Background: In evidence-based medicine clinical decisions are based on experimental evidence of treatment efficacy. There are no data on the extent to which general thoracic surgical practice is evidence based.
Methods: A list of 50 thoracic surgical treatments was derived from the operating room log of one surgeon practicing at both a tertiary care cancer center and an affiliated community general hospital. Minor diagnostic procedures and procedures performed as part of experimental protocols were excluded. For each treatment a Medline search was done to obtain the best published evidence supporting the treatment's efficacy. The evidence was then placed in one of three categories developed by the Oxford Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine: (1) evidence from randomized controlled trials (RCTs); (2) convincing non-experimental evidence; and (3) interventions without substantial evidence.
Results: Category 1 evidence supported 7 of 50 thoracic surgical treatments. Category 2 evidence supported 32 treatments, and 11 treatments were without substantial supportive evidence.
Conclusions: The majority of commonly performed general thoracic surgical procedures are supported by nonexperimental evidence. Although there are many obstacles to the performance of surgical randomized controlled trials, the limitations of nonrandomized studies are such that continued emphasis on randomized controlled trials in general thoracic surgery is warranted. This study could serve as a baseline reference for future assessments of evidence-based medicine in general thoracic surgical practice.