COMMENTS: Extra Super X-rays

NBC, a corporate sibling of a hi-tech medical device manufacturer, gave maximum publicity to an article in the New England Journal of Medicine that warned about the safety of CT scanner machines. Since 1980 the nationwide annual number of diagnostic CT scans has mushroomed from 3m to 62m. CTs, which bombard a body with 100 times the radiation of a standard X-ray, may now be overused so unnecessarily that two decades from now they may be the cause of one out of every 50 cancers. All three networks covered this Story of the Day, with NBC and ABC both choosing it as their lead. CBS opted for the continued deflation in the value of residential real estate instead.

General Electric, which owns NBC, is a CT leading brand. Unfortunately, the only manufacturer whose logo was visible in NBC's report by Robert Bazell was Philips, the Dutch company. Proper journalistic ethics require Bazell to mention the benefit his ultimate employer derives from the possibly lethal overuse of its technology. Neither ABC's Dan Harris nor CBS' Jon LaPook mentioned any firm that makes these machines and none of the three attached any dollar amount to the cost of the excess scans. Harris quoted from the NEJoM that fully one third may not be medically necessary. "The authors say alternatives like MRIs or ultrasounds often work just as well," CBS' LaPook pointed out. ABC's in-house physician Timothy Johnson (at the tail of the Harris videostream) offered another warning: "I really worry about self-referrals, when doctors refer people for CT scan to facilities that they own. That is a conflict of interest. It should be eliminated by law. It is unethical."

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