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Economic Evaluation in the United Kingdom
A large focus of health economics, particularly in the UK, is the microeconomic evaluation of individual treatments. In the UK, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) appraises certain new and existing pharmaceuticals and devices using economic evaluation.
Economic evaluation is the comparison of two or more alternative courses of action in terms of both their costs and consequences (Drummond et al.). Economists usually distinguish several types of economic evaluation, differing in how consequences are measured:
In cost minimization analysis (CMA), the effectiveness of the comparators in question must be proven to be equivalent. The 'cost-effective' comparator is simply the one which costs less (as it achieves the same outcome). In cost-benefit analysis (CBA), costs and benefits are both valued in cash terms. Cost effectiveness analysis (CEA) measures outcomes in 'natural units', such as mmHg, symptom free days, life years gained. Finally cost-utility analysis (CUA) measures outcomes in a composite metric of both length and quality of life, the Quality-adjusted life year (QALY). (Note there is some international variation in the precise definitions of each type of analysis).
A final approach which is sometimes classed an economic evaluation is a cost of illness study. This is not a true economic evaluation as it does not compare the costs and outcomes of alternative courses of action. Instead, it attempts to measure all the costs associated with a particular disease or condition. These will include direct costs (where money actually changes hands, e.g. health service use, patient co-payments and out of pocket expenses), indirect costs (the value of lost productivity from time off work due to illness), and intangible costs (the 'disvalue' to an individual of pain and suffering). (Note specific definitions in health economics may vary slightly from other branches of economics.)