One of the most empowering things a person with endometriosis can do to take charge of their health is learning how to find and interpret new research findings. It takes an estimated average of 17 years for new research findings to be implemented into clinical practice. By following research and bringing new findings to your healthcare provider, you can contribute to closing that time gap and possibly change your own care pathway for the better.
You may be wondering, where do I start? Here are some simple tips to get you up and running.
Finding and vetting new research
First things first, it’s important to be able to find articles and make sure they’re credible.
You should always ensure that the articles you read are in a peer-reviewed journal. When a researcher wants to submit an article to a peer-reviewed journal, their manuscript will go through expert reviewers who look at the quality, validity, and originality of the research. If you’re wondering whether a journal is peer-reviewed you can go to the journal’s website and read their “About this Journal” page.
PubMed is a great place to start to find research articles. PubMed is a free resource from the National Library of Medicine that compiles research across the majority of peer-reviewed journals into a database. You can certainly look for articles through Google Scholar or directly from the journal, but you’ll want to keep a close eye to make sure they’re peer-reviewed.
You may find when searching for research that you don’t have access to some of the articles you’d like to read, and you can only see a snippet of them. Unfortunately, although there is a lot of research that is free to the public, many journals are paid access only. You can add a filter in your search for “free text” articles in PubMed to filter out anything that isn’t free to the public. If you find an article you really want to read but can’t access, another option is to see if you can get access to the article through your local library or through your local university library. You can also get a paid subscription to a journal that is especially relevant, for example The Journal of Endometriosis and Pelvic Pain Disorders or the Obstetrics and Gynecology journal.
There are a few other important items to look at when vetting an article. For new research you’ll want to check the date the article was published to make sure it’s relatively recent (within the last 5 years or so). You’ll also want to check the number of citations, which you can see in PubMed. The number of citations shows how many times other researchers have cited this article in their research. The more citations, the more traction the research is getting from other experts. However, it is important to keep in mind that the newer the research, the fewer citations an article is likely to have. Assessing the number of citations is a bit of a balancing act but the more experience you get with it the more confident you’ll be in your skills.
Interpreting the results
Research articles are generally all structured in a similar format. Using that standard format as a guide is very helpful for interpreting the findings.
It’s easiest to start by reading the “Abstract” section first. This provides a summary of the contents of the article. From here, you can decide if you’re interested in reading further.
Next, it may be helpful to skip to the punchline and check out the “Results and Discussion” sections. The results section contains the results of the research and the discussion section explains what those results mean and why they’re important. If you’re interested in reading further after seeing the results of the study, you can go back and start from the introduction.
In order to make sure you have a thorough interpretation of the results and what they might mean for you, you’ll want to take a close look through “Methodology and Results.” Although these sections can be very science and data heavy, there are a few critical items you should look for:
How many people were in the research study? Typically, the larger number of people in the study the better. A higher sample size will help yield more accurate results.
What are the demographics of the people in the research study? Here, you’ll want to look at the demographics of the people in the study. It’s important to look at how broad the demographics are, and if your demographic is represented or not. For instance, a study containing only endometriosis patients over 35 may not be as applicable to you if you’re 25. A study done in Japan might not be as relevant if you live in the United States.
Are the results “statistically significant”? Statistically significant means that a robust statistical analysis has been done to show that the results are not merely caused by chance. As an example, imagine a research study that shows that if patients with endometriosis have excision surgery, they have a higher chance of conceiving. If this result is statistically significant, that means that the researchers have used statistics to show that it is highly likely the excision surgery leading to the higher chance of conceiving. If the results are not statistically significant, it means that the researchers can’t prove a definitive link between the surgery and the higher likelihood of conception. Usually, articles that are published in peer reviewed journals have at least some statistically significant results. However, it is critical to check to make sure, and the article should state whether the results are statistically significant.
Taking the information back to your healthcare provider
The idea of talking about scientific research with your healthcare provider may be daunting, but it will be worth the effort if it can help improve care for you and for others. When preparing to speak to your provider, make sure you have printed out the article(s) with your notes and questions on it. This will show how serious you are about it and make it easier for you to reference the data if you get overwhelmed or off track.
Make sure you have a clear understanding of why you think this research is important or relevant, and that you’ve thought through what your reason is for sharing this information. Do you want a change in your treatment or do you want to get the doctor’s feedback on new findings? No matter what you’re looking for, the more prepared you are, the better!