Things didn’t improve much as we read past the sensational headline and first sentence, with an inaccurate study description, lack of truly independent perspective, and no mention of possible harms contributing to a generally sub-par effort by WebMD.
Type 1 diabetes is a serious condition affecting millions of people who could benefit from automated glucose monitoring/insulin dispensing device. However, these people won’t be helped by superficial accounts of where this technology is in its development and what it will eventually be capable of.
If this technology is as close to reality as this story suggests, then it’s appropriate to discuss costs. This story didn’t. The story could have at least nodded in the direction of financial impact of new technologies. Many patients with type 1 diabetes are not using currently available pumps and sensors because of the high cost of these devices. It seems likely that this new treatment, if it ever becomes widely available, will be as expensive or more so than the current pump and sensor technology.
Compounding the effects of the sensational headline and use of the term "artificial pancreas" (which, as we explain in our review of the competing New York Times piece, is an overly promotional and misleading term), this story wasn’t careful enough in its description of the benefits reported in the study. It had most of the same problems as the Reuters story (see that review for detailed analysis), including reporting relative and not absolute benefits, and not mentioning the fact that the primary outcomes of the study were negative.
On the positive side, the story did mention that experimental group in this study had no instances of severe hypoglycemia compared with 9 episodes in the control group. This is a potentially important finding that was not mentioned by Reuters.
The story emphasizes the upside but makes no mention of what could go wrong with an automated system. The potential adverse effects of a malfunction, such as hypoglemic shock and death, are serious.
The story gives a somewhat better description of the study than the competing Reuters piece, but suffers from the same key shortcomings. It mischaracterizes what happened in the experiment and doesn’t caution readers about the very small size of the study.
This story veers toward the sensational in its anecdotal reporting on what nighttime hypoglycemia is like. Overall, though, it didn’t exaggerate the impact of type 1 diabetes and appropriately focused on hypoglycemia as an important risk that a new glucose management system could help address.
The story mentions that one source, Aaron J. Kowalski, PhD, is affiliated with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), and says that he "did not take part in the study." However, it does not disclose that JDRF was a sponsor of the study, which means that Dr. Kowalski could be more likely than a truly independent observer to look favorably on the results.
The story also did not identify the financial ties between one of the investigators quoted in the study and a study sponsor.
The story does a slightly better job than the Reuters piece of explaining how type 1 diabetes is currently managed and why nighttime hypoglycemia can be a problem. Barely enough for a satisfactory rating
This story did a better job than the competing Reuters piece in explaining that the system tested in this study actually consisted of a commercially available glucose monitor and insulin pump–not a "new device" per se. However, it still left the reader with the impression that system was automatically managing patients’ glucose without any outside human intervention, which was not the case. We also wish the story had resisted the temptation to predict that a new "artificial pancreas" system might be be available clinicially in 3 to 5 years. The FDA approval process is notoriously uNPRedictable, and this technology has a lot of hurdles to clear before it will be available for patients.
The story mentions that this technology has been in the works for decades and mentions the current availability of continuous glucose monitors and insulin pumps.
We can’t be sure of the extent to which this story ws influenced by a news release.