A research center that’s supposed to compare how well various medical treatment options work is taking years to get much effectiveness data out to the public.

Drafters of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (PPACA) created the center, the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI), in an effort to improve health care by finding out which treatments really work best.

PCORI is supposed to award about $3.5 billion research contracts through 2019. After 2019, it must shut down or get new authorization from Congress to continue operations.

Insurers and self-funded employer health plans are paying for the research.

See also: PPACA PCORI fee: Due July 31

PPACA requires the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) to tell Congress about PCORI’s progress in 2015.

Even though PCORI came to life in 2010, it did not establish broad research priorities until 2012. As of October 2014, it had awarded 360 research contract awards with a value of about $671 million. 

Because few PCORI research results will be available before 2017, early measures of PCORI’s own effectiveness probably won’t be available until then, and full evaluation of PCORI effectiveness measures won’t be possible until 2020, Kathleen King, a GAO director, writes in a report of the GAO’s findings.

See also: GAO finds little care cost research

PCORI expects to spend $271 million on developing PCORnet, a combination of 29 separate health data networks that’s supposed to help researchers share their data. PCORI has started testing the system and hopes to start making it available to researchers in September.

Getting PCORnet to work properly may be difficult, in part because of a lack of data standardization, King says.

For the comparative effectiveness research itself, one challenge will be the difficulty of measuring the effects of various care strategies over a period of just five to 10 years, King says.

Another challenge will be knowing whether the PCORI research itself leads to any changes in the health care system, King says.