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Effectiveness research ignites prairie fire

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Comparative effectiveness research has had a bad week. CER, a scientific analysis to determine what treatments, drugs and medical devices are most effective, has been called a key building block of health care reform. But what happens if a federal advisory panel throws a CER party and no one shows up? Didn’t this just happen this week with the tsunami of criticism against a federal advisory panel’s new recommended guidelines for breast cancer screening?

After a raft of criticism in the Congress from both sides of the aisle, New York Times columnist Gail Collins drolly stated today, that it’s clear from this debate that “whatever happens, we do not want the government conducting any studies on whether current health practices actually do any good.”

It’s hardly a surprise in this hyper-political era and in what might be the final weeks before passage of a huge health-care reform package that recommendations like these would start a prairie fire. It was getting so hot out there that HHS Secretary Sebelius trashed the panel’s guidelines and said they were merely “an outside panel of doctors and scientists who make recommendations” and do not “set federal policy.” Ouch.

It’s fair to say that this type of research will face uphill battles from both physicians and consumers. A recent perspective in the New England Journal of Medicine reports that physicians’ remain skeptical about using CER to guide clinical decisions. And how do you convince Americans that studies like these have the best interests of the consumer in mind when health care institutions are viewed with such suspicion and derision?

Photo by Angie Babbit

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