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One of the most-quoted eye-opening quotes in “Doc Tom” Ferguson’s e-Patient White Paper is this:

As Donald Lindberg, director of the National Library of Medicine, explains, “If I read and memorized two medical journal articles every night, by the end of a year I’d be 400 years behind.”

It’s in a section titled “Clinicians can no longer go it alone.” It makes the point that it’s entirely reasonable for engaged, informed e-patients to extend the reach of their clinicians, by seeking all the information they can find.

I just got a great update to that statistic. I’m at the annual ABIM Foundation Forum, and Maureen Bisognano (president of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement) just showed this:

Clinical trials per year, 1950-2007 (Bastian, Chalmers et al, PLoS One)

Clinical trials per year, 1950-2007 (Bastian, Chalmers et al, PLoS One)


27,000 published clinical trials per year. Can anyone possibly keep up with it, by relying only on what’s in their memory?

Then there are “case reports” etc – the many other published reports that people might find, to inform the best decisions:

Case Reports etc, by year

Case Reports etc, by year

Look at that: over 150,000 a year. 3,000 a week.

Here’s the epiphany that people need to understand, to let patients help:

It’s no insult to a clinician if a patient has seen evidence that the clinician hasn’t. There’s too much for anyone to know everything.

In a participatory, collegial, partner relationship, each partner welcomes information that the other has dug up.

Citation: Bastian H, Glasziou P, Chalmers I (2010) Seventy-Five Trials and Eleven Systematic Reviews a Day: How Will We Ever Keep Up? PLoS Med 7(9): e1000326. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000326  Link: