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‘Baby deadline test’ story on NBC News: heavy on anecdotes, light on evidence

Rating

2 Star

Categories

Baby Deadline Test: Beat Your Biological Clock

Our Review Summary

baby pregnancy mother infertilityThis story describes how some doctors are helping women “beat their biological clock” by taking a test that roughly predicts the number of eggs left in the ovaries. Dubbed the “baby deadline test,” the test measures a hormone–known as Anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH)–circulating in a woman’s blood.

This piece was rife with problems–from disease-mongering to skipping any discussion of data–which we’ll detail below. We also want to note the headline that ran across the televised version of the story–“BLOOD TEST PREDICTS FERTILITY”–was misleading and inaccurate.

 

Why This Matters

Infertility is an issue that affects millions of American men and women, the CDC reports, and can require extensive medical help. This is a problem that also increases with age. Therefore, any major advances in predicting a woman’s long-term ability to get pregnant would garner major interest.

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Satisfactory

We’re giving this a Satisfactory rating since the story did mention that the test “usually costs less than $100.”

The story would have been stronger if it had explained if insurance companies typically cover the test–especially if it’s being given to women without any history of infertility. There also may be associated costs with follow-up testing.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story didn’t provide any quantified information, such as research outcomes involving this test, and instead relied heavily on patient and physician anecdotes. If research is lacking, that should be noted. Presumably this test has been studied among women actively struggling to get pregnant, but the quantified benefits of this test for that patient group aren’t discussed, either.

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

Not Satisfactory

Harms were not discussed, though they exist. To name a few, women may act upon the test results–for example, undergoing invasive and expensive treatments like egg retrieval and freezing–when those actions may have not been necessary. Or they may experience anxiety over test results that show low levels of the hormone, and consider themselves “infertile” when that is not at all certain.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story stated that the AMH test “….doesn’t measure the quality of the eggs and it’s not a guarantee of fertility.” That is not enough information, especially weighed against the detailed patient anecdote.

What are the limitations of a test that can (roughly) measure egg count, but not egg quality? What scientific research supports it use? And for whom? And how trustworthy is that research? Is that research applicable to women who aren’t trying nor struggling to get pregnant?

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Not Satisfactory

The story referred to the AMH test as the “baby deadline test,” implying a woman’s fertility span is a disease that must be detected and dealt with early, years before she might want to get pregnant. And that the solution is this blood test–which is actually only one indicator of many to assess a woman’s fertility. This is an example of disease mongering.

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

Not Satisfactory

The doctor interviewed in this story stands to gain from positive news coverage of this blood test, especially considering the clinic he works for is actively trying to get women to take the test, which will result in an increase in patient referrals. We think that’s suspect enough that the journalists reporting the story should have sought out additional, independent opinions.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

There were no alternatives–or the lack thereof–mentioned in the story. Readers should be informed: How do other long-term fertility-detection methods compare to this one?

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

Satisfactory

The story mentioned the blood test is pretty common in fertility clinics, and we’re informed that the patient in the story took the test at her regular ob/gyn’s office. That’s enough information to give readers a general sense of the test’s availability.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

The story did mention that the AMH test is not a new test, calling it a “staple” at fertility clinics. That just passes as Satisfactory.

However, the specific use of the test discussed in the story–as a long-term fertility detection method among women who have no known fertility problems–is a relatively new idea, and that could have been made clearer.

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

Satisfactory

The story appears to be original work and not from a news release from any particular institution.

Total Score: 4 of 10 Satisfactory

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