Posts Tagged ‘evidence based medicine’

Somehow the concept of  Evidence based medicine (EBM )never excited me in spite of great strides it has made. Probably the main reason for this is, EBMs origin, quality, and credibility is currently severely compromised. (Though It appears to ooze science 24/7 and make us believe in it too !) Herewith, sharing some of the forbidden thoughts(with lots of pun)  for a (un)successful practice of EBM. This is definitely not meant for young and novice medical professionals. Strictly for the ones who can segregate sense from non (S)

Evidence-based Doubting 



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medical education critics cardiology evdnce based medicine growth ethics

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In this era of synthesized evidence base,  one of my  intellectually aberrant  student asked  How can we indulge in  a popular coronary procedure   with  class 1 indication backed by level C evidence  ?   (As defined by  the seemingly invincible  guideline committee  of various  International cardiology organizations .)

medical ethics silence guidelines

I told him ,

  • Institutional protocols are to be followed
  • Guidelines are to be respected
  • Recommendations are to be considered
  • Please be reminded  all of the  above can be rejected  outright !

Finally , realise  Individual  decisions based on sound scientific understanding with zero non academic intrusions  will be revered forever !

*Caution : If you  think  you haven’t  yet reached that the level of  individuality , come what may ,  you are  expected follow these  advisories  which are primarily aimed at  providing quality care and  you will be pardoned of any adversaries as well  !

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After nearly three decades of , treating patients , teaching students and little involvement in research , I have consciously created a new  null hypothesis in medical research  !


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Mohandas Karam Chand Gandhi ,  father of my country , India , made these observations in year 1925  about the  fundamental constituents of  violence in society . These words of monumental wisdom came when he was  addressing young Indians in a country- side rally .

mahatma gandhi quotes medical science humanity

Note, his finger points to , what  exactly is relevant to our profession ! He emphasized this  nearly  100 years ago, when medical science was at its infancy .One can only guess what would be Mahatma’s comment about our profession in it’s  current form !

Should we include moral, behavioral and ethical classes  right from the first year of medical  school along with Anatomy , physiology and bio chemistry.Medical council of India obviously need to burn more mid night oil , I wish it happens in my life time. !

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critical decision making cardiology cath lab tricks coronary  angiogram primary angioplasty ptca vs cabg acc aha guidelines esc guidelines


While our brain perceives  whatever option  we  choose is the best for the patient  , in reality it is rarely true !

The only comment I wish to make,  there is nothing called standard guidelines for complex and unusual problems .We need not be obsessed with protocols  !

Please remember , If you apply standard guidelines  in  non-standard situations  9/10 times we  are going to err !

So my  choice  would be, to  go with your gut feeling , of course  your gut should  be alive ,  up to date and periodically maintained !

If you don’t have the guts  . . . don’t worry  you have plenty of other options !


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In one of my  meetings , I told a small gathering  , that regular exercise can shrink atherosclerotic plaques and regress CAD. I also quoted , a recent  large  study which  has proven this fact convincingly !

I concluded, simple  exercise  and other life style changes,risk factor correction  may convert a 90% lesion to 70 or even 50 % . I stressed the importance of this study and asked my colleagues to avoid misuse of  Angioplasties .

When many  seemed to agree with me , one  angry  Interventional cardiologist questioned me, and  asked  the name of the  study, and in which journal  it came , What was quality of the paper ?

evidence based medicine ebm experince

I told him , It is an Imaginary study done  in my back yard . It never got published in print. You may call it as E-journal* , not exactly though.It is not available in any websites , but located in the  biological servers, and  neuronal circuits as digital imprints in learned brains !

*Journal of experience

You may call it , a scientific  forgery , to quote a non-existent study,

But this study  benefits whole lot of my  patients”.

He was amused , and became agitated !

He told over the mike , “You are making  foolish statement. . . don’t corrupt young minds” !

May be , he is true !

I asked him to be calm and  requested  to listen to another study which I was about  to quote  . . .

He couldn’t sit any more  and rushed  out of the hall !

Final message

We  are ready to believe all those  rubbish stories about a fourth  generation   self disappearing BVS that is  able to scaffold a coronary artery and maintain a MLD by 2.5mm  and TVR by 20 % and prevent near MAZE  at 30 days  by 9 % and improve long term survival  by 6 months at  the cost of 100, 000 Rs  per month  .Only to realise, it may be a farce  . . .  5 years down the lane !

How to cleanse the darkened face of science ?

When falsehoods come with evidence and harm people , Good deeds can  be preached without evidence to save our fellow human beings !

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Off label prescription 

  1. Is a great scientific concept
  2. Is a deceit camouflaged  with a pseudo scientific fabric.
  3. Can be encouraged in very selective patient  population and diseases by experienced  cardiologists , as  it may be really useful when no other options are available.
  4. Is diagonally opposite  to evidence based medicine , should be banned in toto !


4 is the correct answer .occasionally 3 can be true

Some of the examples of off label indication

  • Statins for Aortic stenosis
  • VSD device for RSOV closure
  • Ivabradine for cardiac failure

By the way how does an off label become on label?

It is not the ” God ” who  gives the label to them

There are few “Demi Gods” sitting aside  in the regulatory corridors of  New york and  Geneva who decide the fate of these drugs and devices . Ultimately the integrity of these organizations that will either protect or injure our patients !

Final message

Medical science grows my mistakes  . . . hence  we should be encouraged to do more of that  . . . so that we can grow !

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Medical  research can be divided into few  broad  categories

  1. Basic science  research  in animal models
  2. Basic science  research   in Human
  3. Clinical : Bedside-  observational
  4. Clinical:  Epidemiological
  5. Community based long term data analysis
  6. Interventional -Drug /Device/Surgical

*Logically the  top 5  should  constitute  the bulk of research  ,  in reality    last one wins the race with considerable ease . Why ?

The important issues that  confront  today’s medical research  starts  right from the  “Aim” of the research ,  methods , materials statistics,  and  goes on  to   ethical issues , conflicts, futility ,  gimmicks  0f  publication  ,  marketing and ultimately left  for human assimilation .

(Read a related article in this blog   can  Aim of a study be wrong ?)

Data(s)  won’t  lie  . . .humans do  !

Science is nothing but collection of  facts ,  rechecking  the facts , and  finally confirming ,  they are indeed  facts. So medical  data collection becomes vital .  Data,  if  properly collected ,  wont lie.   Bias is always an issue in prospective trials. Further ,  and whenever and wherever  scientifically  motivated  human  beings interact with  data  the later   becomes a vulnerable  target and  get manipulated   for various reasons . (Read the famous article on data torturing  in  NEJM : I will link it soon  ) So blinding  becomes  mandatory   and it should  be total as some studies  tend  to  gain vision half way through !

Image courtesey : Jupeter images

Simplicity of observational studies.

We  give undue importance to RCTs . What we fail to understand is RCTs are required only  in selected situations in medical research (New drugs and interventions ) Meanwhile , we can do wonders with retrospective observational  data. These  data  can not be  manipulated  as the events  have occurred already and those people who collect or record the data  wouldn’t know this data is going to be utilized  for a study (This  , in fact  is  equivalent  to 100 % natural blinding and constitute a  real world study )

Observational  study can involve  patient behavior ,    disease behavior  , community impact, drug action, investigation modality , etc  . . .etc  . Your mind is the limit . Cost of doing a observational study is less but the impact on the society can be great .

Observing skills are the  biggest causality in modern medical times , This was  only scientific weapon of  our ancestors had , which they  used in an exemplary fashion .( Recall how Heberden described angina and Harvey taught us about circulation without even ECG and X RAY chest )

Fraud in medical research

Wherever big money is flowing corruption and fraud is unavoidable . . .at the  least . . .  we  should recognize it

( Many journals  just point out this possibility by simply displaying message of conflicts .They do not bother more than that  . . . just a warning message  )

Now in the modern scientific world  ,   even as the   genuine contributions   from our ancestors  left to  stare  the back of us  , we try to indulge in all sort  of unpleasant things.

In an audit against fraud in medical  research ,  it was found most of the fraudulent research happened with drug and device trials and few in basic science involving genetics and molecular medicine . It  was  rare to identify fraud in research involving purely clinical and  epidemiological  analysis .

Drug trials  need to be prospective . Vested interest can play  havoc in prospective data .There is a  thing called steering committee in all major studies   . . . we do not know what does the  word  steering really   mean .

There has been many  occasions  even well conducted studies turn out be  fraudulent . Now we realise many such studies are struggling to prove its worthiness .

In fact  it is argued every study before getting published   should undergo a  global ,  independent  trial   monitoring  board for genuineness  of the study . (Not the customary  peer review !)

Final message ( Sorry its  a  long one !)

We have a huge problem  here . I am afraid  we  haven’t even  understood ,  what  we  mean by medical  research !

For today’s   youngsters  medical  research means doing sophisticated  tests in nano- labs  , human genome  mapping ,  space age imaging modalities  or  involving a multi- billion dolor drug trials . This is absolute  falsehood.

What we need to do is   “search” , ” search”  ,  search again (That is   why it is called re-search )  for all those elusive  problems  our patients   face .Not only in their body , in their  home , in their community,  etc . Every  patient  teach us  few points,    observing and learning new things  and  publishing is  also an important aspect of  research .One can do  a instant   research in the crowded  OPD of a hospital   , in the wards , (What is the profile  of fever pattern in a winter season in your hospital ? does it reveal a new viral epidemic ?)

An ideal research  should  identify a problem and suggest a practical solution to a given problem .There are millions of such issue waiting for our attention in the bed side.  But what is happening  currently ? Current medical research is largely direction less ,  fueled by vested interest ,  makes  sure it avoids  all genuine problem areas !

Many studies  happen  based on  flimsy scientific   basis  .We are still  wasting our time to increase human HDL levels. ( Not with standing  the famous Torcetrapib fiasco  )   .Hundreds  of thousand of dollars   are pumped into this  research even after realising  only the  endogenous HDLs generated by natural methods like  exercise   are  the really  good HDL !)

While we do million dollar research   with a dubious risk factor called  high sensitive C reactive protein  ,   there is  no takers against number one killer disease of human kind  namely  “The  poverty” (WHO ICD codeZ59.5 )*

Let us prey   God  to instill common sense to all of us  . Patients  suffer with disease and we suffer from irresponsibility  or reduced responsibility ! It  makes us happy at-least few forces  like Lancet  , British medical journal etc are fighting lone war  against this  ailment  medical science is suffering .

*Please note :  http://www.icd10data.com   WHO labeled poverty as disease many years  back without much fanfare ! It is rarely mentioned in  any  graduate student**  medical text  in whom our future lies .  I do not know whether  Wars  and terrorist acts  been included as disease  or not !

**Our students  rattle about  about the  exotic  tick borne  Lyme disease happening once a year in remote hills ,    while  most will stare blank   when asked  how to diagnose and  treat  nutritional  anemia with  which millions suffer  every day !

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