EBM and Epistemological Imperialism: Narrowing the divide between evidence and illness

07 August 2014

Evidence Based Medicine (EBM) is an approach to clinical practice that relies on the use of systematically reviewed published clinical research of high quality. Whilst there is some speculation as to whether a true consensus definition of EBM exists (Loughlin (2008)(1)), a commonly cited explanation “the conscientious, explicit, and judicious use of current best evidence in making decisions about the care of individual patients’ (Sackett et al (1996)(2)). Most approaches to “EBM” incorporate the use of an evidence hierarchy that presupposes that some forms of evidence are better than others (Guyatt and Rennie (2002)(3)), that meta-analyses and randomised controlled trials (RCTs) will guide a better level of care than expert or local knowledge. Although EBM is pervasive throughout all health literature a number of ethical (Gupta (2009)(4)), epistemological (Loughlin (2008)(1)), and clinical practice critiques (Tobin (2008)(5)) have emerged. Criticisms of EBM on ethical grounds have previously been summarised by Kerridge (2010)(6) and include ; “that the implicit and explicit requirement for RCTs may lead to unnecessary research being done where sufficient evidence already exists;... that methods privileged by EBM, most notably the RCT, are methodologically unable to answer questions related to individual patients;.... that evidence hierarchies are inadequate and misleading;.... that the dataset that EBM draws from is systematically bias[ed],.... that the translation of evidence into practice through clinical practice guidelines and decision aids is both ethically and epistemologically problematic...[and] that evidence is not value-neutral and cannot be easily translated into practice.”