The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) plans to conduct studies on strategies for letting consumers, doctors and health systems know which types of medical care seem to get the most bang for the buck.

AHRQ, an arm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), discusses the “comparative effectiveness research” communications studies in an information collection notice published today in the Federal Register.

AHRQ collects and sponsors comparative effectiveness research studies to implement health reform provisions included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009

AHRQ has tried to help patients, health care providers and others deal with the large number of studies that focus on the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of various medical treatments.

Members of the public need help with sorting through the studies because there are so many studies and the researchers who conducted some of the studies may have conflicts of interest, AHRQ officials say.

“Sorting through conflicting information requires a background in research that most patients do not have, and physicians have limited time to conduct these reviews,” officials say. “Having a neutral third party review research, draw conclusions, and disseminate findings is necessary to ensure effective health care delivery and consumption of quality care.”

AHRQ has tried to fill the gap with the Effective Healthcare Program (EHCP), which directly compares the benefits, potential risks, and costs of two or more health care interventions.

AHRQ now distributes reports on the EHCP comparisons through the Eisenberg Center, a research center at Baylor College in Houston.

AHRQ now wants to conduct four one-time projects to test other methods for spreading the EHCP

results, officials say.

AHRQ wants to see how well the other methods would create awareness of comparative effectiveness research findings and how much each approach would affect patient and health care provider behavior over time.

AHRQ intends to three conduct mail surveys of 1,926 doctors and other clinicians over a 4-year period; two telephone surveys of 1,000 consumers over a 3-year period; one telephone survey of health care system decision makers after the end of a 4-year period; and six follow-up focus group sessions with clinicians after the 2 clinician surveys.

The focus groups will include a subgroup of clinicians who use comparative effectiveness research, clinicians who are aware of the research but do not use it, and clinicians who have never heard of the research.

“One moderator guide will be used for each focus group,” officials say. “By asking the same questions to each clinician segment, who will have been targeted by all four dissemination contractors, differences among answers are more likely to be attributed to the segmentation criteria and eliminate bias through different questions.”

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