Interesting Sciam article to keep in the mind next time you see your doctor. I saw this in action when looking at sets of pathology slides. Along with the slides, there were notes on what percent of pathologists had given a particular diagnoses based on the slide. The range and diversity of diagnoses was surprisingly large, and the take home message was get a second opinion, and maybe another one. The other take home message was that there is often not a high probability answer, and we need to make tough decisions based on odds and risks. – Ilene
We could accurately say, "Half of what physicians do is wrong," or "Less than 20 percent of what physicians do has solid research to support it." Although these claims sound absurd, they are solidly supported by research that is largely agreed upon by experts. Yet these claims are rarely discussed publicly. It would be political suicide for our public leaders to admit these truths and risk being branded as reactionary or radical. Most Americans wouldn’t believe them anyway. Dozens of stakeholders are continuously jockeying to promote their vested interests, making it difficult for anyone to summarize a complex and nuanced body of research in a way that cuts through the partisan fog and satisfies everyone’s agendas. That, too, is part of the problem.
Questioning the unquestionable
The problem is that physicians don’t know what they’re doing. That is how David Eddy, MD, PhD, a healthcare economist and senior advisor for health policy and management for Kaiser Permanente, put the problem in a Business Week cover story about how much of healthcare delivery is not based on science. Plenty of proof backs up Eddy’s glib-sounding remark.
The plain fact is that many clinical decisions made by physicians appear to be arbitrary, uncertain and variable. Reams of research point to the same finding: physicians looking at the same thing will disagree with each other, or even with themselves, from 10 percent to 50 percent of the time during virtually every aspect of the medical-care process—from taking a medical history to doing a physical examination, reading a laboratory test, performing a pathological diagnosis and recommending a treatment. Physician judgment is highly variable.