In the August 8, 2012, online issue of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Dr. Jeffrey Lerner discussed the proposed defunding of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). I share Dr. Lerner’s concerns. AHRQ funds unbiased research that evaluates the effectiveness, comparative effectiveness, and safety of medical tests, procedures, and other interventions that are already in use or are just being introduced into practice. AHRQ disseminates the results through its websites, publications, databases, and patient-centered tools that are available to the medical community and the public. To defund AHRQ will leave a gap that will negatively impact our ability to practice evidence-based medicine in this country.
AHRQ aims to measurably improve the safety and quality of the healthcare we deliver in the United States and at the same time reduce unnecessary costs. It also seeks to improve healthcare outcomes by encouraging the use of evidence to make informed decisions and to transform research into practice, thereby facilitating better access to effective services. Through multiple initiatives, AHRQ disseminates information about the comparative effectiveness of diagnostic and therapeutic interventions, associated treatment outcomes, medical practice patterns, accessibility to care, the scope and impact of medical errors and how they can be prevented, and the cost of medical services. In addition, AHRQ’s Effective Health Care Program provides consumers with the tools and resources they need to make better healthcare choices.
The comparative effectiveness research supported by AHRQ gives clinicians the answers to 4 important questions relative to the tests and therapeutic interventions they consider for their patients:
- Is the health technology effective for diagnosing, treating, or preventing the target condition?
- How does the technology compare with other diagnostic, therapeutic, or preventive options for a particular disease or condition?
- Is the technology safe, and what are the associated complications?
- For which patients might the technology provide a true health benefit?
Healthcare providers need the answers to these questions to inform their decision making. Without such evidence, they may be using technologies that don’t work; are no better than less-expensive technologies already in use; or, even worse, pose harm to patients.