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Can you comb away baldness?

Rating

2 Star

Can you comb away baldness?

Our Review Summary

This story reports on FDA approval of a new use for an existing product, a "laser comb" that sends red laser to the scalp to try to promote hair growth. 

There is an underlying tone of disease-mongering whenever a national TV network uses some of its precious 22 minutes of airtime to promote an expensive new product to "treat" – or as the story says at one point, "cure" – baldness – a condition that is a normal part of aging for many men. 

The story didn't quantify benefits.  People thinking of paying $550 for such a device should be given some estimate of how well it works.

But the bigger failing of the story was that it missed an opportunity to point out how such devices are approved by the FDA. Such new devices must only pass a test of "substantial equivalence" to products already on the market.  The FDA lists 10 such products.  So not only did the story fail to tell how well the device works, it failed to put the new idea into the context of existing alternatives. 

No sources were cited.

Anchor Brian Williams' comment – "..when you use the expression "potential cure for baldness" in this country, you're going to be a multimillionaire overnight…"  – is more cheerleading than reporting.  If this story had to be reported as one of the few stories of the day in a network newscast, it should have offered more evidence and context than boosterism. 

 

 

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The story mentions that the device costs $550.  But it does not compare this with the cost of alternative approaches to "treating" baldness and does not explain if insurers are likely to cover this expense. 

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

Not Satisfactory

The story didn't quantify benefits.  People thinking of paying $550 for such a device should be given some estimate of how well it works.

But the bigger failing of the story was that it missed an opportunity to point out how such devices are approved by the FDA. Such new devices must only pass a test of "substantial equivalence" to products already on the market.  The FDA lists 10 such products.  So not only did the story fail to tell how well the device works, it failed to put the new idea into the context of existing alternatives. 

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

Satisfactory

The story said "it doesn't do any harm."  The FDA reported that: "No subject experienced a serious adverse event and the adverse event profiles were similar between the two treatment groups."

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

Not Satisfactory

There was no substantive discussion of the evidence.  This is easily found on the FDA website:  "A multicenter, randomized, placebo-controlled trial was conducted at four sites in the United States. Subjects received either the LaserComb or a sham device. Subjects were instructed to use the device three times per week on nonconcurring days for a total of 26 weeks. Subjects in the LaserComb treatment group had significantly greater increases in mean terminal hair density than subjects in the placebo group. Subjects in the LaserComb group also had significantly better subjective assessments of overall hair regrowth than subjects in the placebo group."  A good story would have perhaps pursued what is meant by "mean terminal hair density" and would have pointed out the limitations of subjective assessments.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Not Satisfactory

There is an underlying tone of disease-mongering whenever a national TV network uses some of its precious 22 minutes of airtime to promote an expensive new product to "treat" – or as the story says at one point, "cure" – baldness – a condition that is a normal part of aging for many men.  

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

There was no discussion of alternative approaches to coping with baldness. 

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

Satisfactory

The story explains that the "laser comb" is already on the market and has now been approved for new labeling and use. 

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

The story called it a "new treatment for baldness."  And it explained that it's already on the market for other uses.

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

Not Applicable

We can't be sure if the story relied solely or largely on a news release.  No sources were cited. 

Total Score: 3 of 9 Satisfactory

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