Traditionally, US teaching hospitals have subsidised research by charging higher costs for treatment; however, this approach is being challenged. The growth of managed-care organisations, concerned about maximising profits, has led many to argue that clinical research will be damaged, whether by the loss of internal funds for research or by reductions in the numbers of patients available for studies. This review examines the evidence on which this argument is based. There is some evidence that managed-care organisations are refusing to cover patients who are involved in clinical trials, although, in general, they are receptive towards research providing that it is explicit and seen as relevant. The indirect effects of competition are, arguably, more important. Although many academic centres have established strategies to protect research funds, those working in the most competitive healthcare environments are obtaining fewer externally funded research grants. They are also publishing fewer papers and are working in climates that are seen as less supportive, with less ability to undertake research that is not externally funded. There is little evidence that managed care is reducing access to patients for clinical research. The growth of managed care is, together with certain other trends, also influencing the nature of clinical research. The overall consequences of these different factors are difficult to predict, although there are grounds for concern about recruitment and retention of junior researchers. The relationship between the various actors involved in healthcare and research is dynamic and, as pressure is excerpted in a particular direction, others adapt. It may be some time before the consequences of policies being enacted now are apparent.
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