Where to Find Good Health Statistics

Health statistics are important. They are needed to make informed decisions not only about health care for you and your loved ones, but also for he health care of the nation. Unfortunately, there are a number of problems regarding health statistics. There are all sorts of health statistics coming from all sources. One problem is that the different sources have different agendas. This potential bias should be obvious for drug companies, but there is also potential bias coming from health agencies, which one would presume to be neutral. Agencies can believe in certain policies and then present statistics to support these policies. Different statistics are appropriate for different purposes. The immediately preceding blog post, Health Statistics, discussed the difference between survival rates and death rates.

There is a very good book to help you understand health statistics. It is Know Your Chances: Understanding Health Statistics by Steve Woloshin, MD, MS, Lisa M. Schwarts, MD, MS, and H. Gilbert Welch, MD, MPH. They help you see the hype in medical news, ads, and public service announcements. The publisher is the University of California Press, www.ucpress.edu.

The following websites are recommended sources for good, reliable health statistics. All these sites are free. The first set of sites were created primarily for consumers.

The Center for Medical Consumers is an independent, nonprofit organization. It provides recent health news and a skeptical view on health claims.

medical consumers.org

Consumers Reports Best Buy Drugs is another independent, nonprofit organization. It uses the Drug Effectiveness Review Project to compare the benefits, side effects, and costs of different drugs for the same medical problem.


The Ottawa Health Research Institute for Patient Decision Aids is an academic affiliate of the University of Ottawa. They provide a comprehensive inventory of decision aids, ratings of the effectiveness of these aids, and provides information on how to get them.


Although the following sources were created primarily for physicians and policy makers, consumers should not fear consulting them. These are all free.

The U.S. Federal Agency under Health and Human Services, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) has a website that summarizes all the available data about treatment for specific conditions (look for EPC Evidence Reports).


The Drug Effectiveness Review Project (DERP) is a collaboration of public and private organizations developed by the Oregon Health and Science University. It provides comparative data on the benefit, side effects, and costs of different prescription drugs that treat the same problem. This is the course used by the aforementioned Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs.


The National Institute for Health and Clinical Evidence (NICE) is an independent, nonprofit, British organization that advises the British National Health Service. They provides summaries of all the available data about treatments for specific conditions.


The Physician Data Query (PDQ) is part of the National Cancer Institute. It provides summaries of all the available data about cancer prognosis and treatments.


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Center for Drug Evaluation and Research reviews and approves new and generic drugs.

fda.gov/cder/index.html To look up individual drugs, go to accessdata.fda.gov/Scripts/cder/DrugsatFDA/

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) is an independent panel of experts sponsored by the AHRQ. They provide recommendations on a wide variety of clinical topics.




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