The Problem of Evidence-Based Medicine: Directions for Social Science

Department of Community Health and Epidemiology, Centre for Clinical Research, Dalhousie University, 4th Floor-5790 University Ave. Halifax, NS, Canada B3H 1V7.
Social Science & Medicine (Impact Factor: 2.89). 10/2004; 59(5):1059-69. DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2003.12.002
Source: PubMed


Evidence-based medicine (EBM) is arguably the most important contemporary initiative committed to reshaping biomedical reason and practice. The move to establish scientific research as a fundamental ground of medical decision making has met with an enthusiastic reception within academic medicine, but has also generated considerable controversy. EBM and the broader forms of evidence-based decision making it has occasioned raise provocative questions about the relation of scientific knowledge to social action across a variety of domains. Social science inquiry about EBM has not yet reached the scale one might expect, given the breadth and significance of the phenomenon. This paper contributes reflections, critique and analysis aimed at helping to build a more robust social science investigation of EBM. The paper begins with a "diagnostics" of the existing social science literature on EBM, emphasizing the possibilities and limitations of its two central organizing analytic perspectives: political economy and humanism. We further explore emerging trends in the literature including a turn to original empirical investigation and the embrace of "newer" theoretical resources such as postmodern critique. We argue for the need to move the social inquiry of EBM beyond concerns about rationalization and the potential erasure of the patient and, to this end, suggest new avenues of exploration. The latter include analysis of clinical epidemiology and clinical reason as the discursive preconditions of EBM, the role of the patient as a site for the production of evidence, and the textually mediated character of EBM.

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Available from: Eric Mykhalovskiy
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