Friday, 19 April 2013

Tennis elbow treatment: perception versus reality

For decades, surgeons have been reporting good results with surgery for tennis elbow. In a classic article from 1961, the late, great British surgeon RS Garden, reported that the results of surgery for tennis elbow were such that “no patient failed to benefit in some way from the operation”. Fifty years later in a review of 80 patients undergoing surgery for tennis elbow, 78 were reported to have improved. There are plenty of non-surgical treatments out there for tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis) - all of them are reported as having good results, yet none of them are any better than placebo. Why then, did it take until now for a randomised trial to be done comparing real surgery with sham surgery?

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Book Review: The Truth About Drug Companies

Title: The truth about drug companies: how they deceive us and what to do about it (2004)
Author: Marcia Angell
Publisher: Random House, New York

Marcia Angell was an editor for a leading medical journal (the New England Journal of Medicine) from 1979 to 2000, and she is an outspoken critic of big pharma. In this book, she spells out why, and makes a compelling case for being sceptical about the medical information we receive, whether it be from journals, companies, doctors or interest groups. The extent to which that information is biased towards pharmaceutical companies (and their products) remains underestimated.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Trends, forests and trees

How many times have you seen the results of a new way of doing things, where the results after the introduction were shown to be better than they were before? These ‘before-and-after’ studies almost always show an improvement, but does that mean that the improvement was caused by the intervention? Given the example I will show you below, you should conclude that our highly evolved tendency to read cause-and-effect into any association often runs counter to reality.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Book review: The wisdom of the body

Title: The wisdom of the body (1932, 1939)
Author: Walter B Cannon
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company, New York

This book is old, but its subject and its message still hold. The book is about homeostasis: how the body adapts to keep things in equilibrium, despite forces that attempt to change the balance. This provides an important lesson to those who attempt to influence the balance of anything in the human body: the body will adapt, making the intervention less effective. A lesson that many do not learn.