Background: Our primary objective in this study was to measure family physicians' knowledge of the key elements that go into assessing the validity and interpreting the results in three different types of studies: i) a randomized controlled trial (RCT); ii) a study evaluating a diagnostic test; and iii) a systematic review (SR). Our secondary objectives were to determine the relationship between the above skills and age, gender, and type of practice.
Methods: We obtained a random sample of 1000 family physicians in Ontario from the College of Family Physicians of Canada database. These physicians were sent a questionnaire in the mail with follow-up mailings to non-responders at 3 and 8 weeks. The questionnaire was designed to measure knowledge and understanding of the basic concepts of critical appraisal skills. Based on the responses to the questions an Evidence Based Medicine (EBM) Knowledge Score was determined for each physician.
Results: A response rate of 30.2% was achieved. The respondents were younger and more likely to be recent graduates than the population of Ontario Family Physicians as a whole. This was an expected outcome. Just over 50% of respondents were able to answer questions concerning the critical appraisal of methods and the interpretation of results of research articles satisfactorily. The average score on the 12-point EBM Knowledge Scale was 6.4. The younger physicians scored higher than the older physicians, and academic physicians scored higher than community-based physicians. Scores of male and female physicians did not differ.
Conclusions: We have shown that in a population of physicians which is younger than the general population of physicians, about 50% have reasonable knowledge regarding the critical appraisal of the methods and the interpretation of results of a research article. In general, younger physicians were more knowledgeable than were older physicians. EBM principles were felt to be important to the practice of medicine by 95% of respondents.