The Public Impact of Academic and Print Media Portrayals of TMS: Shining a Spotlight on Discrepancies in the Literature

SOURCE: BMC Medical Ethics. 23(1):25, 2022 03 13.

AUTHORS: Scheper A; Rosenfeld C; Dubljevic V

BACKGROUND: Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is an FDA approved treatment for major depression, migraine, obsessive compulsive disorder, and smoking addiction. TMS has gained popular media support, but media coverage and commercial reporting of TMS services may be contributing to
the landscape of ethical issues.

METHODS: We explore the differences between the academic and print media literature portrayals of TMS to evaluate their ethical impact for the public. We performed a comprehensive literature review using PubMed and NexisUni databases to evaluate the literature available on TMS from 2014 to 2019. Our sample consisted of 1632 academic articles and 468 print media articles for a total of 2100 articles. We then coded each article for seven specific top-level codes: (1) type of source, (2) year of
publication, (3) purpose of TMS application, (4) age of subjects, (5) population, (6) overall tone, and (7) specification of TMS parameters. We also made some additional notes of the TMS parameters where specified and the breakdown of mental health applications.

RESULTS: Our results indicated several discrepancies between the academic and the print media reporting about TMS technology, particularly with regards to tone and specificity. Namely, the academic sample was largely neutral and specific about the parameters under which TMS was being
applied, while the print media sample was heavily optimistic and presented the application of TMS with far less specificity. There was some convergence between the two samples, such as the focus of both on therapy as the predominant TMS application.

CONCLUSIONS: We call upon the academic community to increase scrutiny of TMS services in order to ensure that people’s knowledge of health technologies is not unduly influenced by sensational claims and a general lack of adequate information.