The new test looks for volatile organic compounds that are presumably uniquely exhaled by people with asthma. When used in combination with a somewhat standard test, the new process may provide somewhat greater ability to diagnose asthma. The story rightly notes the study was conducted in a small number of subjects and is far from definitive. Would that more stories could resist the temptation to gush about new medical gadgets before their benefits are proven.
Asthma is a relatively common disease that appears to be increasing in its frequency. In its classic form, asthma is relatively easy to diagnose. However many patients present with atypical symptoms and require more extensive testing, including provocative testing with methacholine, for an accurate diagnosis. An easy-to-use, non-invasive and definitive test would be an advantage for many patients .
Since this device is experimental, we can accept the fact that the story didn’t put a specific price tag on the technology. The story did note that cost might limit initial use of the device.
The story tells us the percentage of asthma patients who were correctly diagnosed by the electronic nose, fractional exhaled nitric oxide, and spirometry. It provided this data in absolute terms and didn’t muddy the waters with relative comparisons of the three techniques. Although the study data by itself might suggest that the new device is superior to the other methods, the comments from the expert sources put the results in the appropriate context. They make it clear that we can’t tell yet whether this technology represents a better option than existing techniques.
Although there appears to be little risk of harm from the new testing procedure itself, the story makes no mention of the downside that can accompany a faulty diagnosis–whether a false positive or negative. False positive tests (diagnosing asthma when the patient has another disease) and false negatives (failing to diagnose asthma) can have significant consequences. A brief comment on the potential harms associated with a faulty test would have been helpful.
The story did a good job of describing what happened in the study being discussed. It notes that the "electronic nose" device was pitted against other diagnostic techniques to compare their accuracy for confirming physician-diagnosed asthma. Importantly, independent sources emphasized that this was a small study looking at patients with one particular type of asthma. They noted that much more research would be needed to prove that the device is effective in a broad range of patients.
No disease-mongering in this story.
The story cites two independent sources and identifies their affiliations.
The story discusses current methods for diagnosing asthma including the physical exam, spirometry, and nitric oxide tests.
Although the story never explicitly states that the device being discussed is experimental, comments from the experts make it pretty clear that the technology is still in development.
The story explained in reasonable detail how the device differs from traditional diagnostic methods. The story could have done a bit more to explain that "electronic nose" technology has been in development for quite some time and is already in use in other fields (i.e. explosives detection). However, the story’s description of the device was pretty restrained and it didn’t try to hype the technology as "new."
It’s clear that this story wasn’t based exclusively on a news release.