It has been 22 years since David M. Eddy—the heart surgeon turned mathematician and health care economist—put the term “evidence-based” into play with a series of articles on practice guidelines for the Journal of the American Medical Association.
But as we have learned in the years since, one person’s evidence-based guideline is another person’s cookbook. For some, a sound body of evidence is fundamental to sound medical decisions. After all, as Jack Wennberg and Dartmouth researchers have pointed out for decades, if the practice of medicine varies so widely from place to place in this country, everyone can’t be right. Yet for others, evidence connotes not just “cookie-cutter medicine,” it is only one step shy of a trip to the death panel. This heavy baggage influences the way evidence-based medicine is discussed from the doctor’s office to the clinic to Capitol Hill.
With this in mind, we and others working under the aegis of the Institute of Medicine set out to find an evidence-based approach to communicate with the public about evidence. The full fruits of our work can be seen in this new IOM discussion paper, “Communicating with Patients on Health Care Evidence.” What we found based on both focus groups and a national poll is that, in the context of shared decision-making, the public does not view evidence-based medicine as an indicator of cookbook medicine. Far from it. Patients actually put significant emphasis on the latest medical evidence.
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