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Doctors May Not Know What Drug Works Best

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A new study shows the majority of drug studies fail to provide key information that doctors need to prescribe drugs. Further, most studies use drugs that are not available to patients.

The first extensive examination of drug effectiveness studies shows that less than one-third of the studies published in major medical journals assist doctors in finding the best patient treatments. "Research on new therapies is critical for scientific advancement, but we also need data that will help doctors use existing therapies appropriately," said Michael Hochman, MD. "We need research that addresses questions such as: Which of the more than 30 blood pressure medications on the market works best and in whom? Are certain diets and exercise regimens as good as medications for controlling cholesterol? Is it safe to aim for normal blood sugar levels when treating patients with diabetes? Such information is critical for day-to-day medical decision-making."

Last year, Congress appropriated $1.1 billion in funding for comparative effectiveness research. The researchers said head-to-head studies of different drugs have dominated comparative effectiveness research to date, while other types of studies that might be equally useful have been neglected. Of 104 drug effectiveness studies published recently in major journals, 45 pitted one drug against others, 11 compared drugs with nonpharmacologic treatments and 16 examined different dosing schedules.

The new study, published in the March 10 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, was conducted by researchers at Harvard Medical School/Cambridge Health Alliance and the University of Southern California. The study had no external funding. The new report found that only about one-third of the studies involved medicines currently available to patients. The rest were drugs in development or available drugs compared against no treatment or a placebo. The studies were in leading medical journals between June 2008 and September 2009.

The authors said studies that would be of major practical benefit to clinicians and patients are not getting enough attention from funding sources and researchers.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.