Making economic evaluations respectable

Soc Sci Med. 1997 Aug;45(4):555-62. doi: 10.1016/s0277-9536(96)00396-6.


Policy-makers worldwide are on a quest to control national spending for health care and to enhance the value received for whatever is being spent on health care. One should think that the economic evaluation of clinical practice would play a major role in this quest. Alas, so far it has not, in spite of considerable progress in the development of suitable methodology for such evaluations. The central point of this paper is that the sheer conceptual and practical complexities of economic evaluations in this context are not the only and possibly not the major barrier to a more widespread use of this type of analysis. Just as important may be the suspicion among lay persons that such analyses are easily driven by the assumptions the analyst packages into the analysis which, in turn, opens economic evaluation to hidden bias toward favored results. It is proposed in this paper that this particular barrier to the use of economic evaluations in health policy could be overcome if these analyses were more routinely subjected to the rigorous and penetrating audits that are customary in financial accounting. Typically, research papers in economics are audited through peer review only as to the methodology employed. The suggestions here is that a proper, respectable audit ought to penetrate all the way to the data that were used to produce the findings in a study. The paper concludes with some suggestions on how to develop such an audit infrastructure.

MeSH terms

  • Cost Control / trends
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis / trends
  • Forecasting
  • Health Care Costs / trends*
  • Health Policy / economics*
  • Humans
  • Medical Audit
  • Peer Review
  • United States