How Will Comparative Effectiveness Research Affect the Quality of Health Care?

Comparative effectiveness research (CER)—studies that compare health care treatment options to inform decision-making—is alternately described as the best or worst idea in the ongoing dialogue about how to fix American health care. While health reform proposals recently considered by Congress provide for some level of CER, studies show that much of the CER already being undertaken in the United States is not well coordinated, making it difficult to assess its true utility.

A Robert Wood Johnson Foundation policy paper examines the implications of CER on U.S. health care. Urban Institute fellow Robert Berenson, M.D., and consulting researcher Elizabeth Docteur consider the specific hopes and fears of experts and stakeholders with respect to CER’s impact on quality and outcomes, and evaluate the basis for those beliefs. They also examine the policy options being discussed and draw lessons from the United States and abroad.

According to the authors, unless there is a clear plan for using CE—one that goes beyond mere dissemination to ensuring practical implementation of CER findings—resources invested in CER will not have the impact on medical practice that they could and should have.