Some old medicines are tweaked to make them better. Others are simply changed because the patent is about to expire on an old version, and drug manufacturers want to market the product as “new.”
“Patients need to look at the data for themselves because the doctor who suggests a new drug has almost certainly been lobbied by the drug company to prescribe it—and given free samples to pass out—that’s the way the system works,” says Kay Dickersin, M.A., Ph.D., director of the U.S. Cochrane Center and the Center for Clinical Trials at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
According to Dr. Dickersin, making drug decisions based on solid research evidence starts with three simple questions: 1) Is the “old” drug helping my problem? 2) Is it free of annoying side effects? 3) Is it working quickly or long enough?
When a drug falls short, point your browser to FDA.gov, a repository of safety data—some on efficacy—on all FDA-approved medicines. To research off-label (non-approved) uses or how one drug stacks up against another, turn to Cochrane Reviews.
The international collaboration, established in 1993, prepares and updates systematic reviews of clinical trial data based on head-to-head comparisons—active treatment versus active treatment.
“The Cochrane Collaboration puts all the evidence about what works in one place,” explains Dr. Dickersin. She describes it as one-stop shopping for 5000+ summaries of up-to-date, high-quality evidence on a particular drug or condition. Viewing the podcasts and reviews is free. And if you need to dig deeper, the Cochrane Library holds additional data. “We really do want to help,” says Dr. Dickersin.
Free online courses offered by the U.S. Cochrane Center help healthcare consumers better understand evidence-based healthcare.
“Patient values and opinions are important when making treatment decisions. But providing healthcare without research evidence is no way to practice medicine,” advises Dr. Dickersin.