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Medical Alert: Government Approves New Depression Treatment


2 Star

Medical Alert: Government Approves New Depression Treatment

Our Review Summary

This story covers a newly FDA approved for the treatment of major depression disorder: transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). 

This story fails to provide any scientific or clinical evidence about the device and the specific patients that it might help.  No independent expert was interviewed to provide objective information regarding the potential benefit and risks of TMS. This story failed to indicate that TMS treatment is only available at one location in the U.S.  It provides some bare bones factual information about how TMS works and an on-air demonstration by a scientist involved in researching the device (who was not identified as such).  

The piece did not provide any detail at all regarding how well TMS works or how well it works compared with typical depression treatment (talk therapy and/or antidepressant medication).  Overall the piece makes little contribution to a lay person’s understanding of who might benefit from this new treatment, how to get access to the treatment, and what benefits and harms they might expect.


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?


This story correctly indicates that a typical treatment cost between $6,000 to $10,000.  This cost, for 40 minute treatments, several times per week for 4-6 weeks, was verified with the manufacturer. 

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

Not Satisfactory

This story relies on the anecdotal experience of one patient to describe the potential benefits of treatment.  Potential benefits of TMS, as compared to a sham procedure, include improvements in depressive symptoms and complete resolution of symptoms.  However, it does not appear that these benefits were tested in a head-to-head comparison with antidepressant medication. 

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

Not Satisfactory

No adverse effects of TMS treatment were provided.  This information could have been presented in a concise manner.  Side effects reported by the manufacturer include transient scalp pain and discomfort ranging from mild to severe that occurred mainly during the initial week of treatment.   The story does not mention that TMS treatment is contraindicated for patients with implanted metallic devices or non-removable metallic objects in or around the head.  The story also does not mention that TMS has been shown to benefit patients who have tried 1 or more antidepressant medication at effective doses and duration of treatment.

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

Not Satisfactory

This story does not mention any of the relevant information from the research that led to FDA approval of TMS therapy.  (See comments for Harms of Treatment, Benefits of Treatment, and Sources of Information.)

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Not Satisfactory

This story did not make it clear that this treatment is only FDA approved for patients who have not responded to antidepressant medication.   Instead it lumped one personal anecdote in with 19 million other cases ("Nineteen million Americans suffer from depression every year. And like so many, Martha tried anti-depressants and therapy. But for her, none worked.") That’s disease-mongering. How many Americans do fail to respond to antidepressant medication?  Answering that requires journalism. 

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

Not Satisfactory

This story does not provide any expert opinion from an independent source.  It fails to mention that the doctor providing commentary and demonstrating the treatment procedure was a primary author for some of the research conducted on TMS.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?


This story is correct in indicating that TMS is a non-systemic, non-invasive alternative to antidepressant medications, other drugs, or ‘other measures’ to help patients suffering from depression, presuming that ‘other measures’ means cognitive-behavioral therapy.

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

Not Satisfactory

No information was provider for the availability of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) treatment.  The manufacturer, Neuronetics, indicated that its Neurostar TMS will only be available at a limited number of treatment center around the country.  After contacting the manufacturer, HNR learned that the treatment is only available at 1 site in the U.S. (See

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


This is a novel treatment that was recently been approved by the FDA.

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

Not Applicable

We can’t be sure if the story relied on a news release for most  of its information.  We do know that only one patient of only one doctor at only one medical center was interviewed in the piece.  No independent perspectives.

Total Score: 3 of 9 Satisfactory


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