Evidence-based Medicine Part 1: What the heck is this and why should I care?

"Evidence-based medicine" (EBM) is exactly what it sounds like: healthcare based on rigorous scientific evidence.

Call me crazy, but isn't that what we get any time we go to the doctor?

Turns out, no. The reality of clinical practice is more complicated than that, not everyone is on board with this concept, and due to the dearth of research on V pain, knowing about the pros and cons of EBM is very, very relevant to you.

* * *

Part One of this blog post discusses the general background controversy of EBM, and some examples of how that is playing out in the pelvic pain world.

In Part Two I'll bring up a big ol' red flag that is not being discussed in the EBM controversy.

In Part Three I'll break this mess down and discuss what it all means for you and the health of your lady parts.

Ready, set, go!

* * *

Here's a little background on the controversy...

Supporters say that EBM improves care by reducing the use of unproven treatments, variations in clinical practice, and the failure to follow consistent guidelines; i.e., it corrects the problem of doctors doing way too many different things for patients facing the same issue, including the use of treatments that may have no evidence to back them. Don't patients deserve to get the best treatment available and not be yanked around on wild-goose chases of potential quackery?

Opponents say that doctors need to respect patient preferences, that just because something works statistically doesn't mean it will work for a particular individual, that insurers will use EBM to deny patients care because there isn't enough evidence to support it, and - this is where it matters most for you - for little researched conditions like V pain, there often isn't any evidence anyway.

Also and ironically, as of the writing of this admittedly old article (2004), there isn't any evidence that evidence-based medicine works. (I tried to find more recent studies investigating this question, but was unable to. Doesn't mean they aren't out there. A lot of scientific evidence isn't available to the public as it is published in super expensive journals which are only found in libraries with restricted access - i.e., university libraries that are only open to students.)

If you want more information on the brou-ha-ha surrounding EBM, you can find various articles here, here, here, and here. The Center for Evidence-Based Medicine can be found here.

* * *

How is this playing out in the world of V pain?

At the International Pelvic Pain Society's annual fall meeting this past October, the keynote speaker implored the audience to launch and participate in studies on pelvic pain. He said it was the responsibility of all health care professionals to do so; failure to participate was failing one's patients. For the record, the speaker was Dr. Khalid Khan, the editor-in-chief of the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. (You can like BJOG on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.)

At the same event, Dr Christopher Payne at VistaUrology said "Evidence-based medicine is holding us back." (Thanks to Sara Sauder, DPT, for taking good notes and actually having that quote.)

On the surface it looks like these two doctors are on opposing sides, but they aren't. Dr Payne's point was that patients can't wait for trials and studies to be done; they need care now. Dr Khan was frustrated at the slow pace these studies were coming out.

In this blog post, you can read Sara Sauder's take on the problem of producing and relying on EBM, and on Dr Jen Gunter's blog you can get a perspective from someone who is whole-hog pro-EBM to the exclusion of everything else.

* * *

My two cents as a V pain patient is that EBM is not the gold standard.  

As a patient, I'd rather try something untested than not try something at all. I'm bummed Sara doesn't contribute to research when it's exactly her knowledge and experience we need. I appreciate Dr Gunter's generous sharing of her knowledge - a lot of us don't know how to interpret studies and are misled by the media as to what they mean - but at the same time in at least one post through flippant generalization she wrote off a treatment that I and, anecdotally, many other women have benefited from.  The tagline for her blog is "I wield the lasso of truth," but I don't buy it. A more accurate, but less catchy, tagline would be "I provide education on how to interpret scientific evidence, and point out inconsistencies and misinterpretations of said evidence in the media." But "truth?" Eh.

* * *

So that's the very brief overview of EBM in general and in the world of V pain. But wait, there was something missing here...

Who decides what gets studied?

We'll be looking at that can of worms in Part 2. Stay tuned.


PS Remember to tweet and FB post about my scholarship application!