Basic observational research provides the information that doctors need to diagnose and treat patients appropriately, writes neurologist Professor Peter Rothwell. But in the field of neurology alone, many examples exist where a lack of basic data is the main barrier for effective treatment in routine practice.
For instance, little is known about the reliability of diagnosing stroke and, until very recently, no reliable data existed on the early risk of stroke in certain patients. Countless patients have suffered as a result, yet much of this research is easy and relatively cheap to do, so why has it not been done, he asks?
He calls into question whether medical academia, in its current form, is properly fit for purpose.
He believes that medical academia must improve its performance or, less preferably, be forced by politicians to prioritise appropriately. The recent emphasis on the development of clinical research is welcome, he says, but there are potential pitfalls.
Greatest of these is the tendency for clinical research to be defined too narrowly, with observational research necessary for effective clinical practice continuing to be neglected, he concludes.