Efficacy vs. Effectiveness

What is the difference between efficacy and effectiveness? In order to truly understand how these terms work in the world of medicine and clinical trials, it is important to understand efficacy vs. effectiveness, and how one matters more or less than the other. The following paragraphs will compare meanings and correct uses of efficacy and effectiveness to give you a firm understanding, so you will be prepared to read through reports, surveys and research findings to determine many answers for yourself.

Efficacy vs. Effectiveness: Meaning and Usage

Efficacy pertains to the desired effect created by a procedure, or service. It is based on the extent to which that intervention results in the effect researchers want to see, assuming the ideal conditions (like a controlled enviroment in a lab). Efficacy is easily proven in the laboratory, but translating that to real life can be more difficult.

Sample sentences:

Effectiveness is about real-world scenarios. It focuses on uncontrolled circumstances, such as those that occur outside the laboratory. It is based on the extent to which goals are achieved as a result of the intervention, whatever that might be. Effectiveness might be less promising than efficacy was in the same situation.

Sample sentences:

Relative efficacy is the extent to which the intervention does more good than harm, under ideal conditions, based on comparisons with one or more alternatives.

Relative effectiveness is the extent to which the intervention does more good than harm, under less-than-ideal conditions, such as those presented in a typical healthcare practice.

More Uses of Efficacy and Effectiveness

Though efficacy vs. effectiveness is a big deal in the medical world, there are other places where those terms are used in day-to-day life. Remember, efficacy focuses on the power to produce a certain effect under certain circumstances. This might be used in government discussions, such as the efficacy of a bombing or strategic plan; it might be used in law enforcement when discussing a particular way of preventing crime.

Effectiveness can also be used when gauging just how well something works in the real world. For example, how well does a certain ingredient work in heating up a dish? That’s how effective it is. Sometimes the words can be used interchangeably, depending upon the scenario, and whether there is a difference between ‘ideal conditions’ and ‘real world conditions’.

What About Efficiency?

Efficacy vs. effectiveness is about getting results. Efficiency is a related word that focuses on doing something well and succinctly, without a waste of money or time. Efficiency means getting the job done in the cheapest or easiest way possible without sacrificing quality.

When efficiency is used in terms of medical procedures or tests, it can mean that a certain output was quite efficient; for instance, a machine works very efficiently to deliver medications that would otherwise be difficult or unwieldy to administer. It might also be used to determine whether a treatment might be useful or not; for instance, something might be extremely effective, but if it is losing money with every treatment, it might not be efficient for pharmaceutical companies, physicians or even patients. 

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