One-Third of Readers Will Shake Their Heads

I read news reports relating to health and medicine every day. Many of them are medical research study reports — usually interesting — but they also make me question how they are being interpreted.

Here’s what I mean: We are a nation of statistics, and statistics are the standard of proof. They are the foundation for evidence-based medicine, which is becoming the standard of care. In each of the medical research study reports I cite below, you’ll find statistics as findings:

Causes of Death are Linked to a Person’s Weight from the New York Times

America May Over Vaccinate from the Science Times

Heart Devices Zapped by Patient Studies from CNN

Sleepless? Maybe It’s Your Statin from Reuters

Here’s the problem I see: in each case, there is a percentage of patients the studied drug or device DID help, and a percentage of patients it did NOT. But the conclusions always seem to suggest that whatever the majority is, will rule. And once the majority rules, the drug or device may disappear for other’s use.

That’s a shame, because if you are the person that drug or device helped, but the majority were NOT helped, then it might be pulled from the market, and you may no longer have access to it. That doesn’t account for the fact that no two human bodies are exactly the same, and we can’t expect each person’s system to react the same way as someone else’s. (This doesn’t even begin to account for the studies that are not objective, or are flawed in their theories, to begin with.)

Medical research is finally beginning to recognize this on a big scale. Studies are showing that female bodies don’t react the same way as men (the symptoms of heart disease are a good example) and that children’s bodies don’t react as “smaller adults.” (the problems with children and adult antidepressants showcase this.) Further, drugs are being prescribed “off label” meaning they were FDA approved for one medical problem but benefits for another medical problem were discovered.

So what’s the point? Evidence-based medicine should continue to be a scientific process with translatable results across the various segments of our population, as it is. But the FDA and those who prescribe drugs need to remember that evidence based medicine is not intended to be a democratic process. We need to allow for individual differences. So just because a drug or device doesn’t help the majority, it doesn’t mean it isn’t a viable answer.

I’ll even go so far as to say that if this recognition might have brought Vioxx to the market differently. If Merck had admitted problems with Vioxx in some populations prior to sending it to the marketplace, those who found relief from the use of Vioxx might still have access to it today.

Here’s the article that illustrates this problem the best:

Study: A Third of Medical Studies are Wrong

It’s a little like the advertising truism, “Fifty percent of advertising works, I just don’t know which fifty percent it is.”

Point made.

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Trisha Torrey
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