Increasingly complex models are being used to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of medical interventions. We describe the multiple sources of uncertainty that are relevant to such models, and their relation to either probabilistic or deterministic sensitivity analysis. A Bayesian approach appears natural in this context. We explore how sensitivity analysis to patient heterogeneity and parameter uncertainty can be simultaneously investigated, and illustrate the necessary computation when expected costs and benefits can be calculated in closed form, such as in discrete-time discrete-state Markov models. Information about parameters can either be expressed as a prior distribution, or derived as a posterior distribution given a generalized synthesis of available data in which multiple sources of evidence can be differentially weighted according to their assumed quality. The resulting joint posterior distributions on costs and benefits can then provide inferences on incremental cost-effectiveness, best presented as posterior distributions over net-benefit and cost-effectiveness acceptability curves. These ideas are illustrated with a detailed running example concerning the cost-effectiveness of hip prostheses in different age-sex subgroups. All computations are carried out using freely available software for conducting Markov chain Monte Carlo analysis.
Copyright 2003 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.