As presently understood, evidence based medicine aims to advance practice from its traditional unverifiable mix of art and science to rational use of measurable inputs and outputs. In practice, however, its advocates accept uncritically a desocialised definition of science, assume that major clinical decisions are taken at the level of secondary specialist rather than primary generalist care, and ignore the multiple nature of most clinical problems, as well as the complexity of social problems within which clinical problems arise and have to be solved. These reductionist assumptions derive from the use of evidence based medicine as a tool for managed care in a transactional model for consultations. If these assumptions persist, they will strengthen reification of disease and promote the episodic output of process regardless of health outcome. We need to work within a different paradigm based on development of patients as co-producers rather than consumers, promoting continuing output of health gain through shared decisions using all relevant evidence, within a broader, socialised definition of science. Adoption of this model would require a major social and cultural shift for health professionals. This shift has already begun, promoted by changes in public attitudes to professional authority, changes in the relation of professionals to managers, and pressures for improved effectiveness and efficiency which, contrary to received wisdom, seem more likely to endorse cooperative than transactional clinical production. Progress on these lines is resisted by rapidly growing and extremely powerful economic and political interests. Health professionals and strategists have yet to recognise and admit the existence of this choice.
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