Thesis Thursday: Ernest Law

On the third Thursday of every month, we speak to a recent graduate about their thesis and their studies. This month’s guest is Dr Ernest Law who has a PhD from the University of Illinois at Chicago. If you would like to suggest a candidate for an upcoming Thesis Thursday, get in touch.

Title
Examining sources of variation in developing a societal health state value set
Supervisors
Simon Pickard, Todd Lee, Surrey Walton, Alan Schwartz, Feng Xie
Repository link
http://hdl.handle.net/10027/23037

How did you come to study EQ-5D valuation methods, and why are they important?

I came across health preferences research after beginning my studies at UIC with my thesis supervisor, Prof. Simon Pickard. Before this, I was a clinical pharmacist who spent a lot of time helping patients and their families navigate the trade-offs between the benefits and harms of pharmacotherapy. So, when I was introduced to a set of methods that seeks to quantify such trade-offs, I was quickly captivated and set on a path to understanding more. I continued on to expand my interests in valuation methods pertinent to health-system decision-making. Naturally, I collided with societal health state value sets – important tools developed from generic preference-based measures, such as the EQ-5D.

During my studies at UIC, our group received a grant (PI: Simon Pickard) from the EuroQol Research Foundation to develop the United States EQ-5D-5L value set. While developing the study protocol, we built in additional data elements (e.g., EQ-5D-3L valuation tasks, advance directive status) that would help answer important questions in explaining variation in value sets. By understanding these sources of variation, we could inform researchers and policymakers alike on the development and application of EQ-5D value sets.

What does your thesis add to the debate about EQ-5D-3L and -5L value sets?

As a self-reported measure, the literature appears reasonably clear regarding the 5L’s advantages over the 3L: reduced ceiling effects, more unique self-reported health states, and improved discriminatory power. However, less was known on how differences in descriptive systems impact direct valuations.

Previous comparisons focused on differences in index scores and QALYs generated from existing value sets. But these value sets differed in substantive ways: preferences from different respondents, in different time periods, from different geographic locations, using different study protocols. This makes it difficult to isolate the differences due to the descriptive system.

In our study, we asked respondents in the US EQ-5D valuation study to complete time trade-off tasks for 3L and 5L health states. By doing so, we were able to hold many of the aforementioned factors constant except the valued health state. From a research perspective, we provide strong evidence on how even small changes in the descriptive system can have a profound impact on the valuations. From a policy perspective, and an HTA agency deciding specifically between the 3L and 5L, we’ve provided critical insight into the kind of value set one might expect to obtain using either descriptive system.

Why are health state valuations by people with advance directives particularly interesting?

The interminable debate over “whose preferences” should be captured when obtaining preferences for the purposes of generating QALYs is well-known among health outcomes researchers and policy-makers. Two camps typically emerge, those that argue for capturing preferences from the general population and those that argue for patients to be the primary source. The supporting arguments for both sides have been well-documented. One additional approach has recently emerged which may reconcile some of the differences by using informed preferences. Guidance from influential groups in the US, such as the First and Second Panels of Cost-Effectiveness in Health and Medicine have also maintained that “the best articulation of a society’s preferences… would be gathered from a representative sample of fully informed members”.

We posited that individuals with advance directives may represent a group that had reflected substantially on their current health state, as well as the experience and consequences of a range of (future) health states. Individuals who complete an advance directive undergo a process that includes discussion and documentation of an individual’s preferences concerning their goals of care in the event they are unable to do so themselves. So we set out to examine this relationship between advance directives and stated preferences, and whether the completion of an advance directive was associated with differences in health state preferences (spoiler: it was).

Is there evidence that value sets should be updated over time?

We sought to address this literature gap by using respondent-level data from the US EQ-5D-3L study that collected TTO values in 2002 and from our EQ-5D-5L study, which also collected 3L TTO values in 2017. However there were inherent challenges with using these data collected so many years apart: demographics shift, new methods and modes of administration are implemented, etc.

So, we attempted to account for what was possible by controlling for respondent characteristics and restricting health state values to those obtained using the same preference elicitation technique (i.e., conventional TTO). We found that values in 2017 were modestly higher, implying that the average adult in the US in 2017 was less willing to trade time for quality of life than in 2002, i.e. 6 months over a 10-year time-horizon. Our research suggests that time-specific differences in societal preferences exist and that the time period in which values were elicited may be an important factor to consider when selecting or applying a value set.

Based on your research, do you have any recommendations for future valuation studies?

I would encourage researchers conducting future valuation studies, particularly societal value sets, to consider some of the following:

1) Consider building in small but powerful methodological sub-aims into your study. Of course, you must balance resource constraints, data quality, and respondent burden against such add-ons, but a balance can be struck!

2) Pay attention to important developments in the population being sampled; for example, we incorporated advance directives because it is becoming an important topic in the US healthcare debate, in addition to contributing to the discussion surrounding informed preferences.

3) Take a close look at the most commonly utilized health state values sets representing your health-system/target population. Is it possible that existing value sets are “outdated”? If so, a proposal to update this value set might fill a very important need. While you’re at it, consider an analysis to compare current and previous values. The evidence is scarce (and difficult to study!) so it’s important to continue building evidence that can inform the broader scientific and HTA community as to the role that time plays in changes to societal preferences.

Chris Sampson’s journal round-up for 17th December 2018

Every Monday our authors provide a round-up of some of the most recently published peer reviewed articles from the field. We don’t cover everything, or even what’s most important – just a few papers that have interested the author. Visit our Resources page for links to more journals or follow the HealthEconBot. If you’d like to write one of our weekly journal round-ups, get in touch.

Health related quality of life aspects not captured by EQ-5D-5L: results from an international survey of patients. Health Policy Published 14th December 2018

Generic preference-based measures, such as the EQ-5D, cannot capture all aspects of health-related quality of life. They’re not meant to. Rather, their purpose is to capture just enough information to be able to adequately distinguish between health states with respect to the domains deemed normatively relavent to decisionmakers. The stated aim of this paper is to determine whether people with a variety of chronic conditions believe that their experiences can be adequately represented by the EQ-5D-5L.

The authors conducted an online survey, identifying participants through 320 patient associations across 47 countries. Participants were asked to complete the EQ-5D-5L and then asked if any aspects of their illness, which had a “big impact” on their health, were not captured by the EQ-5D-5L. 1,031 people started the survey and 767 completed it. More than half were from the UK. 51% of respondents said that there was some aspect of health not captured by the EQ-5D-5L. Of them, 19% mentioned fatigue, 12% mentioned medication side effects, 9.5% mentioned co-morbid conditions, and then a bunch of others in smaller proportions.

It’s nice to know what people think, but I have a few concerns about the usefulness of this study. One of the main problems is that it doesn’t seem safe to assume that respondents interpret “big impact” as meaning “an impact that is independently important in determining your overall level of quality of life”. So, even if we accept that people judging something to be important makes it important (which I’m not sure it does), then we still can’t be sure whether what they are identifying is within the scope of what we’re trying to measure. For starters, I can see no justification for including a ‘medication side effects’ domain. There’s also some concern about selection and attrition. I’d guess that people with more complicated or less common health concerns would be more likely to start and finish a survey about more complicated or less common health concerns.

The main thing I took from this study is that half of respondents with chronic diseases thought that the EQ-5D-5L captured every single aspect of health that had a “big impact”, and that there wasn’t broad support for any other specific dimension.

Reducing drug wastage in pharmaceuticals dosed by weight or body surface areas by optimising vial sizes. Applied Health Economics and Health Policy [PubMed] Published 5th December 2018

It’s common for pharmaceuticals to be wasted. Not just those out-of-date painkillers you threw in the bin, but also the expensive stuff being used in hospitals. One of the main reasons that waste occurs is that vials are made to specific sizes and, often, dosage varies from patient to patient – according to weight, for example – and doesn’t match the vial size. Suppose that vials are available as 50mg and 80mg and that an individual requires a 60mg dose. One way to address this might be to allow for vial sharing, whereby the leftovers are given to the next patient. But that isn’t always possible. So, we might like to consider what the best combination of available vial sizes should be, given the characteristics of the population.

In this paper, the authors set out the problem mathematically. Essentially, the optimisation problem is to minimise cost across the population subject to the vial sizes. An example is presented for two drugs (pembrolizumab and cabazitaxel), simulating patients based on samples drawn from the Health Survey for England. Simplifications are applied to the examples, such as setting a constraint of 8 vials per patient and assuming that prices are linear (i.e. fixed per milligram).

Pembrolizumab is currently available in 50mg and 100mg vials, and the authors estimate current wastage to be 13.2%. The simulations show that switching the 50mg to a 70mg would cut wastage to 8.6%. Cabazitaxel is available in 60mg vials, resulting in 19.4% wastage. Introducing a 12.5mg vial would cut wastage by around two thirds. An important general finding, which should be self-evident, is that vial sizes should not be divisible by each other, as this limits the number of possible combinations.

Depending on when vial sizes are determined (e.g. pre- or post-authorisation), pharmaceutical companies might use it to increase profit margins, or health systems might use it to save costs. Regardless, wastage isn’t useful. Evidence-based manufacture is an example of one of those best ideas; the sort that is simple and seems obvious once it’s spelt out. It’s a rare opportunity to benefit patients, health care providers, and manufacturers, with no significant burden on policymakers.

Death or debt? National estimates of financial toxicity in persons with newly-diagnosed cancer. The American Journal of Medicine [PubMed] Published October 2018

If you’re British, what’s the scariest thing about an ‘Americanised’ (/Americanized) health care system? Expensive inhalers? A shortened life expectancy? My guess is that the prospect of having to add financial ruin to terminal illness looms pretty large. You should make sure your fear is evidence-based. Here’s a paper to shake in the face of anyone who doesn’t support universal health care.

The authors use data from the Health and Retirement Study from 1998-2014, which includes people over 50 years of age and includes new (self-reported) diagnoses of cancer. This was the basis for inclusion in the study, with over 9.5 million new diagnoses of cancer. Up to two years pre-diagnosis was taken as a baseline. The data set also includes information on participants’ assets and debts, allowing the authors to use change in net worth as the primary outcome. Generalised linear models were used to assess various indicators of financial toxicity, including change or incurrence of consumer debt, mortgage debt, and home equity debt at two- and four-year follow-up. In addition to cancer diagnosis, various chronic comorbidities and socio-demographic variables were included in the models.

Shockingly, after two years following diagnosis, 42.4% of people had depleted their entire life’s assets. Average net worth had dropped $92,000. After four years, 38.2% were still insolvent. Women, older people, people who weren’t White, people with Medicaid, and those with worsening cancer status were among those more likely to have completely depleted their assets within two years. Having private insurance and being married had protective effects, as we might expect. There were some interesting findings associated with the 2008 financial crisis, which also seemed to be protective. And a protective effect associated with psychiatric comorbidity deserves more thought.

It’s difficult to explain away any (let alone all) of the magnitude of these findings. The analysis seems robust. But, given all other evidence available about out-of-pocket costs for cancer patients in the US, it should be shocking but not unexpected. The authors describe financial toxicity as ‘unintended’. There’s nothing unintended about this. Policymakers in the US keep deciding that they’d prefer to destroy the lives of sick people than allow for the spreading of that financial risk.

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Chris Sampson’s journal round-up for 19th November 2018

Every Monday our authors provide a round-up of some of the most recently published peer reviewed articles from the field. We don’t cover everything, or even what’s most important – just a few papers that have interested the author. Visit our Resources page for links to more journals or follow the HealthEconBot. If you’d like to write one of our weekly journal round-ups, get in touch.

Valuation of health states considered to be worse than death—an analysis of composite time trade-off data from 5 EQ-5D-5L valuation studies. Value in Health Published 12th November 2018

I have a problem with the idea of health states being ‘worse than dead’, and I’ve banged on about it on this blog. Happily, this new article provides an opportunity for me to continue my campaign. Health state valuation methods estimate how much a person prefers being in a more healthy state. Positive values are easy to understand; 1.0 is twice as good as 0.5. But how about the negative values? Is -1.0 twice as bad as -0.5? How much worse than being dead is that? The purpose of this study is to evaluate whether or not negative EQ-5D-5L values meaningfully discriminate between different health states.

The study uses data from EQ-5D-5L valuation studies conducted in Singapore, the Netherlands, China, Thailand, and Canada. Altogether, more than 5000 people provided valuations of 10 states each. As a simple measure of severity, the authors summed the number of steps from full health in all domains, giving a value from 0 (11111) to 20 (55555). We’d expect this measure of severity of states to correlate strongly with the mean utility values derived from the composite time trade-off (TTO) exercise.

Taking Singapore as an example, the mean of positive values (states better than dead) decreased from 0.89 to 0.21 with increasing severity, which is reassuring. The mean of negative values, on the other hand, ranged from -0.98 to -0.89. Negative values were clustered between -0.5 and -1.0. Results were similar across the other countries. In all except Thailand, observed negative values were indistinguishable from random noise. There was no decreasing trend in mean utility values as severity increased for states worse than dead. A linear mixed model with participant-specific intercepts and an ANOVA model confirmed the findings.

What this means is that we can’t say much about states worse than dead except that they are worse than dead. How much worse doesn’t relate to severity, which is worrying if we’re using these values in trade-offs against states better than dead. Mostly, the authors frame this lack of discriminative ability as a practical problem, rather than anything more fundamental. The discussion section provides some interesting speculation, but my favourite part of the paper is an analogy, which I’ll be quoting in future: “it might be worse to be lost at sea in deep waters than in a pond, but not in any way that truly matters”. Dead is dead is dead.

Determining value in health technology assessment: stay the course or tack away? PharmacoEconomics [PubMed] Published 9th November 2018

The cost-per-QALY approach to value in health care is no stranger to assault. The majority of criticisms are ill-founded special pleading, but, sometimes, reasonable tweaks and alternatives have been proposed. The aim of this paper was to bring together a supergroup of health economists to review and discuss these reasonable alternatives. Specifically, the questions they sought to address were: i) what should health technology assessment achieve, and ii) what should be the approach to value-based pricing?

The paper provides an unstructured overview of a selection of possible adjustments or alternatives to the cost-per-QALY method. We’re very briefly introduced to QALY weighting, efficiency frontiers, and multi-criteria decision analysis. The authors don’t tell us why we ought (or ought not) to adopt these alternatives. I was hoping that the paper would provide tentative answers to the normative questions posed, but it doesn’t do that. It doesn’t even outline the thought processes required to answer them.

The purpose of this paper seems to be to argue that alternative approaches aren’t sufficiently developed to replace the cost-per-QALY approach. But it’s hardly a strong defence. I’m a big fan of the cost-per-QALY as a necessary (if not sufficient) part of decision making in health care, and I agree with the authors that the alternatives are lacking in support. But the lack of conviction in this paper scares me. It’s tempting to make a comparison between the EU and the QALY.

How can we evaluate the cost-effectiveness of health system strengthening? A typology and illustrations. Social Science & Medicine [PubMed] Published 3rd November 2018

Health care is more than the sum of its parts. This is particularly evident in low- and middle-income countries that might lack strong health systems and which therefore can’t benefit from a new intervention in the way a strong system could. Thus, there is value in health system strengthening. But, as the authors of this paper point out, this value can be difficult to identify. The purpose of this study is to provide new methods to model the impact of health system strengthening in order to support investment decisions in this context.

The authors introduce standard cost-effectiveness analysis and economies of scope as relevant pieces of the puzzle. In essence, this paper is trying to marry the two. An intervention is more likely to be cost-effective if it helps to provide economies of scope, either by making use of an underused platform or providing a new platform that would improve the cost-effectiveness of other interventions. The authors provide a typology with three types of health system strengthening: i) investing in platform efficiency, ii) investing in platform capacity, and iii) investing in new platforms. Examples are provided for each. Simple mathematical approaches to evaluating these are described, using scaling factors and disaggregated cost and outcome constraints. Numerical demonstrations show how these approaches can reveal differences in cost-effectiveness that arise through changes in technical efficiency or the opportunity cost linked to health system strengthening.

This paper is written with international development investment decisions in mind, and in particular the challenge of investments that can mostly be characterised as health system strengthening. But it’s easy to see how many – perhaps all – health services are interdependent. If anything, the broader impact of new interventions on health systems should be considered as standard. The methods described in this paper provide a useful framework to tackle these issues, with food for thought for anybody engaged in cost-effectiveness analysis.

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