Future of Health CarePopulation HealthResearch
May 29, 2019

Here’s One Way to Do Better Science

Clinical research with randomized trials (RTs), as opposed to basic or bench research, is the science of comparison. RTs ask a fundamental question: Is “x” better than “y”? They do more than observe how treatments work; they also require methods that control the research environment. Finding an independent contribution of one action over another demands random, stratified populations in order to find truthful differences, as medical care advances on these differences. But the way that patients are typically recruited for RTs can undercut the validity of the study’s findings. I propose we take a different approach, one I call “Gallup…
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Future of Health CareMedical Decision-MakingResearch
April 24, 2019

If Not Now, It’s Too Late: More Clinical Science Pitfalls and a Path to Improvement

Let’s review three major vulnerabilities with how randomized trials (RTs) are conducted, as discussed so far in this series. Critically appraising a research study involves determining the “internal and external” validity. Internal validity deals with the conduct of the study, per se. External validity deals with whether the study’s findings can be generalized to others in the population. Here’s what can go wrong: Populations being studied in RTs are too often convenience samples of patients/subjects rather than random or systematic samples of subjects. This diminishes our ability to externalize findings from the RT to the population at large. This is…
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Future of Health CareMedical Decision-MakingResearch
April 3, 2019

If Not Now, It’s Too Late: Simple Randomization Can Lead to False Inferences 
About Treatment Decisions

Medical decisions are best made on the basis of clinical science. Accurate research, shared between physician and patient, enables the patient to make an informed choice about risks and outcomes of treatment options. That’s how it should work, in theory. But in practice, even with the best shared medical decision-making, far too much clinical research employs faulty methodologies that limit the relevance of findings. This must change. In a recent blog post, I suggested that clinical science can improve by choosing more representative groups of people for study. Many clinical studies use convenience samples of patients rather than samples chosen…
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Future of Health CareResearchWomen and Health Care
March 20, 2019

At the Heart of Gender Disparities in Health Care is Women’s Pain

Pain is a key symptom of injury or disease, and managing acute pain is usually one of the first services provided to patients. But if the patient in pain is a woman, the provider may require more convincing. Providers doubt that women’s pain is real and underestimate the level of pain for women. Substantial evidence shows that providers report higher levels of pain for men than for women. Gender stereotypes are so strong that in a recent pediatric study, participants evaluating a child’s pain reported higher levels when told that the child was a boy and lower if told it…
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Future of Health CareMedical Decision-MakingResearch
March 6, 2019

If Not Now, It’s Too Late: Clinical Science Is Futile If We Study the Wrong Population

In 1936, the Literary Digest, a respected national magazine, undertook a public opinion poll. Who would win the race between Republican Alfred Landon, governor of Kansas, and Democratic incumbent Franklin D. Roosevelt? Mock ballots were mailed to 10 million Americans. About 2.4 million responded—one of the largest survey samples ever created. Their prediction? Landon would carry the day. They were wrong—by a landslide for FDR. That’s because respondents were biased toward Landon and did not accurately represent the distribution of presidential preferences across all voters. Notably, George Gallop accurately predicted FDR’s victory using a smaller representative sample of about 50,000…
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Consumers & PatientsFuture of Health CareMedical Decision-MakingResearch
February 13, 2019

If Not Now, It’s Too Late: Clinical Science Needs Fixing

In 1967, the year I graduated from high school, my family’s television required “rabbit ear” antennae with perched aluminum foil. Our farming family had little time to watch TV, but when we did, the ritual included a side trip to reset the antennae’s angle to ensure good reception. Today, I watch a clear picture on myriad devices, no antennae needed. In the 1980s, my trips to a library to find medical literature were few. A single trip to the library would take hours and net only a small number of papers. Now, I obtain articles on any topic in a…
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Consumers & PatientsFuture of Health CareMedical Decision-MakingResearchValue-Based Health Care
October 17, 2018

Wise Patients Really Can Make Medical Decisions

“The numbers in this blog are hard to believe. Why is the medical profession recommending shingles vaccine? It is one thing to say that patients should be their own advocates. But why would medical professionals recommend a vaccine to their patient that has such a paltry risk/benefit outcome? After all, we go to doctors because we presume that they know more about medical conditions, prevention and treatment than we do. If they don’t, what’s the point?” A wise patient reading my blog on the shingles vaccine made the above comments. The adjective “wise” has been defined as “able to make good judgments.”…
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Consumers & PatientsMedical Decision-MakingResearch
August 8, 2018

Why Randomized Clinical Trials Are Essential to Informed Medical Decisions

I am not a card-carrying philosopher, although I did study philosophy as my undergraduate major. What I enjoyed most was epistemology, the theory of knowledge. We debated, hotly, from the standpoints of social interaction and humanism, “What is knowledge? What constitutes knowing?” But such philosophical debates are not relevant in medical care. Medicine is not a philosophical province. By that I mean that when we are ill, we are philosophically the same; debating differences is a waste of time. We have equal value; have the same rights to the same efforts and same actions to get us better. The essential…
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Consumers & PatientsMedical Decision-MakingResearch
June 20, 2018

Deciphering Outcomes: Thirty Percent More of Nothing Is Still Nothing

Trying to pass a Bill through a legislature demands a hardy disposition. I have been involved in three attempts on different issues—one bill passed, one is still in limbo, and a third, the most salient for me, failed. In the latter case, I was the sole proposer of the Bill. My idea captured the imagination of a state representative who said she would sponsor it, but, first, she wanted to get some other views. Eleven lobbyist conversations later, my Bill was dead. Something about the legislator being worried that my Bill would be taking on the First Amendment, which allows…
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Future of Health CareMedical Decision-MakingResearch
May 16, 2018

“Just the Facts, Ma’am”

Communication, according to Webster’s: “exchange of information” You and I talk all the time. We are constantly “communicating.” Communication is a huge idea that encompasses and displays our views of the world. But communication is more than just the sum of the words used to communicate; the words are contextual. Raymond Carver wrote with simple, universally understood words, but I could not communicate like him even if I used the same words and labored intensively. Communication, in a sense, is a five-syllable word that is nearly elevated to a sixth sense, like taste, sight, touch, smell and sound. But here’s the rub. I don’t…
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