Volume 23, Number 1, Spring 2012

Response: Clinical Wisdom and Evidence-Based Medicine Are Complementary


Julian De Freitas, Omar S. Haque, Abilash A. Gopal, and Harold J. Bursztajn


The Journal of Clinical Ethics 23, no. 1 (Spring 2012): 28-36.


A long-debated question in the philosophy of health, and contingent disciplines, is the extent to which wise clinical practice (“clinical wisdom”) is, or could be, compatible with empirically validated medicine (“evidence-based medicine”—EBM). Here we respond to Baum-Baicker and Sisti, who not only suggest that these two types of knowledge are divided due to their differing sources, but also that EBM can sometimes even hurt wise clinical practice. We argue that the distinction between EBM and clinical wisdom is poorly defined, unsupported by the methodology employed, and ultimately incorrect; crucial differences exist, we argue, not in the source of a particular piece of clinical knowledge, but in its dependability. In light of this subtle but fundamental revision, we explain how clinical wisdom and EBM are—by necessity—complementary, rather than in conflict. We elaborate on how recognizing this relationship can have far-reaching implications for the domains of clinical practice, medical education, and health policy.


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