March 7, 2020

How to stop ineffective and harmful medical practices

Ending Medical ReversalImproving Outcomes, Saving Lives

What are medical reversals? We expect that medicine will progress in a generally orderly fashion, with good medical practices being replaced by better ones. We used to use cholestyramine—a horribly tolerated drug that had no effect on patients’ life expectancy—to lower cholesterol after heart attacks. Now we use atorvastatin, a well-tolerated drug backed by robust evidence that it saves lives. This is how medical practice should evolve. Reversal, however, is different. Reversal occurs when a currently accepted therapy is overturned, found to be no better than the therapy it replaced. This often occurs when a practice—a diagnostic tool, a medicine, a procedure, or a surgical technique—is adopted without a robust evidence base.
 Instead of the ideal, which is replacement of good medical practices by better ones, medical reversal occurs when a currently accepted therapy is overturned—found to be no better than the therapy it replaced. Now, you might argue that this is how science is supposed to proceed. In high school, we learned that the scientific method involves proposing a hypothesis and testing to see whether it is right. This is true. But what has happened in medicine is that the hypothesized treatment is often instituted in millions of people, and billions of dollars are spent, before adequate research is done. Not surprisingly, sometimes the research demonstrates that the hypothesis was incorrect and that the treatment, which is already being used, is ineffective or harmful.
So what?
Our medical system is too tolerant of unproven practices. Doctors are too comfortable recommending a practice without real knowledge of whether it is helping or hurting patients. People are too willing to accept practices that seem like they should help. When a medical reversal does occur, most physicians consider it an exception to the rule. 
We need a culture change in medicine. We need to recommit to evidence-based medicine and realize that it is the only rational way to provide care. In this book we have provided a few suggestions for ways we can improve. We do not advocate that these recommendations be immediately implemented but that they be carefully considered, alongside recommendations proposed by other thoughtful analysts, and tested in prospective trials. As we move forward, we must recognize that drastic and dramatic change can often be harmful. We acknowledge that there will be areas of medicine in which, for now, we must tolerate the status quo. As we go through the house of medicine and clean up each room, we have to prioritize.  
Well, let's say that the book focuses on the shadows of medicine, but this is only one part. Generalisations are inacurate. Anyway, good to review it. And medical education is not enough to solve the issue, incentives and culture play a crucial role.