Understanding Clinical Research: Behind the Statistics

Coursera Understanding Clinical Research: Behind the Statistics

University of Cape Town
6 weeks
Paid Certificate Available
Course Link
If you’ve ever skipped over`the results section of a medical paper because terms like “confidence interval” or “p-value” go over your head, then you’re in the right place. You may be a clinical practitioner reading research articles to keep up-to-date with developments in your field or a medical student wondering how to approach your own research. Greater confidence in understanding statistical analysis and the results can benefit both working professionals and those undertaking research themselves.

If you are simply interested in properly understanding the published literature or if you are embarking on conducting your own research, this course is your first step. It offers an easy entry into interpreting common statistical concepts without getting into nitty-gritty mathematical formulae. To be able to interpret and understand these concepts is the best way to start your journey into the world of clinical literature. That’s where this course comes in - so let’s get started!

The course is free to enroll and take. You will be offered the option of purchasing a certificate of completion which you become eligible for, if you successfully complete the course requirements. This can be an excellent way of staying motivated! Financial Aid is also available.

Getting things started by defining study types
Welcome to the first week of this course. We’ll be tackling five broad topics to provide you with an intuitive understanding of clinical research results. This isn’t a comprehensive statistics course, but it offers a practical orientation to the field of medical research and commonly used statistical analysis. The first topics will look at research methods and the collection of data - with a specific focus on study types. By the end of the lectures you should be able to identify which study types are being used and why the researchers selected them when you are reading a paper.

Describing your data
With the next topics, we finally get started with the statistics. Have you ever looked at the methods and results section of any healthcare research publication and noted the variety of statistical tests used? You would have come across terms like t-test, Mann-Whitney-U test, Wilcoxon test, Fisher’s exact test and the ubiquitous chi-squared test. Why so many tests you might wonder? It’s all about types of data. In this week, I am going to tackle the differences in data which determine what type of statistical test we can use in making sense of our data.

Building an intuitive understanding of statistical analysis
There is hardly any healthcare professional who is unfamiliar with the p-value. It is usually understood to have a watershed value of 0.05. If a research question is evaluated through the collection of data points and statistical analysis reveals a value less that 0.05, we accept this a proof that some significant difference was found, at least statistically.In reality things are a bit more complicated than that. The literature is currently full of questions about the ubiquitous p-vale and why it is not the panacea many of us have used it as. During this week you will develop an intuitive understanding of concept of a p-value. From there, I'll move on to the heart of probability theory, the Central Limit Theorem and data distribution.

The important first steps: Hypothesis testing and confidence levels
In general, a researcher has a question in mind that he or she needs an answer to. Everyone might have an opinion on the question (or answer), but an investigator looks for the answer by designing an experiment and investigating the outcome. In the first lesson we will look at hypotheses and how they relate to ethical and unbiased research and reporting.We'll also tackle Confidence intervals which I believe are one of the least understood and often misrepresented values in healthcare research. The most common tests used in the literature to compare numerical data point values are t-tests, analysis of variance, and linear regression. In the last lesson we take a closer look at these tests, but perhaps more importantly, their strict assumptions.
Which test should you use?
The most common statistical test that you might come across in the literature is the t-test. There are, in actual fact, a few t-tests, but the one most are familiar with, is of course, Student’s t-test and its ubiquitous p-value. Not everyone, though, knows that the name Student was actually a pseudonym, used by William Gosset (1876 - 1937). Parametric tests have very strict assumptions that must be met before their use is justified. In this lesson we take a closer look at these tests, but perhaps more importantly, their strict assumptions. Once you know these, you will be able to identify when these tests are used inappropriately.

Categorical data and analyzing accuracy of results
Congratulations! You've reached the final week of the course Understanding Clinical Research. In this lesson we will take a look at how good tests are at picking up the presence or absence of disease, helping us choose appropriate tests, and how to interpret positive and negative results. We’ll decipher sensitivity, specificity, positive and negative predictive values. You'll end of this course with a final exam, to test the knowledge and application you've learned in this course. I hope you've enjoyed this course and it helps your understanding of clinical research.
Taught by

Dr Juan H Klopper
First release
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