Let Comparative Effectiveness Help Docs to Select Right Tools

Even though physicians are highly trained and generally very intelligent (actually, at the top of all occupations in IQ, according to one study), they face a challenge with which we are all too familiar. There’s almost too much information out there, and not all of it good and sufficient for their needs. Is the therapy they are prescribing actually the most effective, which doctors tend to care a lot about? Is it the most economical, which doctors care less about, but which means a lot to insurers and their clients?

Search for “best practice protocols” on Google and you’ll get 15 million hits. Health plan executives have long pushed a system where the doctor would know the right medicine (actual and metaphorical) for whatever condition he or she faces.

Now, thanks to $1 billion in federal funding, the quest gets even more intense, though the name of the goal changes. Our cover story on “comparative effectiveness research” (CER) begins on page 14. Contributing Editor Martin Sipkoff does a nice job tracking this latest push to get better information into doctors’ hands about which drug, device, treatment, or diagnostic tool is best for specific medical conditions.

“This is information they now lack,” Mark Fendrick, MD, a professor in the department of internal medicine at the University of Michigan medical school and a strong advocate of CER, tells Martin.

With so many federal dollars now involved the situation will hopefully improve.

Brent James, MD, a key researcher at Intermountain Healthcare and one who knows an awful lot about processes of care, says, “I have a hard time imagining why anyone has even the slightest problem with it.”

So do we, but remember, this is health care we’re talking about.

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