Close up from portrait of William Hunting

The importance of evidence

Recently I have attended two events:  the Trust organised symposium on Evidence-based Veterinary Medicine (EBVM)* The sceptical vet: eminence or evidence? and the 50th anniversary meeting of the Veterinary History Society (VHS)

The EBVM event was the first time in the UK that such a large group of people, from all sectors of the profession, had got together to discuss the topic and to explore ways in which EBVM principles could be implemented.  You can find more information about the day including  speaker presentations here.

In a poll taken at the beginning and end of the day, which asked what challenges EBVM faced, the lack of high quality evidence and difficulties accessing literature rated highly.

As someone whose job is all about making information available this struck a chord and it was still on my mind during the next two days when I was at the VHS meeting. It was interesting, therefore, to hear of similar challenges that were faced by vets in the past.

Close up from portrait of William Hunting

Close up from portrait of William Hunting in the RCVS Collection

For example  Bruce Vivash Jones talked about William Hunting  (who is one of the lives featured in Bruce’s soon to be published book Twentieth Century veterinary lives) who founded The Veterinary Record  in 1888 in order to make the papers presented at the veterinary societies more widely available.  In the editorial in the first issue Hunting writes:

“Careful observation makes a skilful practitioner but his skill dies with him.  By recording his observations he adds to the knowledge of his profession and assists by his facts in building up the solid edifice of pathological science.”

That seems to me to be a statement of what would now be considered one of the cornerstones of EBVM – that of collecting evidence and contributing it to the knowledge base.

Later in the meeting we heard an account of the Brucellosis eradication scheme of the 1970s and how important the sharing of experience, or evidence, by ‘practitioners in the field’ and integrating it with the research evidence was to it’s success.

In a more light hearted moment VHS members were all chuckling at some of the early images shown in the session on the history of leeching and bloodletting. Whilst these images may have been comical and the thinking behind the practice at the time (which was based on the ancient idea of maintaining bodily fluids or ‘humors’ in balance) is long  discredited there is now evidence of the beneficial use of leeches in human medicine and they are starting to be more widely used in the treatment of animals.

So perhaps the two events were not poles apart after all and what would now be termed EVBM principles have always been pivotal to  the development of veterinary medicine?

* The Centre for Evidence-based Veterinary Medicine  defines EBVM as:

“Evidence-based veterinary medicine is the use of best relevant evidence, in conjunction with clinical expertise, to make the best possible decision about a veterinary patient. In addition, the circumstances of each patient, and the circumstances and values of the owner/carer must also be considered when making an evidence-based decision.

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  1. […] William Hunting and his reasons for starting the journal which he explained in the first editorial before.  In fact I walk past a reminder of this everyday as his famous quote about the importance of […]

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