Masters in medicine: Part II. Evidence-based medicine: A passing fancy or the future of primary care?
Primary Health Care
Reliable experimental evidence provides a firm scientific foundation for only a minority of the clinical decisions primary care practitioners must make each day. Thus clinicians' experience and judgment must complement and supplement their knowledge of published research studies. This presents a dynamic and difficult challenge to the practitioner--one that is magnified when combined with the never ending influx of medical information, with patients' and physicians' uneasiness with clinical uncertainty, and with new external pressures to standardize care. With these factors in mind, this article will review evidence-based medicine, a process and philosophy for the practice and teaching of clinical medicine that has sparked much controversy in recent years. Clinical scenarios commonly encountered in adult primary care--acute low back pain, hypertension, and screening for vascular disease--illustrate some strengths and limitations of evidence-based medicine.