Presenting evidence and summary measures to best inform societal decisions when comparing multiple strategies

Pharmacoeconomics. 2011 Jul;29(7):563-77. doi: 10.2165/11587100-000000000-00000.


Multiple strategy comparisons in health technology assessment (HTA) are becoming increasingly important, with multiple alternative therapeutic actions, combinations of therapies and diagnostic and genetic testing alternatives. Comparison under uncertainty of incremental cost, effects and cost effectiveness across more than two strategies is conceptually and practically very different from that for two strategies, where all evidence can be summarized in a single bivariate distribution on the incremental cost-effectiveness plane. Alternative methods for comparing multiple strategies in HTA have been developed in (i) presenting cost and effects on the cost-disutility plane and (ii) summarizing evidence with multiple strategy cost-effectiveness acceptability (CEA) and expected net loss (ENL) curves and frontiers. However, critical questions remain for the analyst and decision maker of how these techniques can be best employed across multiple strategies to (i) inform clinical and cost inference in presenting evidence, and (ii) summarize evidence of cost effectiveness to inform societal reimbursement decisions where preferences may be risk neutral or somewhat risk averse under the Arrow-Lind theorem. We critically consider how evidence across multiple strategies can be best presented and summarized to inform inference and societal reimbursement decisions, given currently available methods. In the process, we make a number of important original findings. First, in presenting evidence for multiple strategies, the joint distribution of costs and effects on the cost-disutility plane with associated flexible comparators varying across replicates for cost and effect axes ensure full cost and effect inference. Such inference is usually confounded on the cost-effectiveness plane with comparison relative to a fixed origin and axes. Second, in summarizing evidence for risk-neutral societal decision making, ENL curves and frontiers are shown to have advantages over the CEA frontier in directly presenting differences in expected net benefit (ENB). The CEA frontier, while identifying strategies that maximize ENB, only presents their probability of maximizing net benefit (NB) and, hence, fails to explain why strategies maximize ENB at any given threshold value. Third, in summarizing evidence for somewhat risk-averse societal decision making, trade-offs between the strategy maximizing ENB and other potentially optimal strategies with higher probability of maximizing NB should be presented over discrete threshold values where they arise. However, the probabilities informing these trade-offs and associated discrete threshold value regions should be derived from bilateral CEA curves to prevent confounding by other strategies inherent in multiple strategy CEA curves. Based on these findings, a series of recommendations are made for best presenting and summarizing cost-effectiveness evidence for reimbursement decisions when comparing multiple strategies, which are contrasted with advice for comparing two strategies. Implications for joint research and reimbursement decisions are also discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Biomedical Technology / economics
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Decision Making*
  • Humans
  • Reimbursement Mechanisms / economics*
  • Technology Assessment, Biomedical / economics
  • Technology Assessment, Biomedical / methods*