Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Controversies on QALYs

The Limitations of QALY: A Literature Review

After 50 years, valuing health using QALYs is still a daunting task. Basically the debate over ethical considerations, methodological issues and theoretical assumptions, and context or disease specific considerations is still alive. And I would add that it will remain as an open issue. Those that would like a simple metric for a complex issue will fail forever. And this pitfalls are translated to decision making when QALYs are the reference for resource allocation.
I'm unsure about what will be the next step. A recent article explains current limitations, but unfortunately I can't foresee alternative options for the future:

Debate continues to exist on whether QALYs should serve as the central means of health economics analysis. This review examines the potential shortfalls of QALYs, spanning current ethical, methodological, and contextual domains in addition to examining their suitability for regenerative medicine and future technologies. In the UK, NICE currently stipulates a threshold of £20 000 - £30 000 per QALY  when evaluating new therapeutics and/or technologies for NHS adoption, and has used this tool to apply a rational and transparent process to technological adoption for over ten years. Calculating QALY or cost effectiveness thresholds is particularly complex and debate has previously been publicized on whether the value of a QALY should be dictated by first proposing the worth of a QALY and setting the healthcare budget at or below that value, or alternatively, proposing a healthcare budget and then allowing the cost of a QALY to declare itself following purchasing decisions. With the advent of cellular based therapeutics and their comparably high upfront costs, the QALY calculation methodology may need refinement to realise the financial advantages and opportunity costs such interventions may convey – particularly considering the degree of uncertainty associated with them.
Meanwhile we should focus on improving comparative effectiveness of current and new technologies, specially those that are related to precision medicine.



 

 
Dr. Heisenberg's Magic Mirror of Uncertainty, 1998
 

Friday, May 26, 2017

Are You What You Eat?

Are You What You Eat? Healthy Behaviour and Risk Preferences

I am not strictly a fan of economic experiments. They are useful, but usually researchers achieve conclusions from samples and settings that are far from what happens really in population and geographies. However, some days ago I was looking at an article that it seemed of interest. They try to:
estimate the degree of risk aversion for a sample of young healthy adults and we explore its links with a broad range of risky behaviours considered together. Second, as indicator of the overall quality of diet, we complement, for the first time, the BMI with the Healthy Eating Index (HEI), and we relate both to estimated risk preferences
Sounds good, because the use of Body Mass Index is absolutely outdated and its relationship with risk aversion is crucial. This is the summary:
Our results show that risk preferences significantly differ across young adults with different, not extreme, health conditions. In particular, they reinstate the importance of conducting analyses that look separately at the two sub-samples of female and male subjects . This allows disentangling the links and interactions between preferences and key health variables such as smoking, and also to fully account for the gender-specific effects of the BMI and of alternative indicators of healthy weight.
Second, in our sample young women do not show any significant robust associations between risk preferences and BMI. Third, for young men – but not women – the HEI index appears to be significantly and consistently associated with risk preferences: across all specifications, healthier nutritional habits, tend to be robustly associated with higher risk aversion. This, together with the lack of significance of BMI-based indexes, suggests that, for subjects with not extreme health conditions, there is a wide scope to use measures alternative (or complementary) to the BMI, as indicators of the overall quality of diet.
That's it. And his final recommendation:
 From a health policy perspective, our study suggests that in young adults who have not yet developed chronic or extreme health conditions, looking at a comprehensive nutritional indicator such as the HEI could provide more direct insights to the deeply rooted behavioural mechanisms that drive health behaviours than considering an indirect and increasingly questioned measure such as the BMI.
Since children's obesity is one of the main challenges for health improvement, someone should take into account this message.

PS. Eliciting risk and time preference, the 2008 key article.


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Taxing unhealthy foods

The effect of prices on nutrition: Comparing the impact of product-and nutrient-specific taxes

Nowadays, many people is asking about evidence oon the impact of taxes for sugar sweetened beverages. The reason is that in Catalonia from May 1st. a new tax has been implemented.Two tax rates have been set in relation to sugar content: For drinks containing more than 8 grams of sugar per 100 ml: €0.12/litre. For drinks containing between 5 and 8 grams of sugar per 100 ml: €0.08/litre
A new article in the Journal of Health Economics sheds light on the issue:
Our main finding from the tax simulations is that nutrient-specific taxes have much larger effects on nutrition than do product-specific taxes, without causing a larger decline in consumer utility. The intuition for this result is that nutrient-based taxes have a much broader base, so it is more difficult to substitute away from any one good in response to such taxes. For example,a 20% tax on soda decreases total purchased calories by 4.84% and decreases sugar consumption by over 10%. However, a 20% sugar tax decreases total calories by over 18% and sugar by over 16%.The larger effect of a sugar tax on nutrition comes despite the fact that it has the same effect on indirect utility as a soda tax. Dueto their negative income elasticities and the patterns of own- and cross-price elasticities we find, taxes on snacks and packaged mealshave very small effects on nutrition. Fat and salt taxes, on the other hand, have much larger effects, decreasing calories by 19% and 11%, respectively. SSB taxes, which can be thought of as a hybrid price policy that targets a set of products based on their nutritional content, also are quite effective, reducing caloric intake by over 8%. However, these taxes are less-effective and only slightly less-distortive than a broad-based sugar tax.
If this is so, the next steps should be to review the initial impact and explore wether new approaches could be more succesful. Unfortunately the article doesn't explains the details of how to implement their result...

PS. On sugar


Ben l'oncle Soul

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The challenges of medical practice variations

Medical Practice Variations

The title of this post is not original, it is really from a book published in 1990, 27 years ago! And Wennberg started such research on the 70's. What is new is the book "Medical Practice Variations" released last year. After all these years concerns have spread, methodological improvement is huge, and unfortunately evidence says that practice still shows wide range of variability. This is the main concern, what to do about it.
The description is excellent, 23 chapters and 527 pages reflect an effort of many years of several projects on the issue. A must read is the chapter 4, p. 53 by Enrique Bernal and his team: Medical Practice Variations in Elective Surgery. Variations may harm and produce waste, therefore understanding how to prevent low-value care is crucial. They say:
Two key steps in reducing low-value care, proposed by García-Armesto et al. (García-Armesto et al. 2013), are the following:
• Identifying those technologies ineffective in their usual indications or less effective than alternatives
– Dropping them from the benefits basket or making them subject to avoidable copayments
– Restricting indications to certain types of patients (choice guided by evidence of positive benefit/risk balance)
– Specifying and limiting the types of providers more suitable to offer each service (therefore substantiating indication becomes a requisite, discouraging irrelevant use)
– Capping the frequency or length of treatments
• Producing and making available guidance on a regular basis to reduce inappropriate use of procedures
– Highlighting and tackling unwarranted variations in elective surgery (naming and “shaming” to prompt query and change)
– Fostering best practices and improving coordination of care
As I said, a must read. Congratulations to the authors. Unfortunately the barrier is the price: $279. Notwithstanding that, health policy makers and managers should have it as a key reference for their decisions.

PS. If you want to know more about current projects, check the ECHO  website.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The tough figures of worldwide health spending

Evolution and patterns of global health financing 1995–2014: development assistance for health, and government, prepaid private, and out-of-pocket health spending in 184 countries

We live in a disparate world, and the range of health care expenditure per capita goes from $33 in Somalia to $9.267 in USA. These are tough figures, while in Somalia you'll understand that access is the problem, in USA disparity is inside, waste and access at the same time are the problems. The Lancet article shows the reality of world health expenditure. It worths reading it.
The availability of prepaid resources for health, such as government spending, is one of many determinants of access to health care, and can lead to population health gains. Economic development is associated with an increase in spending and specifically an increase in prepaid resources. This is at the core of the pursuit for universal health coverage. This research also points to countries that deviate from the trends, spending more or less than expected, based on their level of economic development. This information is valuable to planners assessing funding gaps and financing opportunities, and can be used to provide insight into what future health financing challenges are likely. Tracking changes in health financing patterns across time and benchmarking against global trends is vital to addressing missed opportunities, ensuring access to medicines and high quality services, and the pursuit of universal health coverage.

Gorgeous new album by Joan Miquel Oliver. Atlantis