Paul Mitchell’s journal round-up for 15th May 2017

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.

Informal care: choice or constraint. Scandinavian Journal of Caring Sciences [PubMed] Published 12th April 2017

The provision of social care in the UK has become a major economic issue, with recent increases in government spending and local authority taxation to help ease the burden on both the health and social care system in the short term. This study examines some of the issues surrounding informal carers (i.e. care of a family member), estimated to be approximately 10% of the UK population. In particular, it focuses on the role of choice and constraints involved with the decision to become a carer. Using a cross-sectional survey for a UK city, choice of caring was explored in terms of responses to care provision provided, asking if it was a free choice initially to provide care, and if there were constraints in terms of duty, lack of others or financial resources for paid care. The analysis focused on how perceived choice in the caring role was associated with socio-demographics and the type of caring role performed, as well as the role of perceived choice in caring and their wellbeing. Out of the 798 respondents to all four questions on caring choice, about 1 in 3 reported an entirely free choice in the decision, with half reporting having a free choice but also a constraint in terms of duty, other available carers or financial resources. Less than 1 in 5 reported not having a free choice. Only carers with bad health or receiving state benefits had an association with a constrained caring role. The more intense the care role was also associated with a more constrained choice. Higher levels of choice were associated with higher levels of wellbeing across measures of happiness, life satisfaction and capability. In multivariable regression analysis, it was found that having a free choice in the initial caring decision resulted in a higher impact on life satisfaction than educational qualifications and home ownership, whilst improved capability of comparable levels to that of home ownership, all else being equal. The authors thus recommend enhanced choice as a way for policy to improve carers wellbeing. Although the authors acknowledge limitations with the study design being cross-sectional and geographically limited to one city, the study shows there is plenty of scope for understanding the determinants of informal caring and consequences for those carers in much greater detail in future national surveys to help address policy in this area in the medium to longer term.

Experienced utility or decision utility for QALY calculation? Both. Public Health Ethics [PhilPapersPublished 6th May 2017

How health states should be valued in population health metrics, like QALYs and DALYs, will not be an unfamiliar topic of discussion for regular readers of this blog. Instead of arguing for decision utility (i.e. accounting for general population preferences for avoiding health states) or experienced utility (i.e. accounting for patient experiences of health states), the authors in this paper argue for a combined approach, reviving a suggestion previously put forward by Lowenstein & Ubel. The authors neatly summarise some of the issues of relying on either decision utility or experienced utility approaches alone and instead argue for better informed decision utility exercises by using deliberative democracy methods where experienced utility in health states are also presented. Unfortunately, there is little detail of how this process might actually work in practice. There are likely to be issues of what patient experiences are presented in such an exercise and how other biases that may influence decision utility responses are controlled for in such an approach. Although I am generally in favour of more deliberative approaches to elicit informed values for resource allocation, I find that this paper makes a convincing case for neither of the utility approaches to valuation, rather than both.

The value of different aspects of person-centred care: a series of discrete choice experiments in people with long-term conditions. BMJ Open [PubMed] Published 26th April 2017

The term “person-centred care” is one which is gaining some prominence in how healthcare is provided. What it means, and how important different aspects of person-centred care are, is explored in this study using discrete choice experiments (DCEs). Through focus groups and drawing from the authors’ own experience in this area, four aspects of person-centred care for self-management of chronic conditions make up the attributes in the DCE across two levels: (i) information (same information for all/personalised information); (ii) situation (little account of current situation/suggestions that fit current situation); (iii) living well (everyone wants the same from life/works with patient for what they want from life); (iv) communication (neutral professional way/friendly professional way). A cost attribute was also attached to the DCE that was given to patient groups with chronic pain and chronic lung disease. The overall findings suggest that person-centred care focused on situation and living well were valued most with personal communication style valued the least. Latent class analysis also suggested that 1 in 5 of those sampled valued personalised information the most. Those with lower earnings were likely to look to reduce the cost attribute the most. The authors conclude that the focus on communication in current clinician training on person-centred care may not be what is of most value to patients. However, I am not entirely convinced by this argument, as it could be that communication was not seen as an issue by the respondents, perhaps somewhat influenced due to the skills clinicians already have obtained in this area. Clearly, these process aspects of care are difficult to develop attributes for in DCEs, and the authors acknowledge that the wording of the “neutral” and “high” levels may have biased responses. I also found that dropping the “negative” third level for each of the attributes unconvincing. It may have proved more difficult to complete than two levels, but it would have shown in much greater depth how much value is attached to the four attributes relative to one another.



Paul Mitchell’s journal round-up for 2nd January 2017

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.

Age effects in mortality risk valuation. European Journal of Health Economics [PubMed] [RePEcPublished 7th December 2016

Placing values on statistical life years has important public policy implications in measuring who benefits and how much they benefit from interventions. The authors of this study provide what they describe as the most comprehensive evidence to date against a constant value for a statistical life year, an assumption they argue is also applicable when calculating QALYs. Using a Spanish household survey collected over a large sample size (approximately 6,000 individuals), the authors study the relationship between willingness to pay (WTP) and age, by estimating individual WTP for reduction in risk of mortality due to acute myocardial infarction. Three different WTP elicitation procedures were performed. Parametric, semi-nonparametric and non-parametric models using marginal and total approaches were applied to understand the relationship using many alternative methods. Binary variables for income (proxied on a measure of self-perceived social status), education (>lower secondary level) and gender were also included as controls for the models. The results of the linear model show that WTP is lower as age increases. Those with higher income (i.e. social status) and education have higher WTP, while gender is not significant in any model. Sensitivity tests were as hypothesised. The non-parametric model produces similar results to the others, albeit with a higher senior discount. The senior discount is not independent of the income variable. From this, the authors estimate the value of a statistical life year for an 85 year old to be 3.5 times higher than that of a 20 year old. The authors are keen to highlight the strengths of their findings with a large sample size allowing for the robustness of results to be tested across a number of different model types. However, they do flag up the lack of comparability with previous studies that have focused on risk reductions with a lower probability of mortality. The assumption that the authors make that their findings for life years have direct applicability for QALYs is somewhat questionable, particularly for non-acute conditions and QALYs calculated for them. The rationale behind the three types of preference elicitation methods and how/why they were chosen is not apparent in the paper itself. The social status measure they use as a proxy for income is also questionable, and appeared to be applied to maximise sample size. If data for real income was used or imputation of income was included for missing data, it would be interesting to see what impact this may have had on their study findings.

Preferences for public involvement in health service decisions: a comparison between best-worst scaling and trio-wise stated preference elicitation techniques. European Journal of Health Economics [PubMedPublished 10th December 2016

Public involvement in health care is something that has become increasingly recognised as important to do and to be informed by public perspectives when making important decisions for their community. How and where that public involvement should feed into decision making is less well understood. In this study, the authors compare two methods, best worst scaling (BWS) case 2, and a new method the authors call ‘trio-wise’ where the choice task is presented in an equilateral triangle. Using ‘trio-wise’, respondents are able to click in any part of the triangle; this the authors argue gives additional insight on the strength of a respondent’s preferences and also accommodates indifferent preferences. Public preferences are sought using these two methods to understand what aspects of public involvement are most important. Eight general characteristics are included in the exercises. Respondents completed either BWS or the ‘trio-wise’ task (not both) using web based surveys. Approximately 1,700 individuals per arm were sampled. Only three of the eight general characteristics could be completed at any one time due to the trio-wise triangle approach. There was some evidence of position bias for both exercises. The authors say that weak preferences were observed using the trio-wise approach but this could be due to difficulty participants faced in choosing which generic characteristic was more important without further information. Impact and focus of public involvement are found to be the most important characteristics across both BWS and trio-wise. The authors find preference intensity has no bearing on choice probabilities, but this could be an artefact of the weak preferences observed in the sample. Although I can see the appeal of using the trio-wise approach when there are only three characteristics, BWS is advantageous in tasks with more characteristics. Indeed it feels that the findings from this experiment were impeded by the use of the trio-wise approach when much more useful information on guiding future public involvement practice could have been gathered using either BWS or a discrete choice experiment (DCE) across all eight characteristics and the options of public involvement within each characteristic.

How do individuals value health states? A qualitative investigation. Social Science & Medicine [PubMedPublished 22nd November 2016

The valuation tasks of health states used to generate QALYs have been previously found to be complex tasks for members of the general public to complete, who have little experience of such health states. This qualitative study seeks to gain a better understanding as to how the general public complete such tasks. Using a purposive sample, 21 individuals were asked to complete eight DCEs and three TTO tasks, based on the EQ-5D-5L valuation protocol. Participants were asked to complete the valuation tasks using think aloud, followed by semi-structured interviews. Three main themes emerged from the framework analysis undertaken on the interview transcripts. Firstly, individuals had to interpret a health state, using their imagination and experience to help visualise a realistic health state with those problems. Knowledge, understanding of descriptive system, additional information for a health state, re-writing of health states and problems with EQ-5D labels all impacted this process. The second theme was called conversion factors, which the authors took to mean in this context the personal and social factors that affected how participants valued health states. Personal interests, values and circumstances were said to have an effect on the interpretation of a health state. The final theme was based on the consequences of health states, that tended to focus on non-health effects caused by health problems, such as activities, enjoyment, independence, relationships, dignity and avoiding being a burden. The authors subsequently developed a three-stage explanatory account as to how people valued health states based on the interview findings. Although I would have some concerns about the generalisability of these findings to general public valuation studies, given the highly educated sample, it does highlight some issues about what health economists might implicitly think individuals are doing when completing such tasks compared to what they actually are doing. There are clearly problems for individuals completing such hypothetical health states, with the authors suggesting a more reflective and deliberative approach to overcome such problems. The authors also raise an interesting comment as to whether participants actually do weigh the consequences of health states and follow compensatory decision-making or instead are using simplifying heuristics based on one attribute, which I agree is an area that requires further investigation.


Chris Sampson’s journal round-up for 19th December 2016

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.

Discounting the recommendations of the Second Panel on Cost-Effectiveness in Health and Medicine. PharmacoEconomics [PubMed] Published 9th December 2016

I do enjoy a bit of academic controversy. In this paper, renowned troublemakers Paulden, O’Mahony and McCabe do what they do best. Their target is the approach to discounting recommended by the report from the new Panel on Cost-Effectiveness, which I briefly covered in a recent round-up. This paper starts out by describing what – exactly – the Panel recommends. The real concerns lie with the approach recommended for analyses from the societal perspective. According to the authors, the problems start when the Panel conflates the marginal utility of income and that of consumption, and confusingly label it with our old friend the lambda. The confusion continues with the use of other imprecise terminology. And then there are some aspects of the Panel’s calculations that just seem to be plain old errors, resulting in illogical results – for example, that future consumption should be discounted more heavily if associated with higher marginal utility. Eh? The core criticism is that the Panel recommends the same discount rate for both costs and the consumption value of health, and that this contradicts recent developments. The Panel fails to clearly explain the basis for its recommendation. Helpfully, the authors outline an alternative (correct?) approach. The 3% rate for costs and health effects that the Panel recommends is not justified. The criticisms made in this paper are technical ones. That doesn’t mean they are any less important, but all we can see is that use of the Panel’s recommended decision rule results in some vague threat to utility-maximisation. Whether or not the conflation of consumption and utility value would actually result in bad decisions is not clear. Nevertheless, considering the massive influence of the original Gold Panel that will presumably be enjoyed by the Second Panel, extreme scrutiny is needed. I hope Basu and Ganiats see it fit to respond. I also wonder whether Paulden, O’Mahony and McCabe might have other chapters in their crosshairs.

Is best–worst scaling suitable for health state valuation? A comparison with discrete choice experiments. Health Economics [PubMed] Published 4th December 2016

BWS is gaining favour as a means of valuing health states. In this paper, team DCE throw down the gauntlet for team BWS. The study uses data collected during the development of a ‘glaucoma utility index’ in which DCE and BWS exercises were completed. The first question is, do DCE and BWS give the same results? The answer is no. The models indicate relatively weak correlation. For most dimensions, the BWS gave values for different severity levels that were closer together than in the DCE. This means that large improvements in health might be associated with smaller utility gains using BWS values than using DCE values. BWS is also identified as being more prone to decision biases. The second question is, which technique is best ‘to develop health utility indices’ (as the authors put it)? We need to bear in mind that this may in part be moot. Proponents of BWS have often claimed that they are not even trying to measure utility, so to judge BWS on this basis may not be appropriate. Anyway, set aside for now the fact that your own definition of utility might be (and that the authors’ almost certainly is) at odds with the BWS approach. No surprise that the authors suggest that DCE is superior. The bases on which this judgement is made are stability, monotonicity, continuity and completeness. All of these relate to whether the respondents make the kinds of responses we might expect. BWS answers are found to be less stable, more likely to be non-continuous and tend not to satisfy monotonicity. Personally I don’t see these as objective identifiers of goodness or ability of the technique to identify ‘true’ preferences. Also, I don’t know anything about how the glaucoma measure was developed, but if the health states it defines aren’t very informative then the results of this study won’t be either. Nevertheless, the findings do indicate to me that health state valuation using BWS might be subject to more caveats that need investigating before we start to make greater use of the technique. The much larger body of research behind DCE counts in its favour. Over to you, Terry team BWS.

Preference weighting of health state values: what difference does it make, and why? Value in Health Published 23rd November 2016

When non-economists ask about the way we measure health outcomes, the crux of it all is that the EQ-5D et al are preference-based. We think – or at least have accepted – that preferences must be really very serious and important. Equal weighting of dimensions? Nothing but meaningless nonsense! That may well be true in theory, but what if our approach to preference-elicitation is actually providing us with much the same results as if we were using equal weighting? Much research energy (and some money) goes into the preference weighting project, but could it be a waste of time? I had hoped that this paper might answer that question, but while it’s a useful study I didn’t find it quite so enlightening. The authors look at the EQ-5D-5L and 15D and compared the usual preference-based index for each with one constructed using an equal weighting, rescaled to the 0-1 dead-full health scale. The rescaling takes into account the differences in scale length for the 15D (0 to 1, 1.000) and the EQ-5D-5L (-0.281 to 1, 1.281). Data are from the Multi-Instrument Comparison (MIC) study, which includes healthy people as well as subsamples with a range of chronic diseases. The authors look at the correlations between the preference-based and equal weighted index values. They find very high correlation, especially for the 15D, and agreement on the EQ-5D increases when adjusted for the scale length. Furthermore, the results are investigated for known group validity alongside a depression-specific outcome measure. The EQ-5D performs a little better. But the study doesn’t really tell me what I want to know: would the use of equal-weighting normally give us the same results, and in what cases might it not? The MIC study includes a whole range of generic and condition-specific measures and I can’t see why the study didn’t look at all of them. It also could have used alternative preference weights to see how they differ. And it could have looked at all of the different disease-based subgroups in the sample to try and determine under what circumstances preference weighting might approach equal weighting. I hope to see more research on this issue, not to undermine preference weighting but to inform its improvement.