Cost-effectiveness as an outcome in randomized clinical trials.
BACKGROUND: Economic outcomes are now included in many contemporary randomized trials and provide an additional dimension to the assessment of interventions. Economic data collection and analysis pose several methodologic challenges, however. PURPOSE: This paper reviews methods of incorporating economic outcomes in clinical trials. RESULTS: Data on medical resource utilization and cost can readily be collected along with data on clinical outcomes. The cost of planned interventions can be measured with reasonable accuracy, but costs due to unplanned clinical events are more difficult to measure reliably. The total cost depends critically on these relatively infrequent, yet costly, adverse outcomes, which may partially, or even completely, offset any difference between the planned costs of the randomized therapies. Newer therapies are typically more expensive than older therapies, so the most important question is whether patient outcomes are improved sufficiently to justify the added expense. Cost-effectiveness analysis helps gauge the value provided by a new therapy. The cost-effectiveness of an intervention compared with an alternative is defined as the ratio of the incremental costs and the incremental clinical benefits, measured as dollars per quality-adjusted life-year added. The follow-up period in most clinical trials is generally long enough to measure the added cost of therapy, but may not capture the full benefits of treatment. The limited time horizon of clinical trials makes it necessary to use a model to extrapolate the observed effect of treatment and project the increase in life expectancy. The resulting cost-effectiveness ratio is sensitive to assumptions about the long-term efficacy of treatment, particularly whether the treatment effect will continue or dissipate over time. CONCLUSION: Economic outcomes can be measured alongside clinical outcomes in randomized trial. While the use of cost-effectiveness models falls outside the strictly empirical, within-trial analysis framework that is embraced by most clinical trialists, it provides an explicit approach to assessing whether the intervention under study provides a clinically meaningful improvement in outcome that is worthwhile.
Hlatky, MA; Owens, DK; Sanders, GD
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