Indian Journal of Dermatology
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IJD SYMPOSIUM: EVIDENCE-BASED DERMATOLOGY
Year : 2014  |  Volume : 59  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 127-133

Strengths and limitations of evidence-based dermatology


Professor of Dermato-Epidemiology, Centre of Evidence-Based Dermatology, Queen's Medical Centre University Hospital NHS Trust, Nottingham, England, United Kingdom

Correspondence Address:
Hywel C Williams
Professor of Dermato-Epidemiology, Centre of Evidence-Based Dermatology, Queen's Medical Centre University Hospital NHS Trust, Nottingham, England
United Kingdom
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/0019-5154.127670

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The need for understanding and reflecting on evidence-based dermatology (EBD) has never been greater given the exponential growth of new external evidence to inform clinical practice. Like any other branch of medicine, dermatologists need to acquire new skills in constructing answerable questions, efficiently searching electronic bibliographic databases, and critically appraising different types of studies. Secondary summaries of evidence in the form of systematic reviews (SR), that is, reviews that are conducted in a systematic, unbiased and explicit manner, reside at the top of the evidence hierarchy, because they are less prone to bias than traditional expert reviews. In addition to providing summaries of the best external evidence, systematic reviews and randomized controlled trials (RCTs) are also powerful ways of identifying research gaps and ultimately setting the agenda of future clinical research in dermatology. But like any paradigm, EBD can have its limitations. Wrong application, misuse and overuse of EBD can have serious consequences. For example, mindless pooling together of data from dissimilar studies in a meta-analysis may render it a form of reductionism that does not make any sense. Similarly, even highly protocolised study designs such as SRs and RCTs are still susceptible to some degree of dishonesty and bias. Over-reliance on randomized controlled trials (RCT) may be inappropriate, as RCTs are not a good source for picking up rare but important adverse effects such as lupus syndrome with minocycline. A common criticism leveled against SRs is that these frequently conclude that there is lack of sufficient evidence to inform current clinical practice, but arguably, such a perception is grounded more on the interpretation of the SRs than anything else. The apparent absence of evidence should not paralyze the dermatologist to adopt a state of therapeutic nihilism. Poor primary data and an SR based on evidence that is not up-to-date are also limitations that can only improve with better primary studies and updated reviews such as those done by the Cochrane Collaboration. Most dermatologists are interested in integrating the best external evidence with the care of individual patients and have been practicing good EBD without realizing it.


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