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Medicine Under the Microscope

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Science  27 Nov 2009:
Vol. 326, Issue 5957, pp. 1183-1185
DOI: 10.1126/science.326.5957.1183

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An evidence-rich kind of analysis known as comparative effectiveness research (CER) received a windfall of $1.1 billion in February under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. CER draws data from many sources to reach an evidence-based judgment on the value (or lack of value) of medical techniques and strategies. The process must be rigorous, according to a definition of CER hammered out in June by a federal coordinating group. Its scope is broad, ranging from comparing drugs in a clinical trial to studying behavior-modification methods to dissecting the impact of health policies. The aim is to survey a patient's choices and determine which course works best. The results of a CER study are somewhat like a consumer's guide (see sidebar)—and often as confusing.