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First Steps on Comparative Effectiveness Grants Expected Next Week

By Rebecca Adams, CQ HealthBeat Associate Editor

March 4, 2011 -- The new nonprofit institute that will provide federal funds for comparative effectiveness research may be ready to move forward on some grant awards after a two-day meeting that starts Monday, March 7, in St. Louis.

The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) was created last fall under authority in the 2010 health care law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152) to provide a stable source of funding for studies that compare the effectiveness of various treatments and ways of delivering care for the same condition. During the health care debate, the topic of comparative effectiveness research became controversial. Republicans feared that Medicare officials eventually will use study findings to deny care for treatments that are seen as less effective for most people than other alternatives.

At the meeting next week, members of different committees on the board will propose work plans to the rest of the panel members. The program development committee, which is the group that will guide the research agenda of the institute after gathering public input, will present its initial plans for the next six to 12 months on Monday afternoon.

Board of governors vice chairman Steven Lipstein said in an interview that the program development committee will probably recommend that PCORI make some initial grants to groups that can help the institute decide such issues as how to best disseminate research findings and increase the likelihood that clinicians will use the studies as they are weighing different treatment options for patients. The idea is that even before the institute starts handing out funding for research on specific treatments or delivery of care models, officials should commission some work that could inform the process of setting a research agenda and helping the public understand how to use findings.

Lipstein predicted that the board of governors could reach a consensus either at this two-day meeting or at the next one about what types of grants to pursue. Lipstein said that the awards could go to a variety of organizations—potentially including patient advocacy organizations, stakeholder groups for discussion forums, researchers, market research experts for focus groups.

The institute is still in the early stages of its work. The board of governors has met twice since October and has established a committee to guide research methodology. The board hopes to hire a director by the end of April.

Rebecca Adams can be reached at [email protected]  

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