What is Clinical Evidence?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

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.

New studies, small or large, can contradict information in former studies.
New studies, small or large, can contradict information in former studies.

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.

Health organizations and use actual research that has been tested on patients to determine best practices in medicine for a variety of diseases and illnesses.
Health organizations and use actual research that has been tested on patients to determine best practices in medicine for a variety of diseases and illnesses.

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.

Because newly discovered clinical evidence can change treatment protocols, all medical studies are carefully monitored and require a large amount of oversight.
Because newly discovered clinical evidence can change treatment protocols, all medical studies are carefully monitored and require a large amount of oversight.

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.

Clinical evidence can disprove common misconceptions about a variety of treatments.
Clinical evidence can disprove common misconceptions about a variety of treatments.

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.

Before drugs can be sold and marketed in the U.S., they must undergo several safety and efficacy tests -- typically on animals and humans -- called clinical trials.
Before drugs can be sold and marketed in the U.S., they must undergo several safety and efficacy tests -- typically on animals and humans -- called clinical trials.
Clinical evidence does not always definitely prove that one specific treatment is best.
Clinical evidence does not always definitely prove that one specific treatment is best.
Published research featuring new clinical evidence may be used by a doctor to determine whether to alter a patient's course of treatment.
Published research featuring new clinical evidence may be used by a doctor to determine whether to alter a patient's course of treatment.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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