Estimating mean QALYs in trial-based cost-effectiveness analysis: the importance of controlling for baseline utility

Health Econ. 2005 May;14(5):487-96. doi: 10.1002/hec.944.


In trial-based cost-effectiveness analysis baseline mean utility values are invariably imbalanced between treatment arms. A patient's baseline utility is likely to be highly correlated with their quality-adjusted life-years (QALYs) over the follow-up period, not least because it typically contributes to the QALY calculation. Therefore, imbalance in baseline utility needs to be accounted for in the estimation of mean differential QALYs, and failure to control for this imbalance can result in a misleading incremental cost-effectiveness ratio. This paper discusses the approaches that have been used in the cost-effectiveness literature to estimate absolute and differential mean QALYs alongside randomised trials, and illustrates the implications of baseline mean utility imbalance for QALY calculation. Using data from a recently conducted trial-based cost-effectiveness study and a micro-simulation exercise, the relative performance of alternative estimators is compared, showing that widely used methods to calculate differential QALYs provide incorrect results in the presence of baseline mean utility imbalance regardless of whether these differences are formally statistically significant. It is demonstrated that multiple regression methods can be usefully applied to generate appropriate estimates of differential mean QALYs and an associated measure of sampling variability, while controlling for differences in baseline mean utility between treatment arms in the trial.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cost-Benefit Analysis / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hysterectomy / economics
  • Hysterectomy / methods
  • Laparoscopy / economics
  • Models, Econometric*
  • Quality-Adjusted Life Years*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic / economics*
  • Regression Analysis
  • United Kingdom