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How Reliable is Medical Literature?

June 8, 2017

Some people are skeptical when I tell them that there’s a problem with the vast database of medical information out there. Particularly lacking are reliable articles appearing in medical literature and purporting to be based on sound science.  Too often I have seen cases where drug manufacturers have “ghost written” articles for a doctor’s signature, or where authors advocating for a product have omitted important adverse event information, for example.

But, it can’t really be that bad, people say.

Don’t take my word for it.

Check out the latest from the JAMA Internal Medicine. Its February 10, 2015 issue published a study showing that sixty clinical trials examined contained serious violations that called into question whether the information was reliable. But the journals published the studies anyway.

The problems were not trivial; they included:

• 22 trials with falsified information.
• 14 trials where researchers failed to report adverse events.
• 42 trials with violations of the trial’s protocols.
• 35 trials with record-keeping errors.
• 30 trials in which researchers failed to protect patient safety or acquire informed consent.

How are doctors supposed to make good clinical decisions when medical journals contain misleading information?

With all the discussion going on about free flow of information, wouldn’t it be nice if we were really talking about the free flow of accurate and reliable information?