This story takes a look at a purported simple visor, eSight, that can help the legally blind see—or at least 7-8% of them, and for the price of $10,000.
What the story does well: It discussed costs of the device not just in passing, but in depth. (It’s an important criteria many outlets whiff on in our reviews.)
However, what are the measured benefits, as seen from clinical evidence? The story says initial study results are due in May–why not wait until then to do the story?
We acknowledge that this story is categorized as a “personal technology” story, not a health news story. But it’s reviewable because it makes claims about an intervention for people. Such stories need data–not just a gee-whiz discussion of tech that is cheaper, smaller and faster.
In the US, there are more than 1.3 million legally blind people, a category that includes impairments such as central vision loss, cloudiness, and heavily blurred field of vision that neither glasses nor contacts can adequately correct. According to the story’s reporting, about 1 in every 13 of those people might benefit from such a device — a sizable number whose lives possibly stand to be improved by sight-aiding devices. If this is the case, this is big news. But without any data to show this is the case, hopeful news readers who buy this device alternately may be left disappointed.
The WSJ reveals that each visor-headset costs $10,000, and even notes how “most insurance doesn’t cover it.” There’s also some back-and-forth viewpoints about that steep cost, which is helpful to readers.
This is a weak point of the story–there is no discussion of the measured benefits of the device. According to medical evidence, on average how much does it help a person wearing it? What percent of people achieve a measurable benefit? Without these details, it’s unclear if this device is just a fancy pair of goggles or an actual medical device.
There’s no discussion of risks here. Does an eSight cause eye strain? What about headaches? Nausea? Does all-day use impact sleep quality? Is there a feeling of detachment or foggy-headedness that sometimes accompanies use of the virtual reality headsets it takes after? These are but a few of the questions we had on the drawbacks.
The story provides a lot of colorful details on how the device works, and how it (perhaps) helps the legally blind. But we’re offered little to no real, objectively-measured data on the technology. Therefore, readers can’t ascertain the quality of the evidence for these devices. The story says initial study results are due in May–why not wait until then to do the story?
There didn’t appear to be overt disease-mongering, although the condition in question was not adequately defined for reader comprehension.
The story discloses that the featured patient, Yvonne Felix, is an eSight spokesperson. The story adds some needed backstopping from Walter Wittich, a researcher at the University of Montreal. However, the story didn’t disclose that his lab has accepted grants from eSight.
The story walks through the iteration of wearable screens for those with low vision, and it also mentions two competing models aside from the eSight 3. We also get a passing mention of an unnamed “surgical procedure.”
Stargardt disease has no treatment, according to the National Eye Institute, though other “low vision” conditions can be treated with retinal implants, and some are responsive to other types of surgery. However, since there are many diseases or conditions that can lead to low vision and legal blindness, and news stories aren’t supposed to be encyclopedic entries, we’ll mark this one satisfactory.
The story notes that the eSight is cleared by the FDA as a Class I device — something that’s presumably about as safe as dental floss (which is also a Class I device, according to the FDA). The story mentions that most insurance carriers reject compensation, which itself implies the eSight 3 is freely available to anyone as long as they have $10,000.
The novelty is made clear in this way:
The eSight visor, in development for 10 years, is reaching a level of maturity. The third-generation, which debuts this week, weighs less, has a wider field of view and just looks cooler.
The story would be stronger if it explained that this doesn’t mean the latest device works better than alternatives.
We didn’t see any copy/pasted quotes or other material lifted from a news release. Dozens of outlets have covered the company and its devices over the years, and it seems many of them jumped on the story again due to an in-person press event and demo for eSight’s latest model.