This is a heartwarming story about how a medical device changed a life. The device is a cochlear implant and the life is Ethan Priddy’s, a young man who slowly lost most of his hearing by the age of 14, and then "blossomed" when he regained his hearing after receiving a cochlear implant a few years later. Ethan’s story inspires his hard-of-hearing high school teacher to follow suit—and no doubt will stir others to action as well. But the story doesn’t tell us much about the scientific evidence: How good is the research on cochlear implants? Who benefits from the operation, how often, and how much? What are all of the potential risks? Is there anything else, other than surgery, which might help? Without knowing some of these answers, readers could make inaccurate assumptions about this treatment.
The story cites a physician who says the cost of the device and surgery is about $60,000, and that it is covered by most insurance companies, Medicare, and Medicaid.
The story does a nice job of describing how the world might sound and come alive after a cochlear implant operation, but it lacks any quantitative estimate of benefit. Who benefits, how often, and how much?
The story says the harms of surgery are few—mainly the dashed hopes of those it doesn’t help and the chance that some people may need a reoperation if the first implant stops working. It’s not completely clear that if the surgery fails, a partially deaf person is likely to be permanently deaf. Can it cause infections or facial paralysis or affect a person’s taste? Yes, it can—but readers will have to do their own research to find out.
The story fails to describe the quality of the evidence to support cochlear implant surgery. In whom has it been tested? In what sorts of studies? How often does it fail to help and why? Is the person featured in the news story—deaf 17-year-old Ethan Priddy–warranted in his hope that surgery might restore his hearing?
The story describes a real problem—deafness–without overselling or exaggerating its importance.
The story cites several sources: a patient; the patient’s mother, teacher, and physician; and a commercial website. The story should have included a trusted independent source with expertise on the subject who had no personal or economic interest in this patient or his treatment.
The story mentions no other treatment options. Is there anything short of surgery that might help?
The story fails to explain whether cochlear implants are an FDA-approved device or widely available, or if trained personnel are widely available who can identify appropriate patients for the devices and surgically implant them.
The article doesn’t explain whether this is a new treatment, or provide enough context for a reader to accurately tease out its track record.
The story does not appear to rely solely or largely on a news release.