Evidence-based medicine: is it a bridge too far?
Ana Fernandez et al
Health Research Policy and Systems 2015, 13:66
This paper aims to describe the contextual factors that gave rise to evidence-based medicine (EBM), as well as its controversies and limitations in the current health context. Our analysis utilizes two frameworks: (1) a complex adaptive view of health that sees both health and healthcare as non-linear phenomena emerging from their different components; and (2) the unified approach to the philosophy of science that provides a new background for understanding the differences between the phases of discovery, corroboration, and implementation in science.
The need for standardization, the development of clinical epidemiology, concerns about the economic sustainability of health systems and increasing numbers of clinical trials, together with the increase in the computer’s ability to handle large amounts of data, have paved the way for the development of the EBM movement. It was quickly adopted on the basis of authoritative knowledge rather than evidence of its own capacity to improve the efficiency and equity of health systems. The main problem with the EBM approach is the restricted and simplistic approach to scientific knowledge, which prioritizes internal validity as the major quality of the studies to be included in clinical guidelines. As a corollary, the preferred method for generating evidence is the explanatory randomized controlled trial. This method can be useful in the phase of discovery but is inadequate in the field of implementation, which needs to incorporate additional information including expert knowledge, patients’ values and the context.
EBM needs to move forward and perceive health and healthcare as a complex interaction, i.e. an interconnected, non-linear phenomenon that may be better analysed using a variety of complexity science techniques.