Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Docs don’t know stats?

Dr. Helen and California Medicine Man tipped me off to this fascinating paper in JAMA. House staff, fellows and faculty with research backgrounds were given a basic skills test on biostatistics and quantitative interpretation of medical research articles. Test performance was surprisingly poor:

The overall mean percentage correct on statistical knowledge and interpretation of results was 41.4% (95% confidence interval [CI], 39.7%-43.3%) vs 71.5% (95% CI, 57.5%-85.5%) for fellows and general medicine faculty with research training (P < .001).

Read Dr. Helen’s and California Medicine Man’s commentaries on the study. I’ll offer a few random observations here.

According to the study author:

In her own teaching, Windish had seen that trainees often read only the abstracts, or "ignored the statistics and skipped right to the results." This practice turns out to be common throughout the medical profession -- and potentially troubling.

Heck, if you think that’s bad, how many docs settle for the New York Times?

You can take the test here. It was eye opening for me. I don’t know as much as I thought I did although I scored substantially better than the residents. It’s been a self teaching exercise for me through the years and I’m still on the learning curve.

This dovetails with the concerns of the No Free Lunchers, who never have given docs much credit for their ability to critically appraise the medical literature. What’s the answer? For me it’s an ongoing self study (there are plenty of free on line resources) of EBM and medical literature analysis as part of one’s commitment to lifelong learning.

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