Reality of evidence-based practice in palliative care.
Visser C., Hadley G., Wee B.
There has been a paradigm shift in medicine away from tradition, anecdote and theoretical reasoning from the basic sciences towards evidence-based medicine (EBM). In palliative care however, statistically significant benefits may be marginal and may not be related to clinical meaningfulness. The typical treatment vs. placebo comparison necessitated by 'gold standard' randomised controlled trials (RCTs) is not necessarily applicable. The complex multimorbidity of end of life care involves considerations of the patient's physical, psychological, social and spiritual needs. In addition, the field of palliative care covers a heterogeneous group of chronic and incurable diseases no longer limited to cancer. Adequate sample sizes can be difficult to achieve, reducing the power of studies and high attrition rates can result in inadequate follow up periods. This review uses examples of the management of cancer-related fatigue and death rattle (noisy breathing) to demonstrate the current state of EBM in palliative care. The future of EBM in palliative care needs to be as diverse as the patients who ultimately derive benefit. Non-RCT methodologies of equivalent quality, validity and size conducted by collaborative research networks using a 'mixed methods approach' are likely to pose the correct clinical questions and derive evidence-based yet clinically relevant outcomes.