Reflecting the real value of health care resources in modelling and cost-effectiveness studies—The example of viral load informed differentiated care
Andrew Phillips and
Mark J Sculpher
PLOS ONE, 2018, vol. 13, issue 1, 1-13
Background: The WHO HIV Treatment Guidelines suggest routine viral-load monitoring can be used to differentiate antiretroviral therapy (ART) delivery and reduce the frequency of clinic visits for patients stable on ART. This recommendation was informed by economic analysis that showed the approach is very likely to be cost-effective, even in the most resource constrained of settings. The health benefits were shown to be modest but the costs of introducing and scaling up viral load monitoring can be offset by anticipated reductions in the costs of clinic visits, due to these being less frequent for many patients. Key issues for economic evaluation: The cost-effectiveness of introducing viral-load informed differentiated care depends upon whether cost reductions are possible if the number of clinic visits is reduced and/or how freed clinic capacity is used for alternative priorities. Where freed resources, either physical or financial, generate large health gains (e.g. if committed to patients failing ART or to other high value health care interventions), the benefits of differentiated care are expected to be high; if however these freed physical resources are already under-utilized or financial resources are used less efficiently and would not be put to as beneficial an alternative use, the policy may not be cost-effective. The implication is that the use of conventional unit costs to value resources may not well reflect the latter’s value in contributing to health improvement. Analyses intended to inform resource allocated decisions in a number of settings may therefore have to be interpreted with due consideration to local context. In this paper we present methods of how economic analyses can reflect the real value of health care resources rather than simply applying their unit costs. The analyses informing the WHO Guidelines are re-estimated by implementing scenarios using this framework, informing how differentiated care can be prioritized to generate greatest gains in population health. Implications: The findings have important implications for how economic analyses should be undertaken and reported in HIV and other disease areas. Results provide guidance on conditions under which viral load informed differentiated care will more likely prove to be cost effective when implemented.
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