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How to Make Sense of Medical Headlines and Studies

How should you respond when you hear or read medical headlines that are either sensational or confusing?

By
Rob Lamberts, MD,
November 25, 2009
Episode #024

Page 3 of 3

The first way this can go wrong is that the person may not belong to the group of people in the study. For example, there are studies that show that a certain blood pressure drug can prevent kidney damage. But it is wrong to think conclude everyone with high blood pressure should be put on that medication. This is an actual class of drugs, and the studies on them were done on diabetics, who are especially prone to kidney problems. You should always read the fine print in the studies before applying them to yourself, and there is always lots of fine print.

The second way people can put too much trust studies is by seeing things in black and white. Even the most convincing data doesn’t apply to 100% of people. People are really complex, and there are always a lot of factors we don’t know about. If a certain drug benefits 99 out of 100 people, who’s to say that you are not that 1 in 100? Someone has to be. Medical practice must always take into account that we are dealing with individuals, not groups. The best we can do is to improve people’s odds; there are no sure things.

How to Avoid Mistakes When Hearing Scientific Studies

So now that I have totally undermined your trust in medical science, let me give you my Quick and Dirty Tips on how to avoid mistakes when hearing scientific studies.

Tip 1: Don’t believe everything you hear – Many people make mistakes when looking at scientific information, so you should always be skeptical.

Tip 2: Be willing to change what you believe – It’s simply the nature of science to change what it says. The biggest mistakes come when we don’t question things.

Tip 3: Find trusted sources – I don’t have time to research everything, so I rely on others to do that for me. You should do the same; but understand that all sources (even your fabulous doctor) should not be trusted 100%

That’s it for today. Next I will get to more specifics about how to listen better.

If you have questions you want answered, send them to housecalldoctor@quickanddirtytips.com. You can find me on Twitter as @housecalldoc and on Facebook under “House Call Doctor.”

Let me remind you that this podcast is for informational purposes only. My goal is to add to your medical knowledge and translate some of the weird medical stuff you hear, so when you do go to your doctor, your visits will be more fruitful. I don’t intend to replace your doctor; he or she is the one you should always consult about your own medical condition.

Catch you next time! Stay Healthy!

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

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