The cause was cancer, said a family spokesman, Dr. R. Brian Haynes of the department of clinical epidemiology and biostatistics at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. Dr. Sackett founded the department in 1968.
Within his profession, Dr. Sackett was known for helping to develop evidence-based medicine, which is defined as making treatment less subjective by integrating a doctor’s clinical expertise with the results of carefully controlled studies.
Dr. Sackett also developed methods for evaluating health care innovations and for teaching medical students how to apply research results in their clinical practice. In addition to benchmark studies on the benefits of aspirin, his research teams showed the value of surgically removing arterial plaque, developed news ways to treat high blood pressure and demonstrated the effectiveness of nurse practitioners.
Doctors now routinely recommend daily doses of aspirin for many patients who have had a stroke or heart attack or who face even a relatively low risk of one in the next decade. [My husband who had lots of heart problems last year was recommended a regular aspirin, not baby size, to take everyday. He found it helped with the headaches and some of the tiredness).
David Sackett was born on Nov. 17, 1934, in Chicago. He said he adopted the middle name Lawrence when he was baptized as an adolescent because his older brother was attending Lawrence College, in Appleton, Wis., and his girlfriend had a younger brother named Larry.
His father, DeForest, was a designer and artist. His mother, the former Margaret Ross, was a homemaker. Bedridden for months as a child with polio, David recovered and exercised to develop into an accomplished runner. He also became a voracious reader and, he said, the youngest member of the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartets Singing in America (aka Barbershop Harmony Society).
He graduated from Lawrence College, where he was torn between a career in zoology and one in physiology, he recalled in an oral history. (The closest he had come to epidemiology, he said, was reading Sinclair Lewis’s novel “Arrowsmith,” about a doctor who deals with an outbreak of bubonic plague.)
Teachers and friends convinced him that he could better understand physiology by becoming a physician (not to mention that zoologists don’t have very profitable careers). So he took their advice. Dr. Sackett was invited to join the faculty at McMaster’s newly opened medical school when he was 32.
Dr. Sackett, who lived in Markdale, is survived by his wife, the former Barbara Bennett; four sons, David, Charles, Andrew and Robert; eight grandchildren; and a brother, Jim.
He said in the oral history interview that he was most proud of “the brilliant young people I taught and mentored” and of his “ability to translate, demystify, explain, promote and popularize research methods.”