Evaluating Medical Studies: Case in Point -- An Irritable Bowel Syndrome Research Report

Medical Author: Jay W. Marks, M.D.

"Most medical information is flawed, but the flaws vary from small, and probably unimportant, to fatal. A major goal of MedicineNet.com is to take medical information, subject it to critical review, and then present only the information that has withstood critical review by expert physicians. We do not just report this information. Our hope is that we also present the information in a manner that is understandable to people who do not have a scientific or medical background." Jay W. Marks, M.D.

I have a neighbor who gives me medical articles from the newspaper if she thinks they might be of interest to me. The other day she gave me an article reporting on a published study that suggested a new cause for irritable bowel syndrome. Because it was published in a newspaper, the article probably had a wide circulation and reached many individuals with irritable bowel syndrome. It is more common now to have patients discuss information they have read in the lay press with their physicians. Therefore, I thought I should be familiar with the article as well as the study itself. I went to the medical library and obtained a copy of the study from the medical journal in which it had been published.

The study was seriously flawed and it made me wonder why a newspaper would report on such a study. Perhaps just as important, the newspaper article did not provide either a critical evaluation of the study or enough information about the study so that the reader could critically evaluate it. Then, I began to wonder if people understood what is involved in a critical evaluation of a medical study. Careful physicians always critically review new information so that they can decide whether or not a study's findings should be used in caring for patients. I decided that it might be useful to describe how I review a medical study.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/1/2014