This is a story about a commercial method for cooling patients who have suffered cardiac arrest in an attempt to prevent brain damage. The story did not clearly define whom the treatment might benefit or how often the treatment is successful at providing benefit. Yet it found time to quote the CEO of the company making the cooling device.
The story reported on one patient who said she "shouldn’t have made it" and who related that doctors had told her that if she had not received the treatment she would have been "dead or brain damaged". However – the story provided no background information to help readers assess the veracity of these statements; nor did it provide any indication of how often the treatment resulted in the outcomes experienced by this patient. It provided little to help a reader learn more about when the treatment might be considered an appropriate option.
Overall, this was a story of high human interest that was lacking in any meaningful discussion of evidence for benefits or harms, a lack of clarity about the population for whom this is intended, and too strong a focus on the product of one specific company.
This is the third such story on cooling of cardiac arrest patients that we’ve reviewed so far this year. It appears to be something that local medical centers who use the approach like to promote. We hope that they – and the journalists who cover them – include more evidence in future promotions or news stories.
There was no information about the cost of this treatment.
The story reported on one patient that by self report "shouldn’t have made it" and who related that doctors had told her that if she had not received the treatment she would have been "dead or brain damaged". However – the story provided no background information to help readers assess the veracity of these statements; nor did it provide any indication of how often the treatment resulted in the outcomes experienced by this patient.
The story did not include mention of any complications or harms associated with this treatment. The complications of cooling include coagulopathy, arrhythmias, hyperglycemia, and increased risk of pneumonia and sepsis.
While making mention of vague endorsement by the American Heart Association, the story did not include information about studies demonstrating efficacy of this approach. The story mentioned that Massachusetts General Hospital used this treatment for 12 patients in 2006; it did not mention how many actually survived. Although a dozen heart attack patients seems like a small number of patients for a large metropolitan hospital, the story gave no indication as to why this approach was used for these patients but not for others.
Because the story did not clarify whether this treatment was of potential benefit for all people who have a myocardial infaraction or those who have cardiac arrest – it makes it seem like the treatment would help a much larger group of people than it actually does. This is a treatment only for those individuals who suffer cardiac arrest.
It is also an example of treatment mongering, including the unsubstantiated claim that this could be "saving thousands of lives" – all without any mention of potential problems, harms, or contraindications.
The story included quotes from a person in the cardiac intensive care unit at the local hospital where the patient featured in the story was treated. It included information from the CEO of the manufacturer of the medical device used for the treatment.
This story should have included information from an independent expert who could have provided some context for the use of this treatment.
The story did not mention other devices or approaches for inducing hypothermia in patients ; it also failed to discuss other treatment options for minimizing damage following cardiac arrest.
The story discussed the availability of this treatment, indicating that it was available in only some hospitals.
The story made clear that the treatment was not new but that it was not widely available.
It may be of interest to readers of this website that we reviewed stories on 2/27/2007 from the CBS Evening News and on 3/28/2007 from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on this same treatment. All three stories appear to be prompted by news releases from local medical centers now using the cooling procedure.
We can’t be sure if the story relied solely or largely on a news release. It does highlight the story of only one patient at only one Boston hospital.