The influence of time horizon on results of cost-effectiveness analyses

Expert Rev Pharmacoecon Outcomes Res. 2017 Dec;17(6):615-623. doi: 10.1080/14737167.2017.1331432. Epub 2017 May 23.


Background: Debates persist on the appropriate time horizon from a payer's perspective and how the time horizon in cost-effectiveness analysis (CEA) influences the value assessment.

Methods: We systematically reviewed the Tufts Medical Center CEA Registry and identified US-based studies that used a payer perspective from 2005-2014. We classified the identified CEAs as short-term (time horizon ≤ 5 years) and long-term (> 5 years), and examined associations between study characteristics and the specified time horizon. We also developed case studies with selected interventions to further explore the relationship between time horizon and projected costs, benefits, and incremental cost-effectiveness ratios (ICER).

Results: Among 782 identified studies that met our inclusion criteria, 552 studies (71%) utilized a long-term time horizon while 198 studies (25%) used a short-term horizon. Among studies that employed multiple time horizons, the extension of the time horizon yielded more favorable ICERs in 19 cases and less favorable ICERs in 4 cases. Case studies showed the use of a longer time horizon also yielded more favorable ICERs.

Conclusion: The assumed time horizon in CEAs can substantially influence the value assessment of medical interventions. To capture all consequences, we encourage the use of time horizons that extend sufficiently into the future.

Keywords: Time horizon; cost-effectiveness analysis; health technology assessment; systematic review; value assessment.

MeSH terms

  • Cost-Benefit Analysis / methods*
  • Decision Making*
  • Humans
  • Registries
  • Research Design*
  • Time Factors
  • United States