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European Journal of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine 2014 October;50(5):593-6


language: English

Why evidence-based medicine is an insufficient approach to physical and rehabilitation medicine - Antithesis

Saraceni V. 1, 2

1 President of the Italian Society of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine (SIMFER); 2 Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine, Sapienza University, Rome, Italy


When philosophers of science demolished the myth of objectivity in the early decades of the 20th century, they undermined the theoretical certainty that a knowledge system comes from the cumulative development of scientific observations: here we find a criticality inherent to evidence-based medicine in relation to its claim of universality and objectivity. EBM relies on quantitative statistical models to define a treatment’s effectiveness, and it has an universal character: the treatment effect is measured against the global characteristics of the general population rather than the individuals. Contemporary cognitive neuroscience takes a naturalized approach to mind and behavior, opening new inroads into investigating consciousness, motor image, bodily awareness, and intention. Common to these issues is the emphasis on the importance the person, with his or her own biology and history, as a unique and unrepeatable entity. Hence, its original aim to protect patients against arbitrary treatment notwithstanding, EBM has become largely inadequate to serve physical and rehabilitation medicine (PRM) owing to the peculiarities of its historical and narrative contents. PRM, because of its unique knowledge base, can be fully considered a science anchored in the basic sciences that underlie rehabilitation procedures. Accordingly, PRM exists within a mutual relationship with physics and biology, from which the biomedical model (well represented by EBM) originates, and is interrelated with other disciplines such as philosophy or psychology, from which the bio-psycho-social model was developed in the 1980s, leading to a comprehensive approach to health and disease. Further critical points in clinical practice include: how to translate evidence into clinical decision making; the inability to generalize experimental evidence because most studies involve selected patient samples. Despite the more than 20 years of EBM, long-established therapeutic approaches lacking scientific evidence still survive in rehabilitation. We must strive for an integrative approach to EBM, which would enable PRM, by virtue of its multifaceted theoretical and methodological approaches to persons with disability, to take the lead in redefining biomedical knowledge and, by applying this understanding, put its science into clinical practice and, perhaps, more generally, into outlining a new “ideal of science”.

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