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Cost-Effectiveness and Cost-Benefit Analyses in the Medical Literature: Are the Methods Being Used Correctly?

I. Steven Udvarhelyi, MD, MSC; Graham A. Colditz, MBBS, DrPH; Arti Rai, AB; and Arnold M. Epstein, MD, MA
[+] Article and Author Information

Grant Support: Dr. Epstein was a Kaiser Foundation Faculty Scholar in General Internal Medicine when this work was initiated. Dr. Udvarhelyi was the recipient of a Medical Foundation Award.

Requests for Reprints: Arnold M. Epstein, MD, MA. Harvard Medical School, Department of Health Care Policy, 25 Shattuck Street, Parcel B, 1st floor, Boston, MA 02115.

Current Author Addresses: Dr. Udvarhelyi: Prudential Insurance Company, Group and Financial Services Office. 410-ROS2. 56 North Livingston Avenue, Roseland, NJ 07068.

Dr. Colditz: Channing Laboratories, Brigham and Women's Hospital. 180 Longwood Avenue, Boston, MA 02115.

Ms. Rai: c/o J. Bains, MD, 2307 South Park, Springfield, IL 62704.

Dr. Epstein: Harvard Medical School, Department of Health Care Policy, 25 Shattuck Street. Parcel B, 1st floor, Boston, MA 02115.


© 1992 American College of PhysiciansAmerican College of Physicians


Ann Intern Med. 1992;116(3):238-244. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-116-3-238
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This excerpt has been provided in the absence of an abstract.

Objective: To determine whether published cost-effectiveness and cost-benefit analyses have adhered to basic analytic principles.

Design: Structured methodologie review of published articles.

Study Sample: Seventy-seven articles published either from 1978 to 1980 or from 1985 to 1987 in general medical, general surgical, and medical subspecialty journals.

Main Outcome Measurements: Articles were reviewed to assess the use and reporting of six fundamental principles of analysis. These principles were derived by reviewing widely cited textbooks and articles describing the methods for performing economic analyses and by selecting the methods universally recommended.

Main Results: Overall performance was only fair. Three articles adhered to all six principles, and the median number of principles to which articles adhered was three. Among the problems noted were failure to make underlying assumptions explicit and, therefore, verifiable, and failure to test assumptions with sensitivity analyses. No improvement in performance was observed between 1978 and 1987. Articles in general medical journals, however, were more likely to use analytic methods appropriately than articles in the general surgical or medical subspecialty literature.

Conclusions: Greater attention should be devoted to ensuring the appropriate use of analytic methods for economic analyses, and readers should make note of the methods used when interpreting the results of economic analyses.

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