Thursday, May 19, 2016
Evidence and clinical judgment should complement each other
The term evidence-based medicine (EBM) provokes strong feelings from its proponents and its skeptics. I spent a full day recently in discussions about EBM. As the day proceeded I understood that evidence is wonderful when it fits the clinical question, but that too often the clinical question does not, and probably will not, have adequate evidence.
We have great evidence for some clinical questions. We all know that angiotension-converting enzyme inhibitors decrease mortality in patients having systolic dysfunction. We know that antibiotics help a variety of documented infections. We know which biologically active disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs improve the course of rheumatoid arthritis. We know that home oxygen decreases mortality in chronic hypoxic patients.
But how many clinical questions lack such specificity. My recent clinical passion, Lemierre syndrome, has no evidence for prevention or treatment. Yet we must make decisions about empiric antibiotics for severe sore throats in adolescents and young adults, and we must choose antibiotics in a patient diagnosed with the syndrome. We do not have, and likely will not have any randomized, controlled trials to guide our management. Rather we must use clinical judgment.
Believing in EBM does not and should not eschew faith in clinical judgment. Many clinical situations do require judgment.
Even if one believes in EBM, controversies among guidelines must give one pause. These likely occur because differing guideline committees have differing priorities and values. Data are not hard cold facts that we can always apply to our patients. Rather we must filter data through a screen of patient preferences, co-morbidities and social concerns (including money).
Medicine is a challenging career, because we must always meld our scientific knowledge with our art. Yes, the art of medicine and the science of medicine are not, and should not be considered separate entities. Every clinical decision must relate to the patient's context. When we have performance measures that do not consider those contexts, then the measurement developers are actually impacting our decision making, and often in a negative manner.
Clinical medicine is difficult. We oversimplify medicine when we think that rules can always substitute for judgment. This is our conundrum. When the evidence and the patient conflict we physicians have unease, especially when someone is judging our decision making without understand the underlying patient context.
db is the nickname for Robert M. Centor, MD, FACP. db stands both for Dr. Bob and da boss. He is an academic general internist at the University of Alabama School of Medicine, and is the Regional Associate Dean for the Huntsville Regional Medical Campus of UASOM. He still makes inpatient rounds over 100 days each year. This post originally appeared at his blog, db's Medical Rants.
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Albert Fuchs, MD, FACP, graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine, where he also did his internal medicine training. Certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine, Dr. Fuchs spent three years as a full-time faculty member at UCLA School of Medicine before opening his private practice in Beverly Hills in 2000.
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Amanda Xi, ACP Medical Student Member, is a first-year medical student at the OUWB School of Medicine, charter class of 2015, in Rochester, Mich., from which she which chronicles her journey through medical training from day 1 of medical school.
Ira S. Nash, MD, FACP, is the senior vice president and executive director of the North Shore-LIJ Medical Group, and a professor of Cardiology and Population Health at Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine. He is Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Cardiovascular Diseases and was in the private practice of cardiology before joining the full-time faculty of Massachusetts General Hospital.
Zackary Berger, MD, ACP Member, is a primary care doctor and general internist in the Division of General Internal Medicine at Johns Hopkins. His research interests include doctor-patient communication, bioethics, and systematic reviews.
Controversies in Hospital
Run by three ACP Fellows, this blog ponders vexing issues in infection prevention and control, inside and outside the hospital. Daniel J Diekema, MD, FACP, practices infectious diseases, clinical microbiology, and hospital epidemiology in Iowa City, Iowa, splitting time between seeing patients with infectious diseases, diagnosing infections in the microbiology laboratory, and trying to prevent infections in the hospital. Michael B. Edmond, MD, FACP, is a hospital epidemiologist in Iowa City, IA, with a focus on understanding why infections occur in the hospital and ways to prevent these infections, and sees patients in the inpatient and outpatient settings. Eli N. Perencevich, MD, ACP Member, is an infectious disease physician and epidemiologist in Iowa City, Iowa, who studies methods to halt the spread of resistant bacteria in our hospitals (including novel ways to get everyone to wash their hands).
db's Medical Rants
Robert M. Centor, MD, FACP, contributes short essays contemplating medicine and the health care system.
Suneel Dhand, MD, ACP Member
Suneel Dhand, MD, ACP Member, is a practicing physician in Massachusetts. He has published numerous articles in clinical medicine, covering a wide range of specialty areas including; pulmonology, cardiology, endocrinology, hematology, and infectious disease. He has also authored chapters in the prestigious "5-Minute Clinical Consult" medical textbook. His other clinical interests include quality improvement, hospital safety, hospital utilization, and the use of technology in health care.
Juliet K. Mavromatis, MD, FACP, provides a conversation about health topics for patients and health professionals.
Dr. Mintz' Blog
Matthew Mintz, MD, FACP, has practiced internal medicine for more than a decade and is an Associate Professor of Medicine at an academic medical center on the East Coast. His time is split between teaching medical students and residents, and caring for patients.
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Vineet Arora, MD, FACP, is Associate Program Director for the Internal Medicine Residency and Assistant Dean of Scholarship & Discovery at the Pritzker School of Medicine for the University of Chicago. Her education and research focus is on resident duty hours, patient handoffs, medical professionalism, and quality of hospital care. She is also an academic hospitalist.
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Mike Aref, MD, PhD, FACP, is an academic hospitalist with an interest in basic and clinical science and education, with interests in noninvasive monitoring and diagnostic testing using novel bedside imaging modalities, diagnostic reasoning, medical informatics, new medical education modalities, pre-code/code management, palliative care, patient-physician communication, quality improvement, and quantitative biomedical imaging.
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Other blogs of note:
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Also known as the Green Journal, the American Journal of Medicine publishes original clinical articles of interest to physicians in internal medicine and its subspecialities, both in academia and community-based practice.
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One of the most popular anonymous blogs written by an emergency room physician.