January 24, 2008 / 10:20 PM / 10 years ago

Report seeks one-stop source for health info

CHICAGO (Reuters) - For patients weary of scary headlines about popular treatments like the heart drug Vytorin, a new report issued on Thursday by U.S. Institute of Medicine may offer welcome relief.

It recommends that the U.S. Congress establish a single national resource of health information. The goal would be to make it clear what is known about the effectiveness of a drug or treatment, and what is not.

“We need a way to synthesize data about the effectiveness of health care products and services in a standardized, objective fashion that will be considered reliable and trustworthy by all decision makers,” said Dr. Barbara McNeil of Harvard School of Medicine, who worked on the report.

“A system coordinated by a single, national entity that can prioritize and coordinate these evaluations would enable us to sort the wheat from the chaff and make sense of it all,” McNeil said in a statement.

The Institute of Medicine, working with the National Academy of Sciences, provides independent advice to U.S. policymakers and the public.

The group said spending on ineffective treatments only adds to the nation’s growing health care bill, which now amounts to $2 trillion per year or roughly $7,000 per person, according to the American Medical Association.

Many consumers are being asked to make better, more economical choices about their health, but piles of conflicting and confusing data make that task daunting.

The proposal recommends that Congress direct the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to establish and fund a program that evaluates clinical services and conducts systematic reviews of research studies.

“If conducted properly, the systematic review should make obvious the gap between what is known about the effectiveness of a particular service and what clinicians and patients want to know,” the report said.

This program also would be charged with setting clinical practice standards and guidelines, a step that might limit the use of questionable treatments and steer patients to treatments that are likely to provide the most benefit.

“We know that policy makers, clinicians and patients are clamoring for this kind of information power -- we need to accelerate progress in putting this evidence in their hands,” Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which funded the report, said in a statement.

Editing by Maggie Fox and David Wiessler

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