Show me the evidence, or take away the medicine.

At the height (depth, maybe?) of my illness, I would have been happy to try almost any treatment out there, so desperate was I to feel better. Even at that point, however, there were some things that I found simply beyond the pale. Why? Because there is no real evidence that they work.

I’ll name some for you: Homeopathy, Chiropractic, Scientology (yes, I’m saying it), Herbal Medicine, Chinese Medicine, Reiki, Spiritual Healing… shall I carry on? All of these branches of medicine quackery claim to be able to treat mental illness. To the best of my knowledge, however, none of them can produce any scientific evidence to show that they actually work. So not for me, please.

Let’s not limit this to mental health, though. It being winter here in the UK there’s a fair chance you’ve had a cold recently. What did you take for it? Lemsip? Beechams? All of the evidence says you’d have got better just as quickly if you’d gone for the 19p box of paracetamol instead. You’d have saved a lot of money as well.

What I’m getting at here is that just because one person, or ever a whole bunch of people, thinks that something makes them feel better doesn’t mean that it really works. That’s where science comes in; using evidence-based trials to work out what does and doesn’t work. These trials also, just as importantly, allow doctors to work out what is and isn’t safe and make sure that they don’t inadvertently kill patients instead of curing them.

By sticking to using evidence-based medicine, we can:

  • save money: for ourselves (see the cold example above) and for the NHS and health services as a whole;
  • get better, faster;
  • ensure that doctors and hospitals are free to deal with genuine emergencies rather than people who haven’t taken the right medicine when they needed it;
  • help health professionals and researchers by adding to the continued growth fo evidence for new and existing medicines.

So from now on here’s my rule, and I’d urge you to adopt it too. If you can’t show me that your treatment works, I won’t use it. You don’t have to be able to tell me how it works, or even why, but if you can’t prove to me that it does, take it away and come back when you’ve got a better idea.

Find out more…

  • If you want to know more about evidence-based medicine and evidence-based practice in general, I urge you to read the excellent Bad Science blog written by Dr. Ben Goldacre.

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