To determine the extent to which health economic information is used in health policy decision-making in the UK, and to consider factors associated with the utilisation of such research findings.
Major electronic databases were searched up to 2004.
A systematic review of existing reviews on the use of economic evaluations in policy decision-making, of health and non-health literature on the use of economic analyses in policy making and of studies identifying actual or perceived barriers to the use of economic evaluations was undertaken. Five UK case studies of committees from four local and one national organisation [the Technology Appraisal Committee of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE)] were conducted. Local case studies were augmented by documentary analysis of new technology request forms and by workshop discussions with members of local decision-making committees.
The systematic review demonstrated few previous systematic reviews of evidence in the area. At the local level in the NHS, it was an exception for economic evaluation to inform technology coverage decisions. Local decision-making focused primarily on evidence of clinical benefit and cost implications. And whilst information on implementation was frequently requested, cost-effectiveness information was rarely accessed. A number of features of the decision-making environment appeared to militate against emphasis on cost-effectiveness analysis. Constraints on the capacity to generate, access and interpret information, led to a minor role for cost-effectiveness analysis in the local decision-making process. At the national policy level in the UK, economic analysis was found to be highly integrated into NICE's technology appraisal programme. Attitudes to economic evaluation varied between committee members with some significant disagreement and extraneous factors diluted the health economics analysis available to the committee. There was strong evidence of an ordinal approach to consideration of clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness information. Some interviewees considered the key role of a cost-effectiveness analysis to be the provision of a framework for decision-making. Interviewees indicated that NICE makes use of some form of cost-effectiveness threshold but expressed concern about its basis and its use in decision-making. Frustrations with the appraisal process were expressed in terms of the scope of the policy question being addressed. Committee members raised concerns about lack of understanding of the economic analysis but felt that a single measure of benefit, e.g. the quality-adjusted life-year, was useful in allowing comparison of disparate health interventions and in providing a benchmark for later decisions. The importance of ensuring that committee members understood the limitations of the analysis was highlighted for model-based analyses.
This study suggests that research is needed into structures, processes and mechanisms by which technology coverage decisions can and should be made in healthcare. Further development of 'resource centres' may be useful to provide independent published analyses in order to support local decision-makers. Improved methods of economic analyses and of their presentation, which take account of the concerns of their users, are needed. Finally, the findings point to the need for further assessment of the feasibility and value of a formal process of clarification of the objectives that we seek from investments in healthcare.