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Asking the Right Questions of Big Data

Author: Stephani Stancil, PhD, APRN on June 16, 2022

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Pharmacoepidemiological studies often ask big questions of big databases that can inform risk/benefit conversations at the bedside such as "What is the association of X outcome in individuals who were exposed to Y drug?" 

Pharmacoepidemiology research is an important, albeit imperfect, alternative to the randomized controlled trial (RTC), particularly when an RTC would be infeasible, as is the case when assessing ‘rare’ effects, or unethical due to treatment or population considerations.   

Pharmacoepidemiological studies cannot, on their own, confer causation but rather contribute to the body of evidence to aid in the understanding of complex issues of human health. It can be challenging to appropriately interpret findings and to identify what gaps remains.   

Bushnell and colleagues wrote an elegant commentary that provides a roadmap for how to critically read this type of literature. You can put this into practice right away when reading the companion study by Wang and colleagues, which asks the question "What is the association between proton pump inhibitor use and diagnosis of depression and anxiety in children?" 

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