the article that could save lives (or at least prevent some pain)

No, this is nothing to do with magic cure-alls, silver bullets or even preventative lifestyle advice. And it’s certainly not an article I wrote, but one I chanced upon.

One morning, a few weeks ago, I went into the staff tea room for my ten-minute morning tea break, and found a print-out copy of this article on the table: When Evidence Says No, but Doctors Say Yes (by David Epstein & Propublica, published by The Atlantic on February 22, 2017). I was intrigued, and started reading.

Being a short break, I didn’t get too far, but over the course of a couple of weeks or so, I progressively read fragment after fragment (don’t know why it never occurred to me to look up the article at home, and just read it all in one go… Probably because I liked the convenience (?) of having a printed copy in the tea room – gives me something to do other than eat in those ten-minute breaks).

It is quite a long article, but certainly a worthwhile read, especially considering that we’re all probably going to need medical treatment for something in our lives, and it could very well be for something cardiovascular-related (although what the article talks about can be applied to other areas of medicine too – cardio is just from some of anecdotes they use). If it’s too much reading, there’s also an audio version (as I discovered after searching for the article online after I’d finished reading it (for purposes of adding a link to this post, of course) – not that I’d have listened to the audio anyway…)

As a health professional, I suppose the article also drills into me the importance of “continuing professional development”, or CPD (says me, writing this while merrily ignoring a stack of year-old Pharmacy journals on the table beside me that I never got around to reading…)

I actually still don’t know who printed out this article and put it on the tea room table, but I wonder if that was their intention… We don’t often have interesting material like this left on the table. Usually it’s the same Pharmacy journals I receive (and ignore) at home. (Ok, before you get the wrong idea that I really don’t care about CPD, I actually do; it’s just that I haven’t had a lot of energy and/or motivation. But, hey, I will rectify that.)

Of course, the article has broader implications, outside of healthcare. One of the main issues seems to be that doctors will keep prescribing the same treatments over and over again, despite lack of supporting evidence, because they’re following some sort of protocol (the consideration about being able to defend themselves in a lawsuit, should anything go wrong, is a sad yet valid point…)

And I suppose it made me think about some things I might do, simply because that’s how it’s always been done – in and outside of the workplace – even though there’s no real supporting “evidence”, or the original reasons for doing it no longer exist. I’ve often thought that new employees are better at conceiving change in a workplace. They might need help instigating the change, but the idea is theirs, and could only be found because their mind is still trying to understand what the heck goes on in this place. But I digress…

Back to this article…

When I was reading it, I suppose I was reading it more from the point-of-view of a patient, rather than that of a health professional (even though I read the whole thing, incrementally, at work). And I suppose what I’ve gotten from the article is that it’s ok to question what people tell you, it’s ok to seek a second (or third) opinion, and it’s ok if you don’t want what everyone else is having.

And, of course, it’s not necessarily the doctors themselves that are to blame, but the system in which they exist. It’s hard enough to change things in a workplace, but imagine trying to change the practice of every doctor (or pharmacist, or other healthcare professional, for that matter) in an entire country (or the world!) As the article says, major changes tend to be generational; but maybe if we’re a bit more aware, and if we take a bit more responsibility, maybe we can help the process along.

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3 thoughts on “the article that could save lives (or at least prevent some pain)

  1. This resonated with me regarding a situation I have at work (nothing to do with medicine – I work in a school). I’m currently being pestered (I refrain from using the word ‘bullied’ because so far I’m handling the situation but I sense an element of personal dislike on the part of my antagonist) regarding something that I’m in charge of. The other person keeps trying to tell me I’m wrong on the basis of her ‘years of experience’ but actually she’s citing practice that is twenty years out of date. I’ve literally just had the training, plus I regularly (too regularly) attend conferences and the like where best practice is discussed. I’m completely in the right (I’ve checked several times) but she won’t let it go and although my line manager is supportive, she’s ineffectual because she hasn’t read the latest guidelines either. there’s definitely a culture of ‘we do this because we’ve always done it’ and trying to effect change based on the latest evidence is very hard.

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