Innovations in medical practice are critical to the advancement of medicine. Good clinicians constantly adapt and modify their clinical approaches in ways they believe will benefit patients. Innovative practice frequently is approached very differently from formal research, which is governed by distinct ethical and regulatory frameworks. Although opinions differ on the distinction between research and innovative practice, the production of generalizable knowledge is one defining characteristic of research. Physicians considering innovative practice must disclose to patients the purpose, benefits, and risks of the proposed treatment, including risks not quantified but plausible. They should attempt an innovative procedure only when familiar with and skilled in its basic components. A clinician should share results, positive or negative, with colleagues and, when feasible, teach successful techniques and procedures to other physicians. Practitioners should be wary of adopting innovative procedures or diagnostic tests on the basis of promotions and marketing when the value of the procedures or tests has not been proved. A practitioner should move an innovative practice into formal research if the innovation represents a significant departure from standard practice, if the innovation carries unknown or potentially significant risks, or if the practitioner's goal is to use data from the innovation to produce generalizable knowledge. If there is any question whether innovative practices should be formalized as research, clinicians should seek advice from the relevant institutional review board.