HP4B4E      Half Unit
Principles of Evidence-Based Medicine and Clinical Trials

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Irene Papanicolas COW3.04

In addition, Professor Allan Hackshaw (Deputy Director, Cancer Research UK and UCL Cancer Trials Centre, UCL) will be teaching on this course.


This course is available on the Executive MSc in Health Economics, Policy and Management. This course is not available as an outside option.

Course content

A large amount of medical research is conducted, with variable quality. Also, health claims are frequently reported in the media, and it can be difficult to determine which is based on reliable evidence and which is not. It is therefore essential to be able to interpret study results and conclusions appropriately, in order to change clinical practice or develop public health policy. This is achieved by Evidence-Based Medicine. The module will enable students to evaluate risk factors for disease or early death, and methods of disease prevention or treatment.

The module will provide students with practical skills in the following key areas:

- Understanding the different types of research that can be conducted in humans and their strengths and limitations, i.e. observational studies and a focus on clinical trials.

- Interpreting research results and conclusions using aspects of epidemiology and medical statistics, and how to communicate study findings.

- Reading and understanding published journal articles or pharmaceutical company reports.

- Examining the efficacy and safety of health care interventions (an important part of a complete health economic evaluation of a clinical trial).

- Familiarity with systematic reviews (i.e. how several studies are combined, and the importance of looking at the evidence as a whole).


10 interactive seminars/workshops, each 2-3 hours long.

Formative coursework

Students will be given two short exercises before the course begins, via Moodle, to help prepare for the course. The tutor will go over  these during the contact week, and address any queries from the students. However, detailed written answers are provided, so the students can access these if they undertake any of the exercises after the contact week. The tutor is also available for one-to-one email contact with any student.

Indicative reading

- Hackshaw A. A concise guide to clinical trials. BMJ Books, Wiley-Blackwell, first edition 2009.

- Hackshaw A. A concise guide to observational studies in healthcare. BMJ Books, Wiley-Blackwell, first edition 2015.

- Greenhalgh T. How to Read a Paper: The Basics of Evidence-Based Medicine. BMJ Books, Wiley-Blackwell, fourth edition, 2010.

Students will be given access to essential readings before the course begins through the pre-sessional reading programme on Moodle.


Coursework (50%) and coursework (50%) in the LT.

There will be two pieces of coursework based on a clinical trial of an intervention or a risk/causal factor, in the form of:

• a written assignment in the form of a PowerPoint slide deck (about 25 slides) and a statement of 400 words of further discussion and conclusions, based on a published paper and associated media news article of the paper (50%)

• 4-5 questions specific to a published paper with answers requiring 1-3 paragraphs each (50%).

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2020/21 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the situation of students in attendance on campus and those studying online during the early part of the academic year. For assessment, this may involve changes to mode of delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Health Policy

Total students 2019/20: 3

Average class size 2019/20: Unavailable

Controlled access 2019/20: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information