New standards for comparative effectiveness research

Optimizing patient care when resources are limited is an ongoing
global challenge. Meeting this challenge requires an unbiased tool
for assessing the relative effectiveness of health care interventions. In an editorial co-published this week in Trials, editors from several medical journals set out guidelines for the conduct, reporting and publication of comparative effectiveness research.

Comparative effectiveness research – defined by the United States Institute of Medicine as research that "compares the benefits and harms of alternative methods to prevent, diagnose, treat, and monitor a clinical condition, or to improve the delivery of care" – generates evidence to inform the decisions taken by clinicians, patients and policy makers about patient care. The standards outlined in this editorial aim to ensure that these decisions are based on objectively and transparently reported research of the highest quality.

Many of the standards proposed center on the need for complete transparency in the conduct and reporting of comparative effectiveness research. These include calls for prospective study registration, publicly available study protocols and full disclosure of competing interests. Combined with recommendations intended to guarantee study quality, these guidelines have the potential to improve the quality of evidence on which health care decisions are based. However, it is the role of researchers, reviewers and editors to ensure that these standards are met, so that decisions informed by comparative effectiveness research can be made with confidence.

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