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Health Econ. 1994 May-Jun;3(3):137-48.

Informal care and economic appraisal: a discussion of possible methodological approaches.

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Centre for Health Economics, University of York, UK.


The role played by informal carers in the care of people with chronic disabilities is well known. Given its importance, it is essential to consider the evaluation methodology applied in economic appraisals of different care options. Few studies attempt any evaluation and those that do use varied, inconsistent and controversial methodologies. This paper aims to elicit the major issues and methodological problems related to economic appraisal of informal care. The main concern over the present methods utilized is the lack of explicit exploration of the benefits, as perceived by carers. Carers, through their decision to care it is argued, will consider both costs and benefits. Although concepts encompassed by benefits tend to be less tangible they may considerably outweigh any financial burdens. Various methods have been utilized in the past. Financial outlays are fairly straightforwardly costed, personal effort on the part of carers causes more problems. Methods applied include: the cost of substitute services; state benefits; and travel time values. The most useful is probably the latter, although it is not problem-free. Assessing benefits relating to concepts of direct and indirect utility and welfare is more complex and difficult to measure. Despite considerable literature on carers' attitudes, often these concepts are not applied (especially to residential care options) or if they are, negative aspects are emphasized (with domiciliary care). A useful application of economic appraisal would elicit optimal solutions to care dilemmas. Producing economic burden information about informal care may not be particularly constructive. Brief assessment of eight scenarios of care, considering cost differences for the public sector and the preferences of patient and carer gives insight to the problem. It emphasizes the complexity of the issue and the essential role likely to be placed on care managers in helping carers to maximize the net benefit of their efforts.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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