Calibrating models in economic evaluation: a seven-step approach

Pharmacoeconomics. 2011 Jan;29(1):35-49. doi: 10.2165/11584600-000000000-00000.


In economic evaluation, mathematical models have a central role as a way of integrating all the relevant information about a disease and health interventions, in order to estimate costs and consequences over an extended time horizon. Models are based on scientific knowledge of disease (which is likely to change over time), simplifying assumptions and input parameters with different levels of uncertainty; therefore, it is sensible to explore the consistency of model predictions with observational data. Calibration is a useful tool for estimating uncertain parameters, as well as more accurately defining model uncertainty (particularly with respect to the representation of correlations between parameters). Calibration involves the comparison of model outputs (e.g. disease prevalence rates) with empirical data, leading to the identification of model parameter values that achieve a good fit. This article provides guidance on the theoretical underpinnings of different calibration methods. The calibration process is divided into seven steps and different potential methods at each step are discussed, focusing on the particular features of disease models in economic evaluation. The seven steps are (i) Which parameters should be varied in the calibration process? (ii) Which calibration targets should be used? (iii) What measure of goodness of fit should be used? (iv) What parameter search strategy should be used? (v) What determines acceptable goodness-of-fit parameter sets (convergence criteria)? (vi) What determines the termination of the calibration process (stopping rule)? (vii) How should the model calibration results and economic parameters be integrated? The lack of standards in calibrating disease models in economic evaluation can undermine the credibility of calibration methods. In order to avoid the scepticism regarding calibration, we ought to unify the way we approach the problems and report the methods used, and continue to investigate different methods.

MeSH terms

  • Calibration / standards
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Guidelines as Topic*
  • Models, Econometric*
  • Models, Theoretical*