Defining value in health care: a scoping review of the literature

Int J Qual Health Care. 2021 Nov 12;33(4):mzab140. doi: 10.1093/intqhc/mzab140.


Background: As health-care spending rises internationally, policymakers have increasingly begun to look to improve health-care value. However, the precise definition of health-care value remains ambiguous.

Methods: We conducted a scoping review of the literature to understand how value has been defined in the context of health care. We searched PubMed, Embase, Google Scholar, PolicyFile and Scopus between February and March 2020 to identify articles eligible for inclusion. Publications that defined value (including high or low value) using an element of cost and an element of outcomes were included in this review. No restrictions were placed on the date of publication. Articles were limited to those published in English.

Results: Out of 1750 publications screened, 46 met inclusion criteria. Among the 46 included articles, 22 focused on overall value, 19 on low value and 5 on high value. We developed a framework to categorize definitions based on three core domains: components, perspective and scope. Differences across these three domains contributed to significant variations in definitions of value.

Conclusions: How value is defined has the potential to influence measurement and intervention strategies in meaningful ways. To effectively improve value in health-care systems, we must understand what is meant by value and the merits of different definitions.

Keywords: costs; high-value care; low-value care; outcomes; quality; value.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Delivery of Health Care*
  • Health Facilities*
  • Humans