Monday, 1 December 2008

Evidence-Based Medicine and You

Evidence-based medicine (EBM) is a term that has become widely used in health care settings. But, what exactly is EBM and what does it mean for you?

EBM is “the conscientious, explicit, and judicious use of current best evidence in making decisions about the care of individual patients”. The “best evidence” comes from the more than 20,000 scientific research studies that are published every year, and “patient care” involves everything from diagnosis to treatment.

EBM is not just a recipe for treatment (e.g. every 15 year-old male with depression is not automatically prescribed the same medication). It is a methodical approach to patient care that is comprised of three components: the scientific evidence, the expertise of your health provider(s), and you.

EBM “integrates the best external evidence with individual clinical expertise and patients’ choice”  to ensure that patients receive the treatment that best meets their needs. Evidence-based medicine goes beyond treatments. It also applies to how patients are assessed, diagnosed, monitored, and followed over time.

When we are unwell, it is often difficult to tell what has caused the problem and what can best help. Imagine that you are ill for a few days with a sore throat and cough. When your condition improves, you might wonder what made you feel better. Was it the bedrest, the cold medication, the chicken soup, or was it simply giving your body enough time to fight off the illness? And what if your friend gave you a “secret remedy” made from milk, cognac and grass? Is that why you feel better?

Before you spend time and money on a treatment, you might have a lot of questions. You might want the best information about whether the treatment works, how well it works compared to other treatments and what possible problems can result from the treatment. You should be aware of possible problems (such as the types of side effects that might
happen, the cost of the treatment and the difficulties in taking the treatment) that may occur when you and your health care provider are deciding which treatment you should have.

The ultimate goal of EBM is to help patients receive the treatment that is most appropriate for them. This means finding a balance between the scientific evidence, the patient’s values and the experience of their health provider(s).

Remember, people can respond differently to any given treatment, so it is impossible to know exactly how you may respond. However, at least you can know what the chances are that you might be helped or harmed by a given treatment. This can help you, your doctor and other health providers come to a better decision about what treatment is right for you.

To help understand evidence-based medicine the Chair has developed a guide for patients. Feel free to download it from our website and use it to help you make the best decisions about your health care.

A teen version of this guide will be available sometime soon!

~ Dr. Stan Kutcher

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