PLoS Medicine: Why Most Clinical Research Is Not Useful

‘There are many millions of papers of clinical research — approximately 1 million papers from clinical trials have been published to date, along with tens of thousands of systematic reviews — but most of them are not useful.’ This is the central message of an essay by John Ioannidis in the open-access journal PLoS Medicine. Below are two extracts, citation, and abstract. The full text is here:

http://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1002049

“Useful clinical research” means that it can lead to a favorable change in decision making (when changes in benefits, harms, cost, and any other impact are considered) either by itself or when integrated with other studies and evidence in systematic reviews, meta-analyses, decision analyses, and guidelines.’

‘Overall, not only are most research findings false, but, furthermore, most of the true findings are not useful. Medical interventions should and can result in huge human benefit. It makes no sense to perform clinical research without ensuring clinical utility. Reform and improvement are overdue.’

CITATION: Ioannidis JPA (2016) Why Most Clinical Research Is Not Useful. PLoS Med 13(6): e1002049. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1002049

Published: June 21, 2016

SUMMARY POINTS

– Blue-sky research cannot be easily judged on the basis of practical impact, but clinical research is different and should be useful. It should make a difference for health and disease outcomes or should be undertaken with that as a realistic prospect.

– Many of the features that make clinical research useful can be identified, including those relating to problem base, context placement, information gain, pragmatism, patient centeredness, value for money, feasibility, and transparency.

– Many studies, even in the major general medical journals, do not satisfy these features, and very few studies satisfy most or all of them. Most clinical research therefore fails to be useful not because of its findings but because of its design.

– The forces driving the production and dissemination of nonuseful clinical research are largely identifiable and modifiable.

– Reform is needed. Altering our approach could easily produce more clinical research that is useful, at the same or even at a massively reduced cost.

Best wishes, Neil

Let’s build a future where people are no longer dying for lack of healthcare knowledge – Join HIFA: www.hifa2015.org  

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