Comparative Effectiveness Research

A broad effort is under way to understand what really works in health care, perhaps leading to better value for dollars spent.

With 2010 health spending estimated at $2.6 trillion, the United States spends more than any other country—and more per person—on health care. Yet it is widely agreed that much of the health care provided in the U.S. is of limited value, and in some instances, may even harm patients.

More than half the treatments provided to U.S. patients lack clear evidence that they are effective. And in cases where there are two different treatments for the same condition—for example, surgery versus medication—there is only rarely adequate evidence about which one is more effective.

Comparative effectiveness research seeks to determine which treatments, diagnostic tests, public health strategies, and other health care services accomplish the most good for people in general, or for different groups within the population.

The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, a new non-governmental entity that was established under the Affordable Care Act to oversee and set guidelines for comparative effectiveness research, is likely to have substantial input into developing priorities for research and the distribution of the information to patients and providers.

This Health Policy Brief examines some of these key issues and areas of controversy, and was published online on October 8, 2010 in Health Affairs.