Objectives: The aim of this study was to promote approaches to health technology assessment (HTA) that are both evidence-based and values-based. We conducted a systematic review of published studies describing formal methods to consider equity in the context of cost-effectiveness analysis (CEA).
Methods: Candidate studies were identified through an unrestricted search of the Pub Med and EMBASE databases. The search closed on January 20, 2011. We identified additional studies by consulting experts and checking article bibliographies. Two authors independently reviewed each candidate study to determine inclusion and extracted data from studies retained for review. In addition to documenting methods, data extraction identified implicit and explicit notions of fairness. Data were synthesized in narrative form. Study quality was not assessed.
Results: Of the 695 candidate articles, 51 were retained for review. We identified three broad methods to facilitate quantitative consideration of equity concerns in economic evaluation: integration of distributional concerns through equity weights and social welfare functions, exploration of the opportunity costs of alternative policy options through mathematical programming, and multi-criteria decision analysis.
Conclusions: Several viable techniques to integrate equity concerns within CEA now exist, ranging from descriptive approaches to the quantitative methods studied in this review. Two obstacles at the normative level have impeded their use in decision making to date: the multiplicity of concepts and values discussed under the rubric of equity, and the lack of a widely accepted normative source on which to ground controversial value choices. Clarification of equity concepts and attention to procedural fairness may strengthen use of these techniques in HTA decision making.