The National Advisory Council for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) held a public meeting on April 3, and with 150 people in attendance there was no shortage of opinion about how government agencies should execute comparative effectiveness research.

Some $1.1 billion of the approved economic stimulus plan is earmarked for conducting or supporting research that compares the effectiveness of various drugs, medical devices and diagnostic technologies, with $300 million allocated to AHRQ, $400 million to the National Institutes of Health, and $400 million to the secretary of Health and Human Services. Undoubtedly, the funding will support research into a wide range of treatment areas important to patients across the nation—and at the heart of InHealth’s mission.

But who will conduct these studies, and when will the research begin?

As AHRQ determines how and when studies will be funded, InHealth is currently funding research examining the impact of medical device and diagnostic technologies on patients and the economy. Thus, we’re urging the agency to make funds available now for projects already in the works via a matching grant program.

Why? AHRQ and other agencies designated to fund these studies cannot execute the bulk of comparative effectiveness research themselves. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act limits the agency to spending no more than 1 percent of its funding on new personnel to conduct such research. Besides, government serving as the sole source of comparative effectiveness information also raises concerns about how the research findings will be used, particularly in an environment focused on lowering costs.

Additionally, since these research funds are meant to be part of the administration’s economic stimulus funding, there is value in moving quickly. While AHRQ’s national advisory committee has until 2010 to begin advancing comparative effectiveness research, why wait to get studies off the ground when there are organizations and academic institutions ‘shovel ready’ and already doing this type of work?

A matching grant program for research organizations with experience conducting comparative effectiveness studies would accelerate the delivery of economic stimulus and research outcomes, and would double the impact of the agency’s dollars.

InHealth fully supports comparative effectiveness research that takes into account the value provided by advanced health technologies. A matching grant program would encourage qualified research organizations to bring diverse thinking to current priorities, as well as projects that can be launched quickly.

Martyn Howgill

Executive Director, InHealth