With billions of dollars in comparative effectiveness research (CER) set for completion in the near future, there will be broader discussions about the findings and what those findings might mean for patients and other health care decision makers. As part of this discussion, questions such as who can discuss and share these CER findings publicly, and how will the findings be communicated, also must be addressed.
The pharmaceutical industry is highly regulated when it comes to discussing health care information, while other groups have wide latitude—or even complete freedom—in what they can say. While there are valid reasons for the regulation of some communication (marketing messages and materials, for example), there also are instances where it would be in the greater interest of public health for the sponsor of a particular drug to be allowed to respond to research or easily correct misinformation beyond solicited medical information. When it comes to CER, would the industry be able to discuss or share those studies, or even call for corrections on ones with serious flaws?
Communicating to Clinicians
CER will be further amplified through academic detailing initiatives, in which government or academic institutions train health experts to discuss CER with clinicians. In the United States, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality is leading the multi-million dollar federal initiative that will start off by targeting 1,300 primary care clinicians and 200 health systems. The federal government is not alone in its efforts-–states including Vermont, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Maine have been conducting academic detailing for a number of years.
Additionally, CER information will be further disseminated via continuing medical education programs and payer review guides.
These programs can be useful in providing physicians and payers with information that they might not have been aware of otherwise. However, it is not clear as to where the checks and balances may exist in the oversight of government-sponsored detailing, in the same way it is required of industry.
Challenges for Patients
There are thousands of pages of health information available on the Internet, in medical journals, and other sources. Sifting through the information is daunting for a health care professional, let alone a patient. With more information becoming available, it will be even more important to ensure that patients have access to a broad amount of correct, verified information and know where to find it.
Unfortunately, sometimes incorrect information is shared broadly, and it can be difficult to quickly correct the misinformation and make sure that consumers are properly educated. Acting on poor or faulty information could lead to serious health consequences for patients.
NPC explored these communications challenges during a conference, Asymmetry in the Ability to Communicate CER Findings, through its sponsorship of a Health Affairs issue and video interviews with experts, among other activitites.