OBJECTIVE: Previous studies have shown that most medical inpatients receive treatment supported by strong evidence (evidence-based treatment), but they have not assessed whether and how physicians actually use evidence when making their treatment decisions. We investigated whether physicians would change inpatient treatment if presented with the results of a literature search.
DESIGN: Before-after study.
SETTING: Large public teaching hospital.
PARTICIPANTS: Random sample of 146 inpatients cared for by 33 internal medicine attending physicians.
INTERVENTIONS: After physicians committed to a specific diagnosis and treatment plan, investigators performed standardized literature searches and provided the search results to the attending physicians.
MEASUREMENTS AND MAIN RESULTS: The primary study outcome was the number of patients whose attending physicians would change treatment due to the literature searches. These changes were evaluated by blinded peer review. A secondary outcome was the proportion of patients who received evidence-based treatment before and after the literature searches. Attending physicians changed treatment for 23 (18%) of 130 eligible patients (95% confidence interval, 12% to 24%) as a result of the literature searches. Overall, 86% of patients (112 of 130) received evidence-based treatments before the searches and 87% (113 of 130) after the searches. Changes were not related to whether patients were receiving evidence-based treatment before the search (P = .6). Panels of peer reviewers judged the quality of patient care as improved or maintained for 18 (78%) of the 23 patients with treatment changes.
CONCLUSIONS: Searching the literature could improve the treatment of many medical inpatients, including those already receiving evidence-based treatment.