During his address Thursday, NASS President F. Todd Wetzel, MD, told attendees that spine care providers must get back to using effective critical thinking skills if they are to offer the best care to their patients.
Dr. Wetzel, who is Vice Chair of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University, Philadelphia, said it’s easy to abandon critical thinking and rely on opinions from mentors or other respected authorities. It’s easy to become confused by the large, and ever growing, volume of scientific literature — leaving physicians without a clear treatment plan.
The complexity and ongoing growth of data make it difficult for clinicians to offer the best possible care, because it becomes daunting to digest the evidence and determine what’s true from what’s false.
Difficult? Yes. Impossible? Not so, says Dr. Wetzel.
During his lecture, Dr. Wetzel pulled from his love of evolutionary biology to address several questions aimed at getting the audience to think critically. First, he shared some evolutionary human biology to frame the discussion and answer the question of who humans are and why they have low back pain.
He then asked why the profession hasn’t been able to figure out how to effectively treat low back pain.
“With all this technology, with all these systems we have for analysis, why haven’t we figured out how to treat it?” he asked. “I would submit to you that it’s because we’ve moved away from the scientific method.”
Finally, he asked if, given the current diagnosis and treatment paradigms, can the profession develop a rational strategy to analyze data and create a sound plan?
The key to this, Dr. Wetzel said, is critical thinking, so he took the audience through some examples of fallacies in scientific studies and offered tools for examining literature logically.
“We need to be able to access and filter information to determine how valuable it is to us as spine care providers,” he said. “Most of us with scientific backgrounds think logically, but when reading huge volumes of literature it’s easy to get confused. You can read something well-constructed that seems to make sense, but still have a nagging suspicion that something is wrong.”
To help clinicians sniff out what doesn’t add up, Dr. Wetzel reviewed both formal and informal principals of logic using examples from medicine to highlight logical fallacies.
Dr. Wetzel concluded his talk by thanking the NASS membership and staff for the opportunity to serve as president of the society.
“It has been an honor that will never be equaled and a privilege that will never be surpassed,” he said.