Using Clinical Trial Data to Estimate the Costs of Behavioral Interventions for Potential Adopters: A Guide for Trialists

Med Decis Making. 2021 Jan;41(1):9-20. doi: 10.1177/0272989X20973160. Epub 2020 Nov 20.


Behavioral interventions involving electronic devices, financial incentives, gamification, and specially trained staff to encourage healthy behaviors are becoming increasingly prevalent and important in health innovation and improvement efforts. Although considerations of cost are key to their wider adoption, cost information is lacking because the resources required cannot be costed using standard administrative billing data. Pragmatic clinical trials that test behavioral interventions are potentially the best and often only source of cost information but rarely incorporate costing studies. This article provides a guide for researchers to help them collect and analyze, during the trial and with little additional effort, the information needed to inform potential adopters of the costs of adopting a behavioral intervention. A key challenge in using trial data is the separation of implementation costs, the costs an adopter would incur, from research costs. Based on experience with 3 randomized clinical trials of behavioral interventions, this article explains how to frame the costing problem, including how to think about costs associated with the control group, and describes methods for collecting data on individual costs: specifications for costing a technology platform that supports the specialized functions required, how to set up a time log to collect data on the time staff spend on implementation, and issues in getting data on device, overhead, and financial incentive costs.

Trial registration: NCT02708654 NCT01798784 NCT02246959.

Keywords: behavioral intervention; clinical trial; costing; medication adherence; outcomes research; pragmatic trial; preventive services; translating research into practice.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Behavior Therapy / economics*
  • Behavior Therapy / statistics & numerical data
  • Clinical Trials as Topic / statistics & numerical data
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis / methods
  • Health Behavior*
  • Humans

Associated data