This story on platelet-rich plasma [PRP] therapy for tendon injuries is an unusual, instructive example of health news reporting: It falls considerably short on two essential best practices but is nonetheless reasonably accurate and responsible in the impression it conveys. It’s also engaging and well-written.
The story basically says the following:
Its key flaw is balance: It over-emphasizes the enthusiastic assessments of patients and practitioners, downplaying the lack of research and unknowns about the procedure. The flaw is one of emphasis, not omission.
The reporter could have avoided this with a few actions:
Readers seeking this additional information should check out this 2008 literature assessment Current Review of Musculoskeletal Medicine
The story includes some information on costs, but we question the accuracy of it.
It says injection with a special syringe costs $250, and that the doctor’s consultation and injection are likely to be covered by insurance. It says some insurers won’t cover the $250 cost.
But the reporter may be underestimating the total costs. Other sources quote the cost of PRP at $400 to $600, with some as high as $2,000.
It appears the $250 out-of-pocket estimate is best-case. The reporter should have said this and included a price range, especially if it turns out none of the costs are covered by insurance.
The story includes no data on benefits.
The story allows practitioners to emphasize the procedure’s safety–by, among other things, stating that it involves injecting the patient’s own platelets into the site of the injury, thus avoiding rejection as a risk.
But it should have plainly stated that the safety of the procedure has not been established in clinical trials, and that it carries at least minor risks of infection, misapplication and the procedure not working.
It should also have said that the long-term effects of the treatment are not known.
The report is based only on anecdotes and practitioners’ broad-brush assessments of their clinical experiences.
There is nothing inherently wrong with this, but the report should have been more explicit about the lack of clinical trials on this application of PRP therapy.
While it mentions that at least one research study is underway, it should have clarified other key facts:
The story does not exaggerate the severity of the soft-tissue injuries treated here.
Sourcing is good, in number and variety. Sources include:
With a treatment lacking solid research, it’s good practice to find a dissenting opinion. That would have been a useful addition.
The story mentions, in the context of patient anecdotes, the other approaches used to heal soft-tissue injuries: rest, rehab and cortisone shots.
The story implies that PRP therapy is not widely available. It mentions that a knowledgeable sports physician learned about its use in Europe second-hand.
Of the physicians interviewed, the one who has been using it the longest has been doing so for 10 years, only four for soft-tissue injuries; another physician has been doing it for two years but never used it on a tendon injury.
Ideally the story would have said explicitly how many doctors and/or medical centers do PRP therapy for soft-tissue injuries. But all things considered the story earns a "satisfactory" rating
The story accurately implies that the treatment is done rarely in the U.S. but is used more more liberally in Europe.
There is no press release linked to this article. It seems the story was triggered by a discussion with a local sports physician who treated a professional athlete.