Blog Post 8: Ways of Knowing

Healthcare has undergone a renaissance in the past few decades. Gone are the anecdotal remedies of the witch doctors and here to stay is the evidenced based practice approach to care… sort of. When considering the education of future health care workers it is important to focus on what constitutes knowing. Throughout this post we will explore the traditional way of knowing something and how it contrasts with the scientific approach.

“This always works for me. In my experience the best approach is… Every time I do this, that happens”

These are the catch phrases of anecdotal evidence. We as a species have developed to place a lot of value in our perceived connection between two things. In an article by Michael Shermer for Scientific American this is explained by the fact that having a perceived positive correlation between two things is rarely harmful. However in an age of research studies and new interventions it is not only important but necessary for us to change the way we think.

By focusing on clinical trials and blind studies we as care providers and consumers of health care can ensure we are utilizing treatments that have shown the greatest outcomes for the most people. In a scientific approach to knowing, the goal is to overcome our programming of accepting correlation as causation and to look at what actually causes something to happen. This is typically accomplished through blind research studies. This means that the researcher does not know which group of participants has the intervention being researched applied and which group has the control being applied. In a medication trial this would mean two groups of participants, one group has the current best medication treatment while the other has the new perceived better medication.

After the trial period the data and outcomes are collected by the researcher and they can then state which of the two groups had better outcomes. Only after the outcomes have been calculated does the researcher learn which group had the new medication. In this way we prevent our own personal bias from influencing the results, it also prevents researchers from leaving out results in order to make the numbers look better for their new approach.

By working with students and showcasing the importance of scientific evidence we can help them to access the most appropriate research when forming their own opinion about care plans. Further we can work with patients and the public to help everyone become more comfortable with scientific thinking.

Resources

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-anecdotal-evidence-can-undermine-scientific-results/

2 thoughts on “Blog Post 8: Ways of Knowing

  1. Hi Gregory,
    Your blog really hits home for me – the importance of data in healthcare is so powerful. It is important for industry professionals to know the implications of scientific data on making clinical and business decisions. As technology rapidly changes in the healthcare industries, it is up to the consumer to utilize critical thinking skills about how these changes will influence practice workflows and treatment outcomes. It is up to us to provide students with a foundation to understand and interpret statistics and research findings to navigate through industry changes in clinical, laboratory, and practice management topics. I have discussed the same topic with dental students and the notion that ‘without data, you are just another person with an opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Dimitra,
      We have a standard expression in my experiences with health care that things are “common sense”. What I tend to remind colleagues about is that in fact the knowledge they deem “common sense” is medical common sense. The average person has not spent their adult life studying medicine and looking at randomized control studies to guide their decision making. I wonder if more emphasis on learning to read scientific papers should be placed in high school in order to best prepare everyone to understand the information guiding decision making.

      Liked by 1 person

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