clinical pharmacist doing literature evaluation


In the ever-evolving field of healthcare, staying abreast of the latest advancements and evidence-based practices is crucial for clinical pharmacists. One of the primary ways they accomplish this is by evaluating the scientific literature. However, navigating the vast expanse of medical literature can be daunting, requiring critical appraisal skills and a discerning eye. In this article, we explore the methods and strategies employed by clinical pharmacists to evaluate the literature effectively, enabling them to make informed decisions and provide optimal patient care.

The Importance of Literature Evaluation

The scientific literature serves as a cornerstone of evidence-based practice in healthcare. Clinical pharmacists rely on peer-reviewed research articles, clinical guidelines, systematic reviews, and meta-analyses to inform their decision-making process. By critically evaluating the literature, clinical pharmacists can:

  1. Stay Informed: The field of pharmacotherapy is constantly evolving, with new drugs, treatments, and guidelines emerging regularly. Evaluating the literature allows clinical pharmacists to stay informed about the latest developments and advancements in pharmacology and therapeutics.
  2. Make Informed Decisions: Clinical pharmacists play a crucial role in medication management. This includes drug selection, dosing optimization, and monitoring for adverse effects. By evaluating the literature, they can make evidence-based decisions that are tailored to individual patient needs and preferences.
  3. Ensure Patient Safety: Inaccurate or outdated information in the literature can have serious consequences for patient safety. Clinical pharmacists rely on their ability to critically appraise the literature. Doing this, they identify potential risks and mitigate them through appropriate interventions.

Methods of Literature Evaluation

Clinical pharmacists employ a variety of methods and techniques to evaluate the scientific literature effectively. These methods include:

  1. Searching PubMed and Other Databases: PubMed is a widely used database that provides access to a vast collection of biomedical literature. Clinical pharmacists use PubMed to search for relevant research articles, systematic reviews, and clinical guidelines related to their area of interest. They may also utilize other databases such as Embase, Cochrane Library, and Google Scholar to ensure comprehensive coverage of the literature.
  2. Appraising Study Design: Not all research studies are created equal. Clinical pharmacists must be able to discern the strengths and limitations of different study designs. They evaluate factors such as the study population, research methodology, sample size, data analysis techniques, and potential sources of bias. Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and systematic reviews/meta-analyses are generally considered the gold standard for evaluating treatment efficacy. On the other hand, observational studies provide valuable insights into real-world practice.
  3. Assessing Methodological Quality: Clinical pharmacists assess the methodological quality of research studies using established tools and criteria. Commonly used tools include the Jadad scale for RCTs, the Newcastle-Ottawa Scale for cohort and case-control studies, and the AMSTAR tool for systematic reviews. By critically appraising the quality of evidence, clinical pharmacists can determine the validity and reliability of study findings.
  4. Considering Clinical Relevance: In addition to methodological quality, clinical pharmacists consider the relevance of study findings to their practice setting and patient population. Firstly, they evaluate factors such as the study outcomes, applicability of interventions, and generalizability of results. Secondly, clinical pharmacists then give greater weight in the decision-making process to studies that address clinically meaningful endpoints and have direct implications for patient care.
  5. Seeking Consensus: Clinical pharmacists often consult multiple sources of evidence to corroborate findings and ensure consensus. Basically, they look for consistency across different studies, guidelines, and expert opinions, weighing the strength of evidence and the degree of agreement among sources. In conclusion, consensus-based recommendations provide a robust foundation for clinical decision-making and practice guidelines.
  6. Remaining Critical: Critical appraisal is a cornerstone of literature evaluation for clinical pharmacists. Basically, they approach the literature with a healthy dose of skepticism, questioning assumptions, scrutinizing methodology, and considering alternative explanations. Critical thinking skills enable clinical pharmacists to identify potential biases, conflicts of interest, and methodological flaws that may undermine the validity of study findings.

Case Study: Evaluating the Literature on Anticoagulation Therapy

To illustrate the process of literature evaluation, consider the following case study:

Scenario: A clinical pharmacist is tasked with evaluating the literature on direct oral anticoagulants (DOACs) for stroke prevention in patients with non-valvular atrial fibrillation (NVAF).


  1. Searching PubMed: The clinical pharmacist conducts a systematic search of PubMed. They use keywords such as “DOACs,” “atrial fibrillation,” and “stroke prevention.” They filter the search results to include only randomized controlled trials and systematic reviews/meta-analyses published within the last five years.
  2. Appraising Study Design: The clinical pharmacist identifies several RCTs comparing DOACs with warfarin for stroke prevention in patients with NVAF. They also find several systematic reviews/meta-analyses summarizing the efficacy and safety of DOACs versus warfarin.
  3. Assessing Methodological Quality: The clinical pharmacist evaluates the methodological quality of the identified studies using the Jadad scale for RCTs and the AMSTAR tool for systematic reviews/meta-analyses. They consider factors such as randomization, blinding, allocation concealment, follow-up duration, and risk of bias.
  4. Considering Clinical Relevance: The clinical pharmacist examines the clinical relevance of study findings to their practice setting and patient population. They focus on outcomes such as stroke prevention, bleeding risk, mortality, and quality of life. Clinical pharmacists then prioritize studies with clinically meaningful endpoints and direct implications for patient care.
  5. Seeking Consensus: The clinical pharmacist compares findings across different studies and guidelines to identify areas of consensus and divergence. They look for consistency in efficacy and safety outcomes across various DOACs. They also consider expert recommendations from organizations such as the American College of Cardiology (ACC) and the American Heart Association (AHA).
  6. Remaining Critical: The clinical pharmacist remains critical throughout the literature evaluation process. They keep scrutinizing study methodology, data analysis, and interpretation of results. They consider potential biases, conflicts of interest, and limitations of the evidence base, weighing the strengths and weaknesses of each study.


Evaluating the scientific literature is an essential skill for clinical pharmacists. It enables them to make evidence-based decisions and provide optimal patient care. By employing methods such as searching PubMed, appraising study design, assessing methodological quality, considering clinical relevance, seeking consensus, and remaining critical, clinical pharmacists can navigate the sea of knowledge effectively. Their ability to evaluate the literature empowers them to stay informed, make informed decisions, and contribute to the advancement of pharmacy practice and patient outcomes.

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