Unless you are a medical professional, you may not have heard of evidence based medicine. In layman’s terms, evidence based medicine is that which combines knowledge gleaned from in-clinic practice and external evidence in order to best treat an individual patient.
Combining evidence gathered from a variety of scientific sources allows doctors to determine whether a treatment will benefit a patient more than it will harm them. Here’s what you, as a patient, should know about evidence based medicine:
1.Determination of Evidence Quality
All evidence is not of equal quality when it comes to evidence based medicine. As with anything else in life that involves opinion, biases and misinformation come into play. It’s up to your doctor to determine the quality of the evidence that he or she is considering. When it comes to therapeutic interventions, for example, the best evidence comes from triple-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled medical trials. Of little value are patient testimonials, expert opinion and case reports.
2.Clinical Trial Quality
Clinical trials vary in their quality and usability when it comes to evidence based medicine. To be considered a high-quality clinical trial, the trial must have clearly defined eligibility criteria, missing data must be minimal, cannot be generalized to other clinical contexts, must provide sufficient time for follow up, and have a sufficient number of patients to detect the differences in treatment arms. If clinical trials don’t meet this set of criteria, they cannot be considered valuable in the case of evidence based medicine.
3.Benefits for the Patient
Benefits of evidence based medicine lie in the quality of care, cost savings and reductions of errors. By using evidence based practices, physicians have been able to save their patients 12 percent when it comes to prescription costs. Additionally, patients are exposed to risky drugs less often than in years past. Patients also realize a cost savings by securing the proper treatment sooner, thanks to doctors who research best practices and put them to use.
Medical practitioners often consider evidence based medicine to be the supreme standard of health care, though it’s not without its limitations. At times, research results may not be relevant for every treatment situation. Additionally, randomized controlled trials may not always have results that extend to conditions outside the central cause of the study. This means that while one drug may be found to have contraindications with another drug, the drug may also increase mortality in a certain population. If this increase in mortality isn’t the central grounds for the study, the information may be ignored.
If you’re a patient, finding a physician that utilizes evidence based medicine is often in your best interest. If you want to be sure that you are getting health care based on proven results, finding a doctor that uses scientific evidence gathered from their own experience as well as outside sources is imperative. The next time your doctor suggests a treatment or medication, ask what information he or she is basing their decisions on. If your doctor can’t point to scientific evidence, you may want to look for a new health care provider.