How Scientific is Modern Medicine?

Dana Ullman | Huffington Post | April 20, 2010

Scientific justification for medical treatments  is an ideal, or perhaps a marketing tool,  not a reality, according to this blog:

Doctors like to point to the “impressive” efficacy of their treatments in real serious diseases, like cancer, and doctors (and drug companies) are emphatic about asserting that anyone or any company that says (or even suggests) that they have a treatment that might help people with cancer are “quacks.” However, do they maintain this same standard when evaluating their own treatments?

The British Medical Journal and a report by OTA found little evidence to support common medical treatments, according to the blog.

The OTA report referred to was “Assessing the Efficacy and Safety of Medical Technologies” (1978). One  statement from that report has been quoted in many publications:  “It has been estimated that only 10 to 20 percent of all procedures currently used in medical practice have been shown to be efficacious by controlled trial”.  However, the last few words of that quote are often omitted.

In the report OTA points out that modern methods complement the older techniques of evaluating  medical technologies:

Traditionally, clinical experience, based on informal estimation techniques, has been the most important. Other techniques, such as epidemiological studies, formal consensus development,and randomized controlled clinical trials, however, are being used increasingly. The last technique, especially, has gained prominence (in the past 20 years) as a tool for assessing efficacy and safety.

OTA wasn’t asking  that treatments by “quacks”  be held to the same low standard as more traditional doctoring.  Their emphasis was on getting better data overall.  In the report, OTA says:

Given the shortcomings in current assessment systems, the examples of technologies that entered widespread use and were shown later to be inefficacious or unsafe, and the large numbers of inadequately assessed current and emerging technologies, improvements are critically needed in the information base regarding safety and efficacy and the processes for its generation.

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