Evaluating the cost-effectiveness of clinical and public health measures

Annu Rev Public Health. 1998:19:125-52. doi: 10.1146/annurev.publhealth.19.1.125.


Cost-effectiveness analysis, an analytic tool that expresses as a ratio the cost of obtaining an additional unit of health outcome, can help decision makers achieve more health protection for the same or less cost. We characterize the state of the cost-effectiveness analysis literature by reviewing how this technique is applied to various clinical and public health interventions. We describe the results of cost-effectiveness analyses for over 40 interventions to reduce cancer, heart disease, trauma, and infectious disease. The cost-effectiveness ratios for these interventions vary enormously, from interventions that save money to those that cost more than $1 million per year of life gained. The methods used to derive the cost-effectiveness ratios also vary considerably, and we summarize this variation within each health area. Greater uniformity of analytical practice will be necessary if cost-effectiveness analysis is to become a more influential tool in debates about resource allocation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Communicable Disease Control / economics*
  • Coronary Disease / economics*
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Costs and Cost Analysis / methods*
  • Health Services Research / economics
  • Health Services Research / methods*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / economics*
  • Public Health / economics*
  • United States
  • Wounds and Injuries / economics*