Few Medical Studies Actually Compare One Treatment to Another

A study released in the March 10, 2010 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) noted that most other studies in medical journals do not compare one type of treatment to another. According to the study, and several news articles written about this study, most medical studies are testing a new drug and not looking to see how it compares to drugs already on the market, or to non-drug care.

It is the lack of “comparative effectiveness” studies that makes it hard for patients and doctors to evaluate which course of treatment or care is best for a patient. A March 10, 2010, article on this study in the Los Angeles Times noted that this is the reason that there is such a large discrepancy between the way medical doctors care for patients with the same ailments.

Coauthors of the study and the LA Times article, Drs. Danny McCormick and Michael Hochman, explained how they conducted their study in the Times article by saying, “In the study, we analyzed 328 medication studies recently published in six top medical journals and found that just 32% were aimed at determining which available treatment is best. The rest were either aimed at bringing a new therapy to market or simply compared a medication with a placebo. Whether the therapy was better or worse than other treatments was simply not addressed.”

In an attempt to explain why very few studies are done to check existing treatments against new drugs, the authors explained, “So why, then, did only a third of medication studies focus on helping doctors use existing therapies more effectively? The answer lies in the fact that pharmaceutical companies fund nearly half of all medication research, including the lion’s share of large clinical trials. For obvious reasons, commercially funded research is primarily geared toward the development of new and marketable medications and technologies. Once these products have won approval for clinical use, companies no longer have incentives to study exactly how and when they should be used.”

Not surprisingly, the research showed that most of the studies done are funded by drug companies trying to get approval for their new drugs. The study also showed that the few studies that actually do “comparative effectiveness” and look at one type of care as compared to another, were mostly funded by the government or received other non-drug company related funding.

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