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Turning clinical queries into answerable questions

Using queries entered on the website, RCVS Knowledge can help vets undertake evidence-based practice

19 June 2018, at 12:59pm

There are times in practice when all you have to go on is your judgement, when what you really need is some information.

A client has come to you with a query you haven’t had to deal with before – perhaps they have heard that the risk of mammary tumours in bitches can be reduced by spaying, or a family member has told them a pressure vest has worked wonders for their dog’s anxiety and they want you to try the same with yours. Or maybe they have presented you with something so obtuse we haven’t thought of it yet!

Either way, to advise appropriately – whether you’re a vet, vet nurse, advanced practitioner or specialist – you need evidence. Not only will this ensure you combine your expertise with current medical knowledge to come to the best clinical decision, it will also reassure your client that their pet is in well-informed hands.

There are a host of questions that have already been analysed and had the findings from their evidence published as Knowledge Summaries – you see a selection of them in this monthly column – but some, especially those that are particularly ambiguous, are yet to be answered.

So what do you do? How can you get an answer to your clinical query without having to find the evidence yourself? You put the query out to the veterinary community

Finding this evidence yourself, which entails scouring veterinary literature and critically appraising any relevant research, is no easy feat – in fact it’s often impossible when you take into account time pressures, workloads and the variety of clinical conundrums.

So what do you do? How can you get an answer to your clinical query without having to find the evidence yourself? You put the query out to the veterinary community.

To make it easy for you to do this, RCVS Knowledge has created a system that allows you to submit your query and share it for someone to answer.

An online form will guide you through the entire process, starting with that ambiguous query and culminating in an answerable research question.

To do so, it uses something called the PICO (patient or population, intervention, comparison and outcome) method to break down your query into its key components.

Applying the pressure vest example above, the PICO would be:

And as an answerable question it would look like this:

In fearful or anxious dogs does wearing a pressure vest, compared to not wearing one, result in reduced signs of stress?

Turning your clinical query into an answerable question like this is an important step; it helps ensure all relevant articles are found and reduces the likelihood of leaving out any important evidence when someone searches the literature.

We will check your question and, if it hasn’t been answered already (you can check the Veterinary Evidence website to see if it has), we will add it to the list of open questions, where it will be available for anyone in the community to answer.

So the next time a client (or a colleague, or just your own curiosity) presents you with a query or suggestion you aren’t certain about the response to, share it with the tens of thousands of fellow professionals to get the information you need.

Editor at Veterinary Practice

Jennifer Parker, Bsc, MSc, PgDip, is Editor of Veterinary Practice magazine. She studied zoology at the University of Reading, palaeoanthropology at University College London and completed a postgraduate diploma in endangered species recovery with Durrell Wildlife Trust and the University of Kent.

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