Meeting round-up: Health Economists’ Study Group (HESG) Winter 2019

2019 started with aplomb with the HESG Winter meeting, superbly organised by the Centre for Health Economics, University of York.

Andrew Jones kicked off proceedings with his brilliant course on data visualisation in health econometrics. The eager audience learnt about Edward Tufte’s and others’ ideas about how to create charts that help to make it much easier to understand information. The course was tremendously well received by the HESG audience. And I know that I’ll find it incredibly useful too, as there were lots of ideas that apply to my work. So I’m definitely going to be looking further into Andrew’s chapter on data visualisation to know more.

The conference proper started in the afternoon. I had the pleasure to chair the fascinating paper by Manuela Deidda et al on an economic evaluation using observational data on the Healthy Start Voucher, which was discussed by Anne Ludbrook. We had an engaging discussion, that not only delved into the technical aspects of the paper, such as the intricacies of implementing propensity score matching and regression discontinuity, but also about the policy implications of the results.

I continued with the observational data theme by enjoying the discussion led by Panos Kasteridis on the Andrew McCarthy et al paper. Then I quickly followed this by popping over to catch Attakrit Leckcivilize’s excellent discussion of Padraig Dixon’s et al paper on the effect of obesity on hospital costs. This impressive paper uses Mendelian randomisation, which is a fascinating approach using a type of instrumental variable analysis with individuals’ genetic variants as the instrument.

The meeting continued in the stunning setting of the Yorkshire Museum for the plenary session, which also proved a fitting location to pay tribute to the inspirational Alan Maynard, who sadly passed away in 2018. Unfortunately, I was unable to hear the tributes to Alan Maynard in person, but fellow attendees were able to paint a moving portrait of the event on Twitter, that kept me in touch.

The plenary was chaired by Karen Bloor and included presentations by Kalipso Chalkidou, Brian Ferguson, Becky Henderson and Danny PalnochJane Hall, Steve Birch and Maria Goddard gave personal tributes.

The health economics community was united in gratitude to Professor Alan Maynard, who did so much to advance and disseminate the discipline. It made for a wonderful way to finish day 1!

Day 2 started bright and was full of stimulating sessions to choose from.

I chose to zone in on the cost-effectiveness topic in particular. I started with the David Glynn et al paper about using “back of the envelope” calculations to inform funding and research decisions, discussed by Ed Wilson. This paper is an excellent step towards making value of information easy to use.

I then attended Matthew Quaife’s discussion of Matthew Taylor’s paper on the consequences of assuming independence of parameters to decision uncertainty. This is a relevant paper for the cost-effectiveness world, in particular for those tasked with building and appraising cost-effectiveness models.

Next up it was my turn in the hot seat, as I presented the Jose Robles-Zurita et al paper on the economic evaluation of diagnostic tests. This thought-provoking paper presents a method to account for the effect of accuracy on the uptake of the test, in the context of maximising health.

As always, we were spoilt for choice in the afternoon. The paper “Drop dead: is anchoring at ‘dead’ a theoretical requirement in health state valuation” by Chris Sampson et al, competed very strongly with “Is it really ‘Grim up North’? The causes and consequences of inequalities on health and wider outcomes” by Anna Wilding et al, for the most provocative title. “Predicting the unpredictable? Using discrete choice experiments in economic evaluation to characterise uncertainty and account for heterogeneity”, from Matthew Quaife et al, also gave them a run for their money! I’ll leave a sample here of the exciting papers in discussion, so you can make your own mind up:

Dinner was in the splendid Merchant Adventurers’ Hall. Built in 1357, it is one of the finest Medieval buildings in the UK. Another stunning setting that provided a beautiful backdrop for a wonderful evening!

Andrew Jones presented the ‘Health Economics’ PhD Poster Prize, sponsored by Health Economics Wiley. Rose Atkins took the top honours by winning the Wiley prize for best poster. With Ashleigh Kernohan’s poster being highly commended, given its brilliant use of technology. Congratulations both!

Unfortunately, the vagaries of public transport meant I had to go home straight after dinner, but I heard from many trustworthy sources, on the following day, that the party continued well into the early hours. Clearly, health economics is a most energising topic!

For me, day 3 was all about cost-effectiveness decision rules. I started with the paper by Mark Sculpher et al, discussed by Chris Sampson. This remarkable paper sums up the evidence on the marginal productivity of the NHS, discussing how to use it to inform decisions, and proposes an agenda for research. There were many questions and comments from the floor, showing how important and challenging this topic is. As are so many papers in HESG, this is clearly one to look out for when it appears in print!

The next paper was on a very different way to solve the problem of resource allocation in health care. Philip Clarke and Paul Frijters propose an interesting system of auctions to set prices. The paper was well discussed by James Lomas, which kick-started an animated discussion with the audience about practicalities and implications for investment decisions by drug companies. Great food for thought!

Last, but definitely not least, I took in the paper by Bernarda Zamora et al on the relationship between health outcomes and expenditure across geographical areas in England. David Glynn did a great job discussing the paper, and especially in explaining data envelopment analysis. As ever, the audience was highly engaged and put forward many questions and comments. Clearly, the productivity of the NHS is a central question for health economics and will keep us busy for some time to come.

As always, this was a fantastic HESG meeting that was superbly organised, providing an environment where authors, discussants and participants alike were able to excel.

I really felt a feeling of collegiality, warmth and energy permeate the event. We are part of such an amazing scientific community. Next stop, HESG Summer meeting, hosted by the University of East Anglia. I’m already looking forward to it!

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Meeting round-up: ISPOR Europe 2018 (part 2)

Have you missed ISPOR Europe 2018 but are eager to know all about it? Time to continue reading! In yesterday’s post, I wrote about ISPOR’s outstanding short-course on causal inference and the superb sessions I had attended on day 1. This blog post is about day 2, Tuesday 13th, which was another big day.

The second plenary session was on fairness in pharmaceutical pricing. It was moderated by Sarah Garner, with presentations by many key stakeholders. The thought-provoking discussion highlighted the importance of pharmaceutical pricing policy and the large role that HTA can have in shaping it.

Communicating cost-effectiveness analysis was the next session, where myself, together with Rob Hettle, Gabriel Rogers and Mike Drummond, discussed the pitfalls and approaches to explaining cost-effectiveness models to non-health economists. This was a hugely popular session! We were delighted by the incredibly positive feedback we received, which reassured us that we are clearly not alone in finding it difficult to communicate cost-effectiveness analysis to a lay audience. We certainly feel incentivised to continue working on this topic. The slides are available here, and for the audience’s feedback, search on twitter #communicateCEA.

The lunch was followed by the open meeting of ISPOR Women in HEOR Initiative with Shelby Reed, Olivia Wu and Louise Timlin. It is really encouraging to see ISPOR taking a proactive stance to gender balance!

The most popular session in the afternoon was Valuing a cure: Are new approaches needed, with Steve Pearson, Jens Grueger, Sarah Garner and Mark Sculpher. The panel showed the various perspectives on the pricing of curative therapies. Payers call for a sustainable pricing model, whilst pharma warns that pricing policy is necessarily linked to the incentives for investment in research. I agree with Mark in that these challenges are not unique to curative therapies. As pharmaceutical therapies have greater health benefits but at large costs, it is pressing that cost-effectiveness assessments are also able to consider the opportunity cost of funding more costly treatments. See here for a roundup of the estimates already available.

I then attended the excellent session on Drug disinvestment: is it needed and how could it work, moderated by Richard Macaulay. Andrew Walker explained that HTA agencies’ advice does not always go down well with local payers, highlighting this with an amusing imaginary dialogue between NICE and a hospital. Detlev Parow argued that payers find that prices are often unaffordable, hence payment schemes should consider other options, such as treatment success, risk-sharing agreements and payment by instalments. Bettina Ryll made an impressive case from the patients’ perspective, for whom these decisions have a real impact.

The conference continued late into the evening and, I suspect, long into the early hours of Wednesday, with the ever-popular conference dinner. Wednesday was another day full of fascinating sessions. The plenary was titled Budget Impact and Expenditure Caps: Potential or Pitfall, moderated by Guillem López-Casasnovas. It was followed by inspiring sessions that explored a wide range of topics, presented by the top experts in the relevant fields. These really delved into the nitty-gritty on subjects, such as using R to build decision models, the value of diagnostic information, and expert elicitation, just to name a few.

I don’t think I’m just speaking personally when I say that ISPOR Barcelona was an absolutely brilliant conference! I’ve mentioned here a few of the most outstanding sessions, but there were many, many more. There were so many sessions at the same time that it was physically impossible to attend all of those with a direct relevance to my research. But fortunately, we can access all the presentations by downloading them from the ISPOR website. I’ll leave the suggestion to ISPOR here, that they should think about filming some of the key sessions and broadcasting them as webinars after the conference. This could create a further key resource for our sector.

As in previous editions, ISPOR Barcelona truly confirms ISPOR Europe in the top HTA conferences in Europe, if not the world. It expertly combines cutting-edge methodological research with outstanding applied work, all with the view to better inform decision making. As I’m sure you can guess, I’m already looking forward to the next ISPOR Europe in Copenhagen on the 2nd-6th November 2019, and the amazing sessions which will indubitably be featured!

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Meeting round-up: ISPOR Europe 2018 (part 1)

ISPOR Europe 2018, which took place in Barcelona on the 10th-14th November, was an exceptional conference. It had a jam-packed programme on the latest developments and most pressing challenges in health technology assessment (HTA), economic evaluation and outcomes research. In two blog posts, I’ll tell you about the outstanding sessions and thought-provoking discussions in this always superb conference.

For me, proceedings started on Sunday, with the excellent short-course Adjusting for Time-Dependent Confounding and Treatment Switching Bias in Observational Studies and Clinical Trials: Purpose, Methods, Good Practices and Acceptance in HTA, by Uwe Siebert, Felicitas Kühne and Nick Latimer. Felicitas Kühne explained that causal inference methods aim to estimate the effect of a treatment, risk factor etc. on our outcome of interest, controlling for other exposures that may affect it and hence bias our estimate. Uwe Siebert and Nick Latimer provided a really useful overview of the methods to overcome this challenge in observational studies and RCTs with treatment switching. This was an absolutely brilliant course. Highly recommended to any health economist!

ISPOR conferences usually start early and finish late with loads of exceptional sessions. On Monday, I started the conference proper with the plenary Joint Assessment of Relative Effectiveness: “Trick or Treat” for Decision Makers in EU Member States, moderated by Finn Børlum Kristensen. There were presentations from representatives of payers, HTA agencies, EUnetHTA, pharmaceutical industry and patients. The prevailing mood seemed to be of cautious anticipation. Avoiding duplication of efforts in the clinical assessment was greatly welcomed, but there were some concerns voiced about the practicalities of implementation. The proposal was due to be discussed soon by the European Commission, so undoubtedly we can look forward to knowing more in the near future.

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My next session was the fascinating panel on the perils and opportunities of advanced computing techniques with the tongue-in-cheek title Will machines soon make health economists obsolete?, by David Thompson, Bill Marder, Gerry Oster and Mike Drummond. Don’t panic yet as, despite the promises of artificial intelligence, I’d wager that our jobs are quite safe. For example, Gerry Oster predicted that demand for health economic models is actually likely to increase, as computers make our models quicker and cheaper to build. Mike Drummond finished with the sensible suggestion to simply keep calm and carry on modelling, as computing advances will liberate our time to explore other areas, such as the interface with decision-makers. This session left us all in a very positive mood as we headed for a well-earned lunch!

There were many interesting sessions in the afternoon. I chose to pop over to the ISPOR Medical Device and Diagnostic Special Interest Group Open Meeting, the ISPOR Portugal chapter meeting, along with taking in the podium presentations on conceptual papers. Many of the presentations will be made available in the ISPOR database, which I recommend exploring. I had a wonderful experience moderating the engaging podium session on cancer models, with outstanding presentations delivered by Hedwig Blommestein, Ash Bullement, and Isle van Oostrum.

The workshop Adjusting for post-randomisation confounding and switching in phase 3 and pragmatic trials to get the estimands right: needs, methods, sub-optimal use, and acceptance in HTA by Uwe Siebert, Felicitas Kühne, Nick Latimer and Amanda Adler is one worth highlighting. The panellists showed that some HTAs do not include any adjustments for treatment switching, whilst adjustments can sometimes be incorrectly applied. It reinforced the idea that we need to learn more about these methods, to be able to apply them in practice and critically appraise them.

The afternoon finished with the second session of the day on posters. Alessandro Grosso, Laura Bojke and I had a poster on the impact of structural uncertainty in the expected value of perfect information. Alessandro did an amazing job encapsulating the poster and presenting it live to camera, which you can watch here.

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In tomorrow’s blog post, I’ll tell you about day 2 of ISPOR Europe 2018 in Barcelona. Tuesday was another big day, with loads of outstanding sessions on the key topics in HTA. It featured my very own workshop, with Rob Hettle, Gabriel Rogers and Mike Drummond on communicating cost-effectiveness analysis. I hope you will stay tuned for the ISPOR meeting round-up part 2!