So called "evidence based medicine" has done more to harm medicine than anything else I can recall during my 30 year tenure in medicine. Doctors have become technicians, rather than practitioners following in the traditions of healers who have come before.
When I was in college, science as we know it, existed within a framework-a caste system-a pecking order. Mathematics was considered the purest science: provable with irrefutable equations. Physics took second place. It described fundamental properties of the world/universe around us, supported by mathematical equations. Chemistry followed next and then biology. The order of descent was based on how hard, irrefutable and provable the conclusions were. All science is validated by the scientific method: a theory or hypothesis is proved by well designed experiments which can be replicated in a variety of places, times and circumstances.
When I entered medicine in the 1980s, medicine was more than a job or ordinary profession. It was a commitment, a lofty avocation, a calling of sorts. (at least according to my father)--I agree. Medicine was a healing art, in the tradition of the many who had preceded us, predicated on science. It was not a science.
Sometime around 1995 the term "evidence based medicine" insinuated itself, increasingly into the verbiage of the profession. I suspect it was in large part driven by managed care companies, looking to control costs, and then, high powered medical institutions jumped onto the band-wagon, in the belief that medicine was really science, not art: throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
Properly designed controlled medical studies were carefully analyzed by statisticians. Sometimes multiple studies were combined and analyzed-- meta-analysis. Problem. Only a few potential questions were addressed. Most studies were funded, at least partly, by big Pharma, with pre-existing agendas, undoubtedly tied to feathering the pockets of CEOs and stock holders (follow the money). Medical research, by its very nature, is simplistic. In truth, it is impossible to do proper science when it comes to studying something as complicated as people. Newer studies replace and refute older ones on a regular basis. It is impossible to control the variables, many of which are unknown, poorly understood or yet to be discovered. If it takes a room of statisticians, as is frequently the case, to prove a point, it should give one pause.
The single biggest problem: data obtained from a single study is extrapolated widely, to support wide ranging conclusions, based on faulty logic superimposed on bad science.
To makes things worse, evidence, as it were, is now broken down into levels/categories-- again, a pecking order. Most in the profession have accepted this new and improved medicine without giving its precepts a second thought.
First we have placebo controlled, double blinded, randomized studies, the results of which are statistically validated and replicated in subsequent studies.
Then we have non blinded controlled studies, non-controlled studies, head to head studies, published studies, clinical reports published in journals and lastly recommendations of a body of experts--my perennial favorite.
How can opinion be science?
So, let us get back to Lyme, the subject of this blog. The Klemper, Krupp and Fallon studies, are in my mind, weak science at best. They also all have somewhat different study designs and conclusions. The limitations of these studies has been discussed in detail elsewhere. The "experts" put these findings together and give us a final product: evidence based guidelines.
The better science is what physicians seem to dismiss and ignore: test tube science and other forms of "basic" science. Borrelia has been shown to convert from spirochete to cyst forms in the laboratory and back the other way. Spirochetes have been shown to exist as L-forms. Research in immunology support beliefs that infected hosts cannot be sterilized of Lyme. Human and animal models have proved that Lyme persists in the face of massive doses of antibiotics. This sort of science can control the variables. It can be replicated in multiple settings over time. The same cannot be said for clinical studies, the type of science clinical doctors rely upon, which are pooled into meta-analyses, looking for statistically significant conclusions. I could go on, write a book about this subject, with foot notes and citations. Not here.
This post is a about "evidence based medicine." In my opinion, this is a sham, a fraud. Perhaps it works for HMO physicians who are required to see patients in 6 minutes: cookbook medicine. It is not a useful tool for thoughtful, curious physicians, intent on practicing their art to the best of their ability. Patients are all different as are all physicians. Diseases are nuanced and complex.
The practice of medicine is a mosaic of science, judgment, clinical experience and yes-intuition, a clinical nose, the product of years of practice.
So yes, this dumbed down version of medicine has now framed the basis for the national debate about lower cost, higher quality medicine. According to national political "experts", electronic medical records and evidenced based medicine (the mantra), will solve systemic problems with our health care system.
Who decides which evidence we use? Ivory tower physicians. Iconic figures. The Gary Wormsers of the world. Doctors for the most part, are reassured by practice guidelines: complex decisions have already been decided for them. A few other physicians, the outliers, and their demanding-annoying patients, just won't go away. It is no wonder that many readers shudder when the hear the words: evidence based medicine.
Every pre-med student is ultimately asked the question: why do you want to become a doctor. Inevitably, they all give the same, banal answer: I want to help people.
For those of us who want to be included amongst healers who use science, the state of the art as it exists at any particular point in time, as a basis, but only a starting point for the practice of their art: the art of healing; this answer turns out, in the final analysis, to not be so banal after all.
Evidence based medicine? Thumbs down.