Tuesday Recommendation: The Cochrane Collaboration

Our Tuesday Recommendations series of blog posts aims to tell you about which sources we think are reliable, and how best to use them.

 

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What is the Cochrane Collaboration?

Cochrane is a global independent network of researchers, professionals, patients, carers and people interested in health.

They are not-for-profit, multi-national, and are widely regarded as one of the most reliable sources of healthcare information

Why do we like them?

Not all medical evidence is alike; some is worth more salt than others. Systematic reviews and meta-analyses, when done well, are the best of the bunch when it comes to evidence. The idea is that by gathering, assessing, and merging all available evidence, you see the fullest picture possible, and smooth out any erroneous results.

The Cochrane Collaboration do this sort of evidence, and they do it well. They’re independent, very thorough, and open with their methods. You can tell that you can trust a Cochrane Review because they publish exactly what they have done right there in every review.

Cochrane Reviews are a health researcher’s dream- so much so that I even once wrote a prayer about them. Finding one which answers your question exactly pretty much feels like finding the holy grail.

 

Furthermore, they seem committed to seeking out new and innovative ways to provide their advice in simple, understandable ways. Their Evidently Cochrane blog is a stunning example of how complicated, dull trial data can be transformed into something easy-to-understand and engaging, without being patronising. From using Lego to illustrate their data to their nifty social media summaries, they really are doing all that they can to make their evidence friendlier.

They also have an overwhelming library of podcasts.

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An example of Cochrane being creative- using Lego to describe how well a screening test for dementia works

 

What are the downsides?

The main downside to Cochrane Reviews is that they can be very long and intimidating. For example, their full review of ‘gabapentin for chronic neuropathic pain and fibromyalgia in adults’ is 124 pages long.

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Don’t let that put you off though. Only a very, very small minority of people need or want that level of detail, and Cochrane have provided a few ways to get around that.

Firstly, they provide their reviews in three different formats: a summary, a standard version, and then the big, lumbering full version. And Secondly, they provide a plain language summary for every one of their reviews, and they’re marvellous. These will boil down all of those 100-odd pages into the top-line, need-to-know information

Another sort-of problem is that, because they are multinational, you may find information on medicines or treatments that aren’t available in your country. That can also be a huge strength, of course.

 

What sort of questions can they answer?

Cochrane covers a huge variety of healthcare topics. Some examples include:

  • How well does a medicine work for a disease?
  • How well does a medicine compare to other medicines commonly used for a disease?
  • Does screening for illnesses work?
  • What public health measures work to reduce risks of a illness?
  • What type of surgery is the best for a condition?

 

They also cover medical devices, alternative and complementary medicine, and absolutely loads of other stuff (at time of writing, their most popular review is ‘Does chewing gum after a caesarean section lead to quicker recovery of bowel function’!)

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