What’s Up, Doc?

Sometimes it seems you can’t go more than a few weeks without hearing about a medical organization changing recommendations about a particular health screening regimen or a tried-and-true treatment. From mammograms to prostate exams—not to mention the endless advice on which new or old medicines to take or avoid—it happens in every area of health and medicine. Just this week, two organizations released new advice on how often women should be screened for cervical cancer.

Each time a standard recommendation changes, I can expect a flurry of questions from my patients. The most common question is “Why should I switch from doing something that I know (eg, get a Pap test every year) to something that’s so different (eg, wait three to five years between cervical screenings)?” The answer will vary depending on the specific test or the recommendations involved, but it often comes down to the same concept: evidence-based medicine.

Evidence-based medicine combines research findings on how a disease works with real-life data and feedback on how that disease—and patients—respond to certain prevention and treatment strategies. This evidence provides a more complete picture of how a disease is best handled. Medical organizations like ACOG use it to develop practice recommendations and physicians rely on it as the foundation for how we treat patients.

Because new information is always being discovered, health recommendations need to be routinely updated. This is all part of the process of providing the patient with the best, most effective, and up-to-date care available.

If news of new recommendations leaves you feeling confused or frustrated, talk to your doctor.  He or she can explain the changes. And because every guideline does not apply to every patient, only you and your doctor can determine what impact, if any, it will have on you. It’s always ok to ask: “What’s up doc?”