Let the comparison shopping begin

About Scott Hensley

Scott Hensley runs NPR's online health channel, Shots. Previously he was the founding editor of The Wall Street Journal's Health Blog and covered the drug industry and the Human Genome Project for the Journal. Hensley serves on AHCJ's board of directors. You can follow him at @ScottHensley.

The august Institute of Medicine is out with academic medicine’s answer to the Billboard Hot 100. A panel of experts has come up with a list of the top 100 health topics that deserve a rigorous comparison of options to determine which are best.

The recommendations, part of a larger report that lays out a blueprint for research, are organized by quartile, and the top 25 would be the ones with a bullet, to stretch the pop music analogy.

Some of the high priorities:

  • What are the best strategies to reduce infections spread in health-care settings?
  • What’s the best way to use expensive biotech drugs – like Remicade, Enbrel and Humira – to treat inflammatory diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis?
  • How should dental care be delivered to children to most effectively prevent cavities?

Comparing effectiveness is suddenly an idea whose time has come. “Health care decisions too often are a matter of guesswork, because we lack good evidence to inform them,” said Harold C. Sox, editor of The Annals of Internal Medicine, and panel co-chairman, according to The New York Times.

In legislation to boost the economy, Congress set aside more than $1 billion to fund comparisons that would pick health winners and losers. It was the IOM’s job to come up with recommendations on where to start.

For a little peek into how the priorities were chosen, Consumer Reports‘ Health Blog has a Q&A with Consumer Union President Jim Guest, who was a member of the Federal Coordinating Council for Comparative Effectiveness Research that came up with the recommendations.

The New England Journal of Medicine weighed in with a “Perspective” piece on implications of the report. For more about comparative effectiveness, see this piece from AHCJ board member Andrew Holtz, M.P.H.

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