There are two basic categories of medical research: Basic Science and Clinical Research. The label “Basic Science” refers to research that seeks to increase our understanding of various aspects of a disorder, from the rates at which it occurs in the population to the biological mechanisms responsible for its symptoms. On the other hand, “Clinical Research” refers to the study of patients in a clinical setting (i.e. in the hospital or a health clinic) to improve treatments.
Experiments are generally undertaken in order to apply or test hypotheses, i.e. preliminary ideas that need to be proved prior to being accepted as “true.” A hypothesis about how something might work is evaluated by testing it in order to collect data. For instance, a researcher may test the hypothesis that a certain medication may be useful for the treatment of pain in fibromyalgia; a clinical study would then involve administering the medication to patients and evaluating their responses, both positive and negative. Once a study is completed, researchers typically write up their findings and send them to scientific medical journals where they are peer reviewed, i.e. read and examined by other scientists to judge whether the information is sound or if there were flaws in the manner in which the data was collected or analyzed. If the paper is judged worthy of publication, it then appears in the journal, thereby making the information available to clinicians who may then apply new ideas to their clinical decision-making. In this way, our understanding of fibromyalgia and the effective means of treatment improves.