Few drug studies compare effectiveness, safety

By Tom Nordlie • Published: June 7th, 2010
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

When you have a health problem, you want the treatment best suited to your needs.

Your doctors will make the best recommendations they can.

Unfortunately, medical journals may not give them much help.

That’s because articles that compare treatment options head-to-head aren’t as common as you might expect.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association provides insight into the problem.

Scientists examined every research article in six leading medical journals during a sixteen-month period.

About three-hundred-thirty articles concerned medications.

Of those, one-third compared a medication with another treatment option… a different drug, a different dose of the same drug, and so forth.

Most of these comparison studies were funded by government agencies and nonprofit organizations.

In contrast, most of the studies funded exclusively by private companies pitted a medication against a placebo treatment or no treatment.

That approach is often used when a company wants F-D-A approval for a new drug, or a new use for an existing drug.

Single-drug studies are important.

But if other options are available, these studies don’t typically help doctors decide what treatment to choose for a patient.

Also, only about one-fifth of all drug studies the researchers reviewed were focused on safety.

The researchers said that’s not enough, considering that several popular prescription drugs have been pulled from the market in recent years due to safety concerns.

The good news? The U-S Congress recently allocated more than one billion dollars for comparison studies.

So let’s hope doctors will soon have better resources for determining the best possible treatment to prescribe.