Comparative Effectiveness Research

Does the Emperor Have Clothes

Published In: Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, v. 17, no. 2, Mar./Apr. 2011, p. 8-15

Posted on RAND.org on February 28, 2011

by Ian D. Coulter

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With the recent allocation of a $1.1 billion "down payment" to fund comparative effectiveness research (CER) from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (generally referred to as the stimulus package) and with $300 million being allocated for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ ), $400 million for the National Institutes of Health, and $400 million for allocation at the discretion of the Secretary of Health and Human Services and with the National Center for Complementary Alternative Medicine putting out a request for research proposals for Comparative Effectiveness Studies of Complementary and Alternative Medicine, it is safe to say CER has entered a new era. CER solves two historical concerns for complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) researchers; first it focuses on effectiveness not efficacy; second it tests holistic approaches to care. Because it allows the providers to give care in any way they choose, it avoids the problem of reductionism inherent in standard random controlled trials. In CER, the provider can continue to practice holistically and to use individualized medicine to treat the patient. However, amid the largely positive responses to this move among researches in CAM, a more critical evaluation might be in order. This article argues that while the move to effectiveness research is a positive move for CAM, CER as currently being talked about and funded may just be a new form of privileging certain forms of evidence at the expense of other equally important and perhaps more relevant evidence.

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