In New York Times, Analysis Group Affiliate Anupam B. Jena Explores What Coronavirus Researchers Can Learn from Economists

July 1, 2020

In medicine, randomized controlled trials are the gold standard – but they take time, which is in short supply during the novel coronavirus pandemic. Much can be gleaned, however, from an abundance of natural experiments already occurring in hospitals with COVID-19 patients. This is according to a New York Times article by Analysis Group affiliate Anupam B. Jena, a physician, economist, and the Ruth L. Newhouse Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School, and coauthor Christopher M. Worsham, a pulmonologist and critical care physician.

Natural experiments, in which researchers look for circumstances happening by chance, are familiar to economists. However, the authors suggest that natural experiments could also help reveal medical advances in critically ill COVID-19 patients, especially given the pandemic’s rapid pace. They note that tracking the impacts of treatment timing, treatment thresholds, staggered changes in protocols, and medicine shortages could yield useful information far faster than a randomized trial, while avoiding the hidden biases that can occur in observational studies.

Read the article