Understanding medical studies can help you stay up to date on medical advances related to a condition you or a loved one has. It can be tough to know how important a medical study might really be. Asking yourself the following questions as you learn about a medical study can help:
Q: Where was the study published?
Typically, physicians pay the most attention to studies published in research journals that have been peer-reviewed - that is, they have been vetted by experts in the field who are peers of the researchers who conducted and wrote the study.
Q: Who conducted the study?
Large clinical studies conducted by unbiased university or government researchers, especially those from prestigious academic medical institutions or science-based government organizations tend to be more highly regarded in the medical community than studies conducted by researchers representing an organization with a vested interest in the outcome of the study.
Q: What population of people participated in the study?
Many studies focus on a very specific population of people to determine outcome. It is important to determine the general characteristics of the study participants, as the study results may not be the best indicator for how a medication or device may work for you.
Q: What were the protocols of the study?
Generally speaking, studies have more credibility in the medical community if they are randomized (participants with certain characteristics are spread out among groups), based on large and diverse populations of participants, have carefully established controls, and are blinded to participants, researchers or both. (Blinded means that whether a participant is receiving a treatment or is in the baseline [control] group is obscured from the participant and perhaps the researcher.)
Q: Who sponsored the trial?
Clinical trials are sponsored or funded by a variety of organizations or individuals such as physicians, medical institutions, foundations, voluntary groups and medical device or pharmaceutical companies, in addition to federal agencies. Federally sponsored trials tend to carry the most weight due to their large size and lack of vested interest in the result.
Q: What does my doctor think?
If you think a new study may have relevance for your health or the health of a loved one, ask your doctor about it - your personal physician is the best person to help you sort out the issues.