It would be an understatement to suggest that the practice of medicine has changed during the past ten years. Indeed, every physician can think of a number of things that have impacted his or her practice. However, among the positive changes that have affected how we treat patients, evidence-based medicine ranks high on the list.
Evidence-based medicine has been defined as “the integration of best research evidence with clinical expertise and patient values.” Those who support evidence-based medicine note that it will prevent the bias that exists among health-care professionals who frequently base clinical decisions on custom and practice. Hence, the growth of evidence-based medicine along with the desire among clinicians to reduce variations in health-care delivery has had an important and positive impact on health-care practice and policy. Simply stated, the principles of evidence-based medicine serve as a means of decreasing variation in health-care delivery and improving patient outcomes.
The history of evidence-based medicine is interesting and is well covered in the article by David Jevsevar in the September 2014 issue of JBJS Reviews. Concepts and terms are defined, and the findings of research on health-care disparity are discussed. Clearly, the randomized controlled trial (RCT) has become the so-called gold standard in research methodology because of its ability to minimize confounding between patient groups. However, Dr. Jevsevar notes that there are concerns regarding the use of RCTs in the practice of medicine, including their expense as well as the time required for patient recruitment, data analysis, and study completion. As a result of these costs and challenges, most RCTs are now funded by industry, raising concerns about the potential external sources of bias.
This article also touches on other important concepts related to evidence-based medicine in clinical practice policy, such as the propagation and control of conflicts of interest, shared decision-making between physician and patient, and the development of best-practice applications to address the individual needs of and risks to each patient. Finally, it is apparent that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) that was signed into law on March 23, 2010 introduces important and vast changes in access to the U.S. health-care system. Designed to address the unsustainable growth in federal spending and the depletion of the Medicare trust fund that is predicted to occur by 2026, this legislation represents an attempt to “bend the cost curve” by showing the increase in annual health-care expenditures. It further makes the point that the absence of an essentially controlled U.S. health-care system creates a potentially large research laboratory promoting study opportunities to investigate the delivery of high-quality, evidence-based care. Thus, the opportunity for orthopaedic surgeons to become advocates for their patients, to take a leading role in shaping the future of evidence-based medicine, and to do so in a way that generates costs that our nation can afford presents a real opportunity to positively shape the future of orthopaedic practice.
Thomas A. Einhorn, MD, Editor, JBJS Reviews