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You are caring for a 68 year old man who has hypertension (intermittently controlled) with a remote gastrointestinal bleed and non-valvular atrial fibrillation (NVAF) for 3 months, and an enlarged left atrium (so cardioversion is unlikely). The patient has no history of stroke or transient ischaemic attack. His father experienced a debilitating stroke several years ago and when he learns that his atrial fibrillation places him at higher risk for a stroke, he is visibly distressed.
The concepts of evidence-based medicine are evolving as limitations of early models are addressed. In this editorial, we present a new model for evidence-based clinical decision making based on patients' circumstances, patients' preferences and actions, and best research evidence, with a central role for clinical expertise to integrate these components.
Evidence-based clinical practice in evolution
Traditionally, clinicians have been credited with clinical acumen according to their skills in making a diagnosis and prescribing or administering a treatment. The advent of major investments in biomedical research, leading to new and better tests and treatments, has spurred the development of critical appraisal of the medical literature and evidence-based medicine,1 and application of current best evidence from healthcare research is now an expected adjunct to clinical acumen.
Initially, evidence-based medicine focused mainly on determining the best research evidence relevant to a clinical problem or decision and applying that evidence to resolve the issue. This early formulation de-emphasised traditional determinants of clinical decisions, including physiological rationale and individual clinical experience. Subsequent versions of evidence-based decision making have emphasised that research evidence alone is not an adequate guide to action. Rather, clinicians must apply their expertise to assess the patient's problem and must also incorporate the research evidence and the patient's preferences or values before making a management recommendation (figure 1).2