.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

Due to the lack of evidence reported (see Evidence criterion above), there is no quantification of the risks and benefits of using the device.

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The story makes clear, with brief references, that the cognitive risks range from minor to major, and that they could impair patients’ subsequent ability to work. However, since the story is about the use of the oxygen monitor device, the story falls short since it does not indicate whether there are any potential harms associated with the device itself. 


Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

The story does not report the best scientific evidence available about the controversy. Any data likely come from studies supported by the manufacturer, but it still may be worth citing.

The absence of data about the story’s key disagreement–or even a clear statement that data is unavailable or inconclusive–is a major shortcoming of the story.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


The report does not exaggerate the cognitive risks following heart surgery–it uses an estimate of side effects from a New England Journal study.

It also permits those who question the validity of those statistics–given the fact that perhaps one third of surgery patients have cognitive issues before surgery–to make their case.

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?


The reporter interviews two advocates of the device (one independent, one with industry ties) and one surgeon who is unconvinced of its value. It briefly cites two key studies about cognitive impairment after heart surgery.

This sourcing elevates this report into the "satisfactory" rating, but barely.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

The article implicitly compares surgery with and without the oxygen monitoring device, and provides a thorough description of how the device functions in surgery.

However, the piece does not write about beating-heart surgery, a method designed partly to make the heart-lung machine, which appears to be responsible for cognitive side effects, unnecessary. This is a significant omission. 

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

The story fails to report whether the brain oxygen monitoring device is available at only a few surgical centers or all of them.

It also fails to report how difficult it would be for patients to request the device for their own surgery.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


The article makes clear that the device in question is 10 years old and sometimes used.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?


There is no evidence the article relied solely or largely on a news release.

Total Score: 5 of 10 Satisfactory


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