This broadcast segment presents a fundamentally accurate report of a federal panel’s recommendation to keep the diabetes drug Avandia on the market. It does a good job describing the controversy surrounding it.
The piece falls short in two ways.
First, the segment in places uses language that, given the panel’s decision to recommend keeping the drug on the market, may generate excessive anxiety. The journal findings are described as "stunning"; most media reports described them as "surprising." The report ends with the unusually explicit advice "You have to call your doctor tomorrow." Most reports simply recommended people call their doctors.
Second, news reports on topics that question treatment safety should try to mention benefits, alternatives and price. If producers decide that their broadcast time constraints prevent them from including such information, a mention of a Web site where viewers can get more information would be useful.
The broadcast reports total annual sales of the drug, but does not say how much a patient pays–around $1,600 per year for Avandia, according to prices on drugstore.com, compared to about $500/year for the older drug metformin. (A recent study of 10 diabetes drugs, published in Annals of Internal Medicine prior to the Avandia hearing, found that that older drugs like metformin are equally effective with a better safety profile. An AP report of that study was published on NBC News partner MSNBC’s Web site.)
The report fails to mention the benefits of the drug, or of diabetes drugs generally, in controlling blood sugar. It also did not mention how important it is for patients to control their blood sugar to avoid serious disease and complications.
The story correctly indicates the increased risk of heart attacks that may be associated with Avandia, and includes the clip from David Graham estimating the potential impact on the population in terms of number of additional heart attacks. Given Graham’s crediblity, and the specificity of the statement, this is an example of good broadcast reporting and editing.
The broadcast correctly reports the most important finding from the New England Journal study that triggered the hearing–the 43 percent higher risk of heart attack for those taking Avandia. The story fails to indicate, however, that the hearing was based on an analysis of all relevant studies on the topic.
Diabetes is a serious and widespread condition the media must follow closely. But the report risks creating an unnecessary sense of urgency by using the 4,100 new cases/day formulation. Reporting the percent of adult population affected would have provided more useful perspective.
The report identifies the GSK spokesman as an interested party, and correctly identifies David Graham as one FDA panelist but not the sole government authority. Again, the report based on a federal hearing, which has high credibility as an information source.
Despite emphasizing the potential dangers of Avandia, the report fails to mention any treatment alternatives to the drug.
The physician-journalist makes clear that Avandia is widely prescribed and available.
The segment does not imply the treatment is novel.
The report clearly draws from the hearings themselves, not a press release issued about the hearings.