Burden of disease and economic evaluation of healthcare interventions: are we investigating what really matters?

BMC Health Serv Res. 2011 Apr 13;11:75. doi: 10.1186/1472-6963-11-75.


Background: The allocation of limited available healthcare resources demands an agreed rational allocation principle and the consequent priority setting. We assessed the association between economic evaluations of healthcare interventions published in Spain (1983-2008) and the disease burden in the population.

Methods: Electronic databases (e.g., PubMed/MEDLINE, SCOPUS, ISI Web of Knowledge, CRD, IME, IBECS) and reports from health technology assessment agencies were systematically reviewed. For each article, multiple variables were recorded such as: year and journal of publication, type of study, health intervention targetted, perspective of analysis, type of costs and sources of information, first author's affiliation, explicit recommendations aimed at decision-making, and the main disease cause to which the intervention was addressed. The following disease burden measures were calculated: years of life lost (YLLs), years lived with disability (YLDs), disability-adjusted life years (DALYs), and mortality by cause. Correlation and linear regression models were fitted.

Results: Four hundred and seventy-seven economic evaluations were identified. Cardiovascular diseases (15.7%), infectious diseases (15.3%), malignant neoplasms (13.2%), and neuropsychiatric diseases (9.6%) were the conditions most commonly addressed. Accidents and injuries, congenital anomalies, oral conditions, nutritional deficiencies and other neoplasms were the categories with a lowest number of studies (0.6% for each of them). For the main disease categories (n = 20), a correlation was seen with: mortality 0.67 (p = 0.001), DALYs 0.63 (p = 0.003), YLLs 0.54 (p = 0.014), and YLDs 0.51 (p = 0.018). By disease sub-categories (n = 51), the correlations were generally low and non statistically significant.

Conclusions: Examining discrepancies between economic evaluations in particular diseases and the overall burden of disease helps shed light on whether there are potentially over- and under-investigated areas. The approach taken could help policy-makers understand whether resources for economic evaluation are being allocated by using summary measures of population health.

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Cost of Illness*
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Health Care Costs / statistics & numerical data*
  • Health Services / economics*
  • Health Services Research
  • Humans
  • Life Expectancy
  • Quality-Adjusted Life Years
  • Spain