It's not often that we're treated to the spectacle of back-to-back national political conventions. One week, 20 percent of the country is cheering while their polar political opposites hurl invective at the TV; the next week they change places. Meanwhile the protean mass in the middle have presumably found something more entertaining to do of a late summer's eve. But there are actually interesting things going on these days outside of Denver and St. Paul, Minn. (Now there's a sentence I never imagined I'd write.)

In the Senate, legislation was introduced to establish the Health Care Comparative Effectiveness Research Institute, a private nonprofit corporation to study which medical treatments—including surgeries, pharmaceuticals and medical devices—have the best clinical outcomes. The institute would be funded by private and public entities through the creation of a Comparative Effectiveness Research Trust Fund. I'm having a hard time finding something about that proposal to disagree with. 

Unconnected, but providing a nice synergy, a GAO study found the FDA to be "ill-equipped to catch even blatant marketing abuses by drug companies," according to the AP report describing it.  With 44 full-time employees assigned to review all drug advertising, including TV and magazine ads, the agency had 68,000 advertisements to review last year alone.

Finally, again formally unconnected but serendipitous, Stanford University became the latest major university to announce that it would severely restrict drug and device company financing of continuing medical education at its medical school. Instead, any funding would be paid into a schoolwide pool for university contributions to medical education and could be used for any course.

Critics will counter that the final decision to use any drug, device or procedure still rests with the doctor, and they'd be right. But given the firehose of medical marketing information on drugs, procedures and devices loosed on physicians today versus the garden sprinkler of peer-generated, peer-reviewed data, steps like these may go a long way toward leveling the information flow, and lead to better decisions.