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What is Clinical Evidence?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 17 November 2016
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Clinical evidence is intimately tied to the definition of evidence-based medicine. In the latter, doctors, health organizations and the like use actual research that has been tested on patients to determine best practices in medicine for a variety of diseases and illnesses. There is very little that is intuitive about this form of medical practice, though physicians may have to interpret things like likelihood of success or failure based on the evidence. This evidence is often called clinical evidence, and it consists of small to large studies with actual people participating that help to determine how particular treatments or approaches work. This form of evidence is generated in most legitimate medical studies.

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There are some definite pros to using clinical evidence to inform medical treatment. While it doesn’t always definitively prove that one treatment is best, it typically shows that one or two treatments are likely to be best. In other words, it might show that a specific treatment should be tried first because statistically, it has the greatest chance of succeeding. When doctors or other diagnosticians use clinical evidence, they tend to arrive at a uniform method for treating patients, and even patients can often find out the most common treatments for a disease that are advocated by evidence-based medical approaches. Given that many patients now prefer to have a good idea of medical treatments before they even see a doctor, they may be relieved to see this uniformity in suggestions for treatment, and they could even discuss several top treatments with a doctor if more than one have been shown to be effective.

Clinical evidence can also disprove common misconceptions about a variety of treatments. New studies, small or large, can contradict information in former studies. In fact there are centers devoted to reviewing all new literature and findings to make certain that current thinking on particular medical treatments is supported with clinical evidence. If the tide turns on that evidence or other information that is unfavorable is discovered about a particular therapy, it can help change best practices in the future.

There are many ways in which clinical evidence is used. Governments that have national health insurance, and in fact, most health insurance companies may base decisions on what to cover and what to ask doctors to recommend first on evidence based research. This is certainly not particularly new, but it does mean that coverage could exclude practices that might help some people, some of the time.

Since evidence is usually about “likelihood” instead of absolute certainty, this could mean a small section of the population receives the wrong treatment or is denied a treatment that would be beneficial. In many constructs, evidence-based medical treatment is tempered with the ability for doctors to choose another path that may contradict the evidence, provided they can find a good reason for doing so. The degree to which doctors depend solely on clinical evidence may vary, and the degree to which they are allowed to consider additional treatments could be contingent on where they practice, the needs of the individual patient and what is allowable by a health service, or a patient’s insurance company.

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