What do we mean by 'scientific evidence' MINUTES ON...
Byline: DR MIRIAM STOPPARD
I'm always banging on about this so I thought I'd explain why it's important. The only way to find out whether a health treatment works and is safe is to test it.
What do we mean when we say a health treatment 'works'? It means that in scientific tests the treatment has been shown to perform well, i.e. better than a placebo or better than other treatments currently in use.
How can we really judge whether a treatment is safe, and is likely to work? The answer lies with the results of fair tests: evidence. Without evidence, we risk choosing treatments that don't work, or, even worse, that can do us serious harm.
The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) uses evidence when it draws up guidance for the NHS on use of treatments and care of patients.
Currently, NICE recommends the use of a complementary and alternative treatment in a limited number of instances, including: Alexander Technique for Parkinson's disease; ginger and acupressure for reducing morning sickness and acupuncture and manual therapy, including spinal manipulation, spinal mobilisation and massage for persistent low back pain.
The best way to produce good evidence on a health treatment is to conduct a test. Here, the medicine or treatment is compared to another treatment or placebo.
Tests are made as fair as possible meaning that the results of the test will reflect, as far as possible, the truth about the medicine or treatment, and won't be influenced by other factors.
Scientists often call these tests 'clinical trials'. The results of tests can provide: Results that show that the medicine or treatment does work, and is safe. This is called positive evidence.
Results that show that the medicine doesn't work, or is unsafe. This is called negative evidence.