A new trend in healthcare, known as comparative effectiveness research (CER), in which drugs, devices and therapies are studied to determine their effectiveness for a given population, is being expanded to include treatments for elderly patients.

The practice of CER was bolstered by the passage of 2009′s economic stimulus bill, which allocated $1.1 billion to build up the CER infrastructure and pay for research. In addition, the healthcare reform law established a new nonprofit, the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, which will help determine research priorities.

At a recent seminar hosted by the Brookings Institution, government officials, academics, researchers and representatives from private companies gathered to discuss the importance of evaluating medical interventions in a wide variety of patients.

The director of the National Institute on Aging, Richard Hodes, discussed the importance of including the elderly in such studies. Historically, the elderly have been excluded from such studies, as researchers assumed their existing health problems made them poor subjects.However, as Hodes urged, it is vital that such patients be included in research in order to fully understand the effects of a given treatment.

A recent study of diabetes prevention, which included elderly patients, uncovered the fact that the drug metformin was not at all effective in the elderly despite its effectiveness in younger people. Instead, diet and exercise were found to be a superior treatment for elderly patients. Findings such as this one illustrate the importance of CER.