MEDICAL TREATMENTS: National Outcomes Database Plan Underway
Hoping to assist patients and physicians in selecting the proper treatment and medications, Century City, Calif., businessman Joseph Kanter, with the help of the federal government, wants to create a national health outcomes database, the Los Angeles Times reports. The database will provide computerized records of different medications and how they worked in past cases. Three years in the making, Kanter's database plan already has the backing of Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), who said the database would be the "fruition" of the government's efforts to improve health care. In addition, HHS' Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality recently announced its support for the database. AHRQ Director Dr. John Eisenberg, along with Kanter, have invited officials from the nation's largest health care organizations to attend a database planning conference Oct. 30 in Washington, D.C. Unlike other projects, such as the American Medical Association's "national guidelines" for treatment listed on its Web site, Kanter said his database plan would be geared to patients as well as health care providers. Kanter said, "It will not be written in medicalese (but rather) in language that can be understood by an average patient."
Although the database would help physicians prescribe the best medications for their patients, Kanter acknowledged that some providers oppose the project for fear that it would reduce the "placebo phenomenon." Kanter said, "If you combine the natural tendency of the body to heal with the placebo effect of people thinking their doctor is God, you get patients recovering without treatment about 20% of the time. So the medical profession is saying 'We don't want to cause the public to lose faith in us.'" The database project faces additional hurdles, including the issue of protecting patients' privacy. Although some patients would have concerns about having their medical records stored in a publicly-accessible database, Kanter said that ensuring anonymity would be essential. Constructing a workable database is another concern, but Kanter said that medical and technical experts have concluded that the project is feasible. Other challenges include translating technical medical terms into user-friendly language and establishing a standard recording method. Perhaps the biggest obstacle will be funding. While Eisenberg said that the public is interested in the information the database would provide, he is uncertain that HHS has the money to finance the project. Still in the planning stages, Kanter said that he is content to focus on raising awareness of the database in the short run. Kanter said, "Not many people outside the field know about it. Everybody knows about clinical research, which produces treatments and vaccines, but very few know about outcomes research" (Newmayer, 8/1).