Words are powerful. That is why it is so important for consumers of medical research to completely and thoughtfully read and evaluate the literature. Without a thorough understanding of methods, statistics, and clinical context, it is easy for a casual reader (e.g., one who scans abstracts) to make misguided conclusions based on an article’s findings—or even its title.
That concern is a large part of what Hensley et al. state in their September 21, 2017 eLetter in response to the Austin et al. study that appeared in the April 19, 2017 edition of JBJS. While many of the points made in the eLetter are valid, they itemize limitations that most readers should be able to identify during a careful reading of the article. Could the wording of the original article by Austin et al.—especially the title—have been adjusted? Sure, but all orthopaedic researchers want their results to be as impactful as possible, and they therefore will occasionally title their article to highlight the point they find most important. Sometimes (but not always) reviewers and/or editors will ask that certain phrasing be modified to avoid possible misinterpretation by readers.
The bottom line is that it is up to individual readers to critically evaluate the methods, data, and statistics to form their own conclusions from the articles they read. Hensley et al. wanted more data to review and clearly felt more context could have been placed in the paper. They read the article, looked at the data, and developed their own conclusions. I am thankful that they took the time to let the orthopaedic community be privy to their thoughts.
I am equally grateful that Austin et al. took the time to comprehensively address the eLetter by Hensley et al. Taken together, these thoughtful responses to well-conducted original research represent the best in respectful “clinical conversations” that help ensure optimal orthopaedic care for our patients.
Chad A. Krueger, MD
JBJS Deputy Editor for Social Media