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Primary Care Decisions Often Made Without Research to Back Them

Paul Efland/UGA

After analyzing 721 topics, a new study from the University of Georgia shows that only 18 percent of clinical decisions and practices were based on high quality, patient-oriented evidence.

This study shows that primary care providers may have a difficult time finding sufficient evidence to back the decisions they make on a day-to-day basis. Mark Ebell, epidemiology professor at UGA's College of Public Health and lead author of the study, explained that much of primary health care decisions are based on low-level evidence.

“A lot of the decisions we make, often there is pretty good evidence,” Ebell said. “But, there are also a lot of common problems in primary care for which there’s relatively little evidence.”

One of the reasons why primary care decisions being are based on little to no research is the lack of research allocated for primary care settings. Ebell explains that many of the conditions seen in primary care practice do not get the same research attention as specialized conditions.

“It gets less funding than many other areas,” Ebell said. “One of the issues is that there’s no institute or center at NIH that’s really dedicated to primary care and whole person care and following patients longitudinally with these problems.”

Research for primary health care settings is important because most outpatient visits to a physician are with a primary care physician. Ebell explained that many should be aware of this issue to ensure they are getting the right treatment.

“When you go see a doctor, you want to make sure you get the right care,” Ebell said. “You don’t want to get too little care. You don’t want someone who misses something or doesn’t pay attention or doesn’t give you a treatment that might help you. But, at the same time, you don’t want too much care either.”

Professor Ebell also added that if you are making an important healthcare decision, you can benefit from asking your doctor about the evidence backing their medical decision.

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