As the ratings and total score show, this newspaper article on virtual reality therapy fails to apply several best practices of health journalism.
To call out only the two most significant failures:
The reporter makes no attempt to gather independent research on the treatment’s safety or effectiveness, which conditions and populations it is more successful for, etc. Given the fact that the company that makes this information available on its website–and that other recent press reports include some of this information–this reflects very badly on this story.
The story makes no mention of costs and coverage for the treatment. For a story about an exotic new technology that might replace a standard practice whose cost is well established, this is inexplicable.
The story just didn’t ask enough tough important questions.
VR therapy is a fascinating topic. It is being used and researched quite a bit with war veterans and other people with PTSD.
The subject should be investigated and the public informed. This story fails to accomplish either.
The article fails to report the cost of either virtual reality therapy or the equipment itself. It does not indicate whether the treatment is covered by insurance.
The story makes no attempt to quantify the benefits of VR therapy either alone or in comparison to exposure therapy or other treatments.
The reporter does not cite potential harms from the therapy, which would include not working despite a presumbably large outlay of money.
Whether VR therapy carries risks of headache, blurred vision, balance problems, etc. is not reported.
The article cites no scientific evidence that shows virtual reality therapy is either effective or safe.
While the story uses an anecdote of an unusually phobic flyer who experiences some relief, the story as a whole does not exaggerate the prevalence or severity of phobias. Patients requiring treatment can indeed be debilitated by phobias.
The story quotes a clincial practioner of VR therapy and the company that makes the software.
No independent sources or reports are consulted.
The story at least briefly describes conventional exposure therapy, the most common intervention.
The article does not indicate where virtual reality therapy is available aside from the university clinic featured.
The story itself has a New Frontier feel to it, but the reporting does make clear that VR has been in development for over a decade and is becoming more widely used.
We can’t be sure if the story relied solely or largely on a news release.