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Assessing the Impact of Economic Evidence on Policymakers in Health Care—A Systematic Review

Methods Research Reports

Investigators: , MD, PhD, , PhD, , MPH, , MS, , BS, , PhD, , PhD, and , MD, MPH.

Johns Hopkins University Evidence-based Practice Center
Rockville (MD): Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (US); .
Report No.: 12(13)-EHC133-EF

Structured Abstract


Many health care experts are demanding greater use of economic evidence in the assessment of new and existing health technologies.


To assess whether and how economic evidence has an impact on health care decisionmaking in the United States and in other countries and to identify antecedents or obstacles for use in health policy.

Data Sources:

Searches of MEDLINE, EconLit, Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL), Embase®, and ISI Web of ScienceSM from 1991 until January 2012.

Review Methods:

The review included original studies that applied a quantitative or qualitative method for evaluating use of economic evidence in any country. We excluded articles that were opinion- or experienced-based without newly generated data. Paired reviewers independently determined whether articles met eligibility criteria and then extracted data from eligible studies. Reviewers also assessed the quality of each study and graded the strength of the body of evidence using an adaptation of the grading of recommendations assessment development and evaluation (GRADE) recommendations, indicating study limitations, quality, strength of findings, and the type of data available.


Of 19,127 titles initially screened, 43 studies were included, with all but five published since 2000. The most frequently studied countries were the United Kingdom (15), and Australia, Canada, and the United States (5 each). Most studies (27 studies) considered national-level policy and examined the key health actors involved. Important decisionmaking topics were reimbursement and health package decisions, and priority setting in program development.

Thirty studies found evidence that use of economic evidence had a “substantial” impact on health care policymaking, 27 of which emphasized at least one other criterion, such as equity considerations, usually ill-defined (14 studies), clinical effectiveness, budget impact, ethical reasons, and advocacy arguments. The 30 studies confirmed the acceptance of economic evidence as having an impact on either general policy or specific decisions, such as reimbursement decisions. In 11 of the studies, the use of economic evidence had only a “limited” impact on health policy decisions. In two studies, economic evidence had no impact on health policymaking.

A few factors played a key role in the use of economic evidence: (1) quality and transparency of the studies that provided the economic evidence was a promoting factor (7 studies) in the case of a good study and a strong obstacle in the case of a poorly presented study (18 studies); (2) transparency and quality of the decisionmaking process was important in the acceptance or rejection of the decision (10 studies for acceptance, 13 studies for rejection); and (3) clarity of the economic information and the way it was communicated were promoting factors (7 studies), while lack of clarity was an obstacle in accepting evidence (17 studies).

Of the 37 observational studies of policy impact, 11 (30%) received a favorable rating on more than three of the 8 items on the study quality checklist. Five of the studies had a comparison group and provided intermediate quality evidence that economic evidence is useful in general health policymaking.


The body of evidence on the use of economic evidence in policy is small and patchy. It shows that the utility of economic evidence, alone or in combination with systematic reviews, is influenced by technical issues, such as transparency and clarity, as well as by the transparency of the decisionmaking process.

Prepared for: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services1, Contract No. 290-2007-10061-I. Prepared by: The Johns Hopkins University Evidence-based Practice Center, Baltimore, MD

Suggested citation:

Niessen LW, Bridges J, Lau BD, Wilson RF, Sharma R, Walker DG, Frick KD, Bass EB. Assessing the Impact of Economic Evidence on Policymakers in Health Care—A Systematic Review. Methods Research Report (Prepared by the Johns Hopkins University Evidence-based Practice Center under contract No. 290-2007-10061-I). AHRQ Publication No. 12(13)-EHC133-EF. Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. October 2012.

This report is based on research conducted by the Johns Hopkins University Evidence-based Practice Center (EPC) under contract to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), Rockville, MD (Contract No. 290-2007-10061-I). The findings and conclusions in this document are those of the authors, who are responsible for its contents; the findings and conclusions do not necessarily represent the views of AHRQ. Therefore, no statement in this report should be construed as an official position of AHRQ or of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The information in this report is intended to help health care decisionmakers—patients and clinicians, health system leaders, and policymakers, among others—make well-informed decisions and thereby improve the quality of health care services. This report is not intended to be a substitute for the application of clinical judgment. Anyone who makes decisions concerning the provision of clinical care should consider this report in the same way as any medical reference and in conjunction with all other pertinent information, i.e., in the context of available resources and circumstances presented by individual patients.

This report may be used, in whole or in part, as the basis for development of clinical practice guidelines and other quality enhancement tools, or as a basis for reimbursement and coverage policies. AHRQ or U.S. Department of Health and Human Services endorsement of such derivative products may not be stated or implied.

None of the investigators have any affiliations or financial involvement that conflicts with the material presented in this report.


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Bookshelf ID: NBK114636PMID: 23236642


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