I heard an interview on today’s Today programme on Radio 4 with Sir Michael Rawlins, the chairman of NICE. In the interview he highlighted the need for post-research evaluation to ensure the research promise of an intervention is realised.

This notion of experience as a form of evidence has been of interest to me for many years, ever since I was approached by a GP who was using bupropion in smoking cessation. His perspective was that bupropion was pretty rubbish for his patients and wanted to understand why the discrepancy with the evidence (which stated it was effective and evidence-based).

My own perspective is that the experience of ‘coal face’ clinicians is crucial in addressing some of the biases seen in clinical research. In a very nicely funded and implemented randomised controlled trial (RCT) you may very well exclude patients with co-morbidities – alas, in the ‘real world’ clinicians don’t have that luxury. Take an intervention such as cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) for depression, those carrying out the trial will use an experienced CBTer as opposed to a ‘coal face’ clinician who may have basic training in the matter. The bottom line is that conditions in a RCT cannot be the same as those of the ‘coal face’ – that should surely be a worry.

Currently, the ‘evidence’ used in EBM is overwhelmingly devoted to the hard evidence obtained from trials such as a RCT. I’m not suggesting that RCTs are not useful, far from it. However, I’m increasingly of the opinion that harnessing the experience of clinicians is vital to supplement the evidence found in clinical trials. Experience can be a form of evidence.
Interestingly, in my previous post highlighting 16 years of EBM (that linked to this JAMA article) the JAMA article had the following passage (from their 1992 article):

“A new paradigm for medical practice is emerging. Evidence-based medicine de-emphasizes intuition, unsystematic clinical experience, and pathophysiologic rationale as sufficient grounds for clinical decision making and stresses the examination of evidence from clinical research. Evidence- based medicine requires new skills of the physician, including efficient literature searching and the application of formal rules of evidence evaluating the clinical literature.”

In the passage they highlight that EBM de-emphasises, amongst other factors, the ‘unsystematic clinical experience’. While I completely agree with that sentiment, it opens the door for the emphasis of SYSTEMATIC clinical experience.

So, who’s for the systematic collection of clinical experience?