Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Evolution Based Medicine: A Philosophical Framework for Understanding Why Things Don't Work

An afternoon session at the ATS meeting this year about "de-adoption" of therapies which have been shown to be ineffective was very thought provoking and the contrasts between it and the morning session on ARDS are nothing less than ironic.   As I described in the prior post about the baby in the bathwater, physicians seem to have a hard time de-adopting therapies.  Ask your colleagues at the next division conference if you should abandon hypothermia after cardiac arrest and rather just treat fever based on the TTM trial and the recent pediatric trial, and see what the response is.  Or, suggest that hyperglycemia (at any level in non-diabetic patients) in the ICU be observed rather than treated.  Or float the idea to your surgical colleagues that antibiotics be curtailed after four days in complicated intraabdominal infection, and see how quickly you are ushered out of the SICU.  Tell your dietition that you're going to begin intentionally underfeeding patients, or not feeding them at all and see what s/he say(s).  Propose that you discard sepsis resuscitation bundles, etc.  We have a hard time de-adopting.  We want to take what we have learned about physiology and pharmacology and apply it, to usurp control of and modify biological processes that we think we understand. We (especially in critical care) are interventionists at heart.

The irony occurred at ATS because in the morning session, we were told that there is incontrovertible (uncontroverted may have been a better word) evidence for the efficacy of prone positioning in ARDS (interestingly, one of the only putative therapies for ARDS that the ARDSnet investigators never trialed), and it was strongly suggested that we begin using esophageal manometry to titrate PEEP in ARDS.  So, in the morning, we are admonished to adopt, and in the afternoon we are chided to de-adopt a host of therapies.  Is this the inevitable cycle in critical care and medical therapeutics?  A headlong rush to adopt, then an uphill battle to de-adopt?