This story, about what’s called "platelet rich plasma therapy" for unspecified forms of knee pain, came up short on almost all of our criteria.
It failed to emphasize the very preliminary nature of the research, while linking the approach to the estimate that "every year Americans make 15 million visits to doctors because of knee pain" and that this "new, non-surgical treatment could get you up and running in record time."
It failed to give any insight about the evidence gathered so far, offering only the anecdotal experience of a fit young athlete. The story didn’t address how unlikely it is that the baby boom generation’s creaky joints would experience relief on the timetable the young athlete experienced. In fact, again, the story lead-in told viewers this might "get you up and running in record time." There is no evidence reported to support that statement – only one anecdote.
There was no discussion of costs of the approach, not even a projection of future clinical costs. If such a preliminary experimental approach is ready for primetime TV, then it should be ready for even a preliminary discussion of what this approach will cost.
And the story didn’t explain how this experimental approach might compare with other surgical or nonsurgical alternatives for various forms of knee pain, including the torn knee ligament profiled in the athlete’s story. Of course, that’s the problem with reporting on such experimental approaches at such an early phase: such comparisons are difficult to make until the facts and the data are in hand.
The same story could have been done responsibly, and in an interesting manner, if it had only emphasized the very preliminary nature of the work, instead of posing one ideal subject’s experience as something that might be attained by millions of Americans, including those much older in the baby boom generation.
No mention of costs, nor any projection of possible future clinical costs. If such a preliminary experimental approach is ready for primetime TV, then it should be ready for even a preliminary discussion of what this approach will cost.
The story uses only an elite athlete’s impressive recovery time as an example, yet it frames the story as one that may be ready to move beyond the world of elite athletes to the world of knee pain that accounts for 15 million American visits to doctors each year. The young man’s experience may not be representative of anyone else who has this procedure, something that won’t be known until clinical trials are completed. This should have been a point of emphasis.
The story only said" "reported side effects were minor. The biggest complaint so far? Needles hurt." Let viewers judge which side effects were minor by naming them and listing how often they happened. Even more important, though, the story should have emphasized that really nothing can be said about side effects when the very preliminary experimental approach is still undergoing clinical trials.
The story was completely devoid of evidence, but included only the anecdotes of one physician and one patient.
The anchor lead-in – the "hook" for the story – commits egregious disease-mongering. It says "Every year, Americans make 15 milion visits to doctors because of knee pain and recovering from surgery can take months." Then, without qualification, it connects that number to the story by saying "But a new, non-surgical treatment could get you up and running in record time." The clear implication is that this very preliminary approach could be answer for the 15 million visits per year. That number begs explanation and qualification, which was not provided.
Only one physician and only one patient’s experience were highlighted. This story was crying out for some independent perspective.
There was no discussion of the range of surgical and nonsurgical alternatives for various forms of knee pain, including the torn knee ligament profiled in the athlete’s story. Not only was there no mention of treatment options, it also isn’t even clear what the treatment is indicated for. The athlete had a torn ligament. There are many ligaments in the knee and one could imagine that the treatment is for a meniscal tear, but this is never stated anywhere in the piece. If one knew what the indication was, one could then present current treatments that are available. The creaky joint mention at the end only confusing things more. This implies arthritis – something that the athlete didn’t even have (by report). It leave the listener/reader thinking that this could work for knee pain of any cause – something that past experience would say is very unlikely.
The story only hinted at the limited availability of the Platelet Rich Plasma Therapy procedure. While it said that "doctors have now taken first steps tomove this treatment beyond the world for elite athlete," and mentioned that clinical trials had begun, it did not answer viewers’ probable questions of "Where can I get it?" or "Is it being tried at my local hospital?" And when the story lead-in frames the problem as one pertinent to 15-million American medical visits per year, this is an oversight. The very limited availability and preliminary nature of the research should have been emphasized STRONGLY.
This would be a novel approach, as the story makes clear.
We can’t be sure if the story relied solely or largely on a news release. We do know that it publicized the work of only one physician.