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With all the healthcare policy changes President Obama is hoping to usher in over the next few years, it might be comforting to know that a hospitalist will be leading at least one of these initiatives. Patrick Conway, MD, has been selected to serve as executive director of the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Federal Coordinating Council for Comparative Effectiveness Research. Authorized by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the council is responsible for allocating $1.1 billion for research that will compare various medical interventions.

Dr. Conway, a pediatric hospitalist who also is chief medical officer in the policy division of the Office of Secretary at HHS and does weekend rounds at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., spoke with the TH eWire about his new role.

Some physicians are concerned the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) will use the council’s findings to make payment decisions. Is this a valid worry?

They specifically put in the Recovery Act that this information should not be construed as mandates or clinical guidelines for coverage or payment. Our purview now is to fund the research that provides the information.

Is there a lack of comparative effectiveness research?

Yes. The reason this is important is there are so many common clinical decisions that as a clinician or patient we don’t know the answer to. I’ll give you one concrete example from last week when I was on service. A mother’s child who is neurologically impaired and therefore [has gastroesophageal reflux disease] asked me if [her child] should have surgery or medical management for this problem. So I have to have the painful conversation with her that there’s not good evidence to inform or start to point to whether for her child or the specific circumstances of her child she should get surgery or medical treatment.

How can get hospitalists get involved in this project?

Hospitalists should try to be on the agenda for public listening sessions to share their viewpoints. There will be spots for people to publicly read their testimony. There’ll also likely be the ability to submit comments online.

For more information or to sign up for the council’s Listening Sessions, visit www.hhs.gov/recovery/programs/cer/index.html.

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