This is a balanced piece on the risks of Lasik vision correction surgery. It was aired on the day an FDA advisory committee was scheduled to hold hearings on the issue.
The segment has several key strengths:
However, it messes up the quantification of both harms and benefits.
Another shortcoming worth mentioning: the piece was aired on the morning of the hearings. The medical editor was asked whether anything definitive, such as a stricter warning, might come out of the hearings. She said no. Later that day the advisory committee recommended stricter warnings. This is a reminder of that old journalistic principle: Resist the urge to predict the news.
Overall, a viewer is likely to come away from the segment understanding that the decision to get Lasik requires a well-informed balancing of risks and benefits. They’ll also know to talk to their doctor about whether they are good candidates for the procedure. That’s a pretty good journalistic outcome.
The piece states that the surgery costs $4,000 to $5,000 and is rarely covered by insurance.
The report cites FDA estimates that 95 percent of patients are satisfied with the outcome of Lasik surgery. But since many people choose the procedure to avoid wearing glasses, the story should have given some indication how many people achieve that goal.
The segment does a good job describing the range of harms, from dry eyes to severe disability. It makes clear that most side effects are on the less serious side, and that the prevalence of minor and serious side effects is not known. However, it states: "It’s time to find out, for that small 5 percent, which only represents one out of 10,000 patients being dissatisfied, what their complaints are." Huh? One out of 10,000 is not 5 percent!!! So in the end, the viewer is left terribly confused.
The segment draws on FDA data of both voluntary reports and estimates of harm. It does not explain how the 95 percent satisfaction rate is derived. This is a significant omission.
The story says the FDA says that 95 percent of patients are satisfied. This is not enough detail to help a viewer determine the quality of this evidence. There is also no source provided for that figure, or any sense for how it was derived.
The story also confuses the evidence when it states: "It’s time to find out, for that small 5 percent, which only represents one out of 10,000 patients being dissatisfied, what their complaints are." Huh? One out of 10,000 is not 5 percent!!!
The piece quotes one patient who represents an outlier–someone who is seriously disabled as a result of the procedure.
Given the rest of the segment’s balanced view of harms, however, the story as a whole is not an example of disease-mongering.
The piece quotes a patient who is suffering serious side effects, two physicians who warn about the possible side effects and need for careful patient selection.
It also notes the FDA advisory committe’s forthcoming meeting and cites some FDA data.
It would have been useful to hear from a researcher in this field.
The segment makes clear that the "treatment" alternative is acceptable or better: "And let’s be real," Nancy Snyderman says. "There are worse things in life than glasses."
In a fitting light touch at the end, she compliments the host for the way she looks in glasses.
The segment makes clear that Lasik is quite common.
It’s clear from the story that the procedure has been used a long time.
Because the story used several sources, it is safe to assume it did not rely solely or largely on a news release.