The uniqueness of all people can be balanced by the epidemiological perspective. Epidemiology searches for patterns occurring in the whole population, giving clues to causes, risk factors, the course of diseases, their likely outcomes and the impact of our treatments. GPs use such information every working day.
Most of general practice is about individuals. But when they are considered collectively, looking for general patterns, this is epidemiology. The most succinct definition of epidemiology is ‘the mass aspects of disease’. Far from being a morass of unintelligible statistics (as many doctors think) or acute outbreaks of infectious diseases (as the public often think), epidemiology sparkles with appeal and opportunity. This is mainly because what we encounter individually in our clinical practice can only be a tiny part of the whole picture of disease, the causes, course and outcome. Epidemiology contributes to understanding the occurrence of disease in all humankind, and the laws that determine what is happening.