Treatment Research at the Crossroads

The Scientific Interface of Clinical Trials and Effectiveness Research

Published in: American Journal of Psychiatry, v. 156, no. 1, Jan. 1999, p. 5-10

Posted on on January 01, 1999

by Kenneth B. Wells

Read More

Access further information on this document at

This article was published outside of RAND. The full text of the article can be found at the link above.

Policy and clinical management decisions depend on data on the health and cost impacts of psychiatric treatments under usual care, i.e., effectiveness. Clinical trials, however, provide information on treatment efficacy under best-practice conditions. An understanding of the design, analysis, and conventions of both efficacy and effectiveness studies can lead to research that better informs clinical and societal questions. This paper contrasts the strengths and limitations of clinical trials and effectiveness studies for addressing policy and clinical decisions. These research approaches are assessed in terms of outcomes, treatments, service delivery context, implementation conventions, and validity. Clinical trials and effectiveness research share problems of internal and external validity despite more attention to internal validity in clinical trials (e.g., randomization, blinding, standardized protocols) and to external validity in effectiveness studies (e.g., community-based treatments, representative samples). To develop research at the interface of clinical trials and effectiveness studies, research goals must be redefined, and methods, such as cost-utility and econometric analyses, must be shared and developed. Development of hybrid designs that combine features of efficacy and effectiveness research will require separation of conventions such as frequency of follow-up, intensity of measurement, and sample size from the central scientific issues of aims and validity.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation External publication series. Many RAND studies are published in peer-reviewed scholarly journals, as chapters in commercial books, or as documents published by other organizations.

Our mission to help improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis is enabled through our core values of quality and objectivity and our unwavering commitment to the highest level of integrity and ethical behavior. To help ensure our research and analysis are rigorous, objective, and nonpartisan, we subject our research publications to a robust and exacting quality-assurance process; avoid both the appearance and reality of financial and other conflicts of interest through staff training, project screening, and a policy of mandatory disclosure; and pursue transparency in our research engagements through our commitment to the open publication of our research findings and recommendations, disclosure of the source of funding of published research, and policies to ensure intellectual independence. For more information, visit

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.