Read Original Story

Common Diagnostic Test May Prolong Low Back Pain


2 Star

Common Diagnostic Test May Prolong Low Back Pain

Our Review Summary

Ironically, the NPR ombudsman just wrote about concerns that NPR sometimes invites reporters from other news organizations to talk on the air about a story they got that NPR didn’t.  In this case, why does NPR need to rely on a four-day old Reuters story in order to get a second opinion? Couldn’t they make a call and get their own interview? 


Why This Matters

With the example the NPR ombudsman raised, she wrote: "NPR has recently beefed up its newscasts, staffed an investigative unit and is pouring money into its digital operations. All these are signs of a strong news organization. But if NPR wants to be considered one of the nation’s top-flight news organizations, it should be more judicious."  Doesn’t that apply here as well?


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?


The story said that "skipping diagnostic nerve blocks can save $10,000 in medical costs."

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

Not Satisfactory

No quantification of potential benefits.  Only a vague, borrowed (from Reuters) reference to "the value of the diagnostic tests" and an anecdote from the researcher supposedly supporting the case that they can be skipped. 

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

Not Satisfactory

No quantification of harms incurred or avoided.

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

Not Satisfactory

No evaluation of the quality of the evidence – too short a synopsis for that. So we don’t really get a sense of how the study was done.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


 No disease-mongering.  The story was about pinpointing causes of low back pain – a condition as broad as the ocean.

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

Not Satisfactory

The NPR news org can’t be given credit for eliciting an independent source – only for "borrowing" what Reuters reported.  Why not get your own source?

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

No discussion of alternatives – not for diagnostic testing nor for treatment of the underlying back pain.

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


The story is clear that nerve blocks are part of "a common diagnostic technique."

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Not Applicable

Not applicable.  No claims of novelty made. And none needed to be.

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

Not Applicable

Not applicable.  We can’t be sure if the story relied on a news release, but we know it relied at least partially on a Reuters story.  Should this warrant an unsatisfactory score here?  Maybe.

Total Score: 3 of 8 Satisfactory


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