Common methodological flaws in economic evaluations

Med Care. 2005 Jul;43(7 Suppl):5-14. doi: 10.1097/01.mlr.0000170001.10393.b7.


Economic evaluations are increasingly being used by those bodies such as government agencies and managed care groups that make decisions about the reimbursement of health technologies. However, several reviews of economic evaluations point to numerous deficiencies in the methodology of studies or the failure to follow published methodological guidelines. This article, written for healthcare decision-makers and other users of economic evaluations, outlines the common methodological flaws in studies, focussing on those issues that are likely to be most important when deciding on the reimbursement, or guidance for use, of health technologies. The main flaws discussed are: (i) omission of important costs or benefits; (ii) inappropriate selection of alternatives for comparison; (iii) problems in making indirect comparisons; (iv) inadequate representation of the effectiveness data; (v) inappropriate extrapolation beyond the period observed in clinical studies; (vi) excessive use of assumptions rather than data; (vii) inadequate characterization of uncertainty; (viii) problems in aggregation of results; (ix) reporting of average cost-effectiveness ratios; (x) lack of consideration of generalizability issues; and (xi) selective reporting of findings. In each case examples are given from the literature and guidance is offered on how to detect flaws in economic evaluations.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Decision Making*
  • Drug Costs
  • Health Services Research / methods*
  • Models, Econometric
  • Quality Assurance, Health Care
  • Reimbursement Mechanisms / economics