Centre sifts evidence on health

March 24, 1995

A controversial approach to providing research and information back-up for health professionals is the focus of a centre opened in Oxford this week.

"Evidence-based medicine" is an idea imported from North America which advocates appraisal of the effectiveness of different drugs and treatments through randomised trials on patients. Growing support for the approach was the subject of a heated debate in the House of Lords last month.

Champions of the movement see it as a way of improving standards in healthcare by testing the effectiveness of treatment currently in use against new methods and medicines. But critics suggest it is disrespectful of authority and experience in the field.

The centre, which has been set up by Oxford University in collaboration with the local hospitals trust and regional health authority, the Oxford Institute of Health Sciences and the NHS research development programme, will aim to promote the teaching, learning, practice and evaluation of evidence-based medicine throughout the United Kingdom.

It will also establish a graduate programme to train researchers to perform randomised trials and systematic reviews of medicines and treatment, as well as supporting research programmes to generate the information required for the practice of evidence-based health care.

David Sackett, director of the new centre and professor of clinical epidemiology at the university, said although evidence-based medicine was a relatively new concept in Europe, it was gaining ground as potentially harmful effects of drugs and treatments as well as benefits were uncovered by trials on patients.

"We know that the advice we receive from senior clinicians is often exactly right and very helpful, but we also know that on occasion some treatments suggested and used in the past have been either useless or even harmful," he said.

The centre will release information on its findings and observations through a journal, and plans to concentrate its first set of reviews on the treatment of heart disease, schizophrenia and malaria.

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