Incorporating social network effects into cost-effectiveness analysis: a methodological contribution with application to obesity prevention

BMJ Open. 2012 Oct 31;2(6):e001038. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2012-001038. Print 2012.


Objectives: To develop a methodology for integrating social networks into traditional cost-effectiveness analysis (CEA) studies. This will facilitate the economic evaluation of treatment policies in settings where health outcomes are subject to social influence.

Design: This is a simulation study based on a Markov model. The lifetime health histories of a cohort are simulated, and health outcomes compared, under alternative treatment policies. Transition probabilities depend on the health of others with whom there are shared social ties.

Setting: The methodology developed is shown to be applicable in any healthcare setting where social ties affect health outcomes. The example of obesity prevention is used for illustration under the assumption that weight changes are subject to social influence.

Main outcome measures: Incremental cost-effectiveness ratio (ICER).

Results: When social influence increases, treatment policies become more cost effective (have lower ICERs). The policy of only treating individuals who span multiple networks can be more cost effective than the policy of treating everyone. This occurs when the network is more fragmented.

Conclusions: (1) When network effects are accounted for, they result in very different values of incremental cost-effectiveness ratios (ICERs). (2) Treatment policies can be devised to take network structure into account. The integration makes it feasible to conduct a cost-benefit evaluation of such policies.