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What Is an Observational Study?

wednesday wisdom Feb 23, 2022

               The news cycle of the 2020’s apparently will continue to mention more medical studies in the nightly news for a while longer.  With COVID’s ups and downs depending on the variant du jour, we can expect to read more study reports on social media and hear more news casters describing how the latest study changes everything.

               With that expectation, you should have a basic understanding of different types of medical studies.  Today, we review observational studies.  These are some of the simpler studies in terms of design, but their results are not considered as dependable as other more complex studies.

               They are basically exactly what they say, an observation of some medical condition over time to see how a group of patients respond.  They are better than single case studies about what happened to a single patient, yet they do not usually compare a treatment group to a control group like a randomized controlled trial.  They take a group of similar patients on a therapy and either watch what happens in real time or look backwards to see what has already happened.

These studies are great starting points in that they provide initial insights into a medical question.  From there medical researchers design further studies to confirm if the initial conclusions from observations are correct.  When you are trying to understand the medical literature, use insights from observational studies as a tool towards better health decisions as we seek optimal health in the 2020’s and beyond.

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