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Giving the injured (false) hope

images [1]A recent News & Observer article [2] hyped the benefits of something called “plasma rich platelet therapy”. The “fairly simple” treatment, we were told, is giving hope to “weekend warriors, arthritis sufferers and surgery patients” who want the same pain relief available to professional athletes.

Here is what the article says about the evidence for plasma rich platelet therapy:

Dr. David Berkoff, a Duke sports medicine expert who began offering PRP last summer, said the approach shows promise, although, beyond anecdotal evidence, few studies have been done to validate its effects. Of the early findings, there are indications PRP can speed healing of tendons and ligaments, which can be notoriously slow to repair, as anyone with tennis elbow can attest.

One of the problems of this sort of article is that it relies heavily on anecdote, which doesn’t tell us much about effectiveness. Personal stories are also more compelling [3] than evidence and can give readers false hope in an unproven therapy.

And now the best evidence [4] indicates that the plasma rich platelet therapy, or PRP, is no more effective at treating pain than salt water. At $1,000 per treatment it is certainly more expensive than salt water.

I would ask the following of all reporters. When you are writing about a new medical technology, device, drug, or therapy, scour the internet and call every independent scientist you can locate to uncover every potential problem with any miracle cure. If there is no compelling evidence that something works, don’t write an article about it. If there is evidence it works, thoroughly cover the potential harm, because there is always potential harm.

Giving false hope to readers does not serve them well. And creating demand for expensive and unproven therapies only drives up costs for everyone.