With some frequency adult children search for reliable medical information after hearing research reported on the news. Or perhaps an aging parent or spouse is ill, a physician recommends a new therapy or treatment, and a family wants to learn more as they consider the recommendation.
When any of us seek to learn more, it’s second nature to try to increase our understanding by consulting electronic articles and other resources — either summary articles in newspapers or original reports in medical journals — and asking the question, “How might this medical research help me?”
The problem is, sorting through research articles and reports often yields mixed results. One piece of research may report positive results and beneficial patient outcomes while another might report just the opposite with less desirable results — on the same topic. How does one decide what research to consider seriously?
Recently I discovered that an office of the U.S. Department of Human Services, the Federal Occupational Health Program (FOH), features a helpful list of questions on its website. These questions aim to help people ask the right questions in reaching a bigger picture of what research to take seriously. I’ve listed these basic and helpful questions below. Visit the FOH site to read detailed explanations that can help anyone evaluate the quality and reliability of a research report.
- How many people were in the study?
- Has the study been published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal?
- Were humans the subjects of the study?
- How long a period did the study cover?
- Who sponsored the research?
- How long was the effect?
I’ve learned to ask and find answers to these questions as soon as I identify a research report that interests me, making sure the answers indicate quality.