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Wednesday, November 19, 2008 9:00 AM
Navigating Health Care: Comparative Effectiveness - What Is It?
Rand: More than 125 million Americans live with a chronic condition, such as diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. If you are one of them, you probably know that you have many treatment options. But what you may not know is how to compare these options, including their effectiveness and risks, to decide which one is right for you. AHRQ Director Dr. Carolyn Clancy joins us now to talk about AHRQ resources that can help you understand and evaluate your treatment options. Dr. Clancy, thank you so much for being with us.
Dr. Clancy: Thank you.
Rand: We sometimes hear the term "comparative effectiveness?"  What does this mean?
Dr. Clancy: Comparative effectiveness is being able to compare treatments based on whether they offer the best possible outcome for patients. Now, more than ever, consumers have many treatment options, especially if they have a chronic condition. But one of the greatest challenges in making these health care decisions is finding a way to compare those choices by sifting through all the reliable scientific evidence and practical data to compare choices. 
Rand: How do people usually make these sorts of choices?
Dr. Clancy: These days, it’s pretty easy to find health information online. But it’s not as easy to find information that’s trustworthy and unbiased. Many consumers are bombarded with television and Internet ads about medications and other treatments. I also find that people like to rely on advice from their families and friends. I caution against these approaches, however, because the television or even your family member may not offer you advice based on the latest scientific evidence. Also, all patients - all people - are different. So just because a medication or treatment worked for your brother, sister or best friend, doesn’t mean that it will work for you.
Rand: So where can consumers find, as you say, trustworthy and unbiased health care information?
Dr. Clancy: AHRQ’s Effective Health Care Web site is a great place to start. AHRQ established the Effective Health Care Program to develop the information that patients and clinicians need to decide on the most effective treatments. Our Web site offers summary guidelines that are written in plain language and compare treatment options for a variety of diseases, ranging from depression to osteoarthritis. The guides, available in Spanish and English, offer unbiased comparisons of treatment choices’ benefits, risks, and pricing. In fact, some of these reports are cited by Consumer Reports for its Best Buy Drugs series. Also, if you’re looking for additional information online, try the Web site Healthfinder.gov. This site links to more than 6,000 government and nonprofit health groups with information on hundreds of health topics.
What’s the take-home message here for consumers trying to compare treatment options and their effectiveness?
Dr. Clancy: The bottom line is that consumers deserve to have access to credible information that allows them to make meaningful head-to-head comparisons about treatment options. AHRQ’s decision-making tools, including our Effective Health Care summary guides, give consumers this valuable information, so they can decide with their clinicians which option is likely the most-effective and best choice for them. I’m Dr. Carolyn Clancy and that’s my advice for navigating the Health Care System.
Rand: For more information about comparative effectiveness and to find the Effective Health Care Summary Guides log on to ahrq.gov/consumer.

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