Open Access Open Badges Research article

Methods of international health technology assessment agencies for economic evaluations- a comparative analysis

Tim Mathes*, Esther Jacobs, Jana-Carina Morfeld and Dawid Pieper

Author Affiliations

Institute for Research in Operative Medicine, Faculty of Health - School of Medicine, Witten/Herdecke University, Ostmerheimer Str. 200, Building 38, D - 51109 Cologne, Germany

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BMC Health Services Research 2013, 13:371  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-13-371

Published: 30 September 2013



The number of Health Technology Assessment (HTA) agencies increases. One component of HTAs are economic aspects. To incorporate economic aspects commonly economic evaluations are performed. A convergence of recommendations for methods of health economic evaluations between international HTA agencies would facilitate the adaption of results to different settings and avoid unnecessary expense. A first step in this direction is a detailed analysis of existing similarities and differences in recommendations to identify potential for harmonization. The objective is to provide an overview and comparison of the methodological recommendations of international HTA agencies for economic evaluations.


The webpages of 127 international HTA agencies were searched for guidelines containing recommendations on methods for the preparation of economic evaluations. Additionally, the HTA agencies were requested information on methods for economic evaluations. Recommendations of the included guidelines were extracted in standardized tables according to 13 methodological aspects. All process steps were performed independently by two reviewers.


Finally 25 publications of 14 HTA agencies were included in the analysis. Methods for economic evaluations vary widely. The greatest accordance could be found for the type of analysis and comparator. Cost-utility-analyses or cost-effectiveness-analyses are recommended. The comparator should continuously be usual care. Again the greatest differences were shown in the recommendations on the measurement/sources of effects, discounting and in the analysis of sensitivity. The main difference regarding effects is the focus either on efficacy or effectiveness. Recommended discounting rates range from 1.5% - 5% for effects and 3% - 5% for costs whereby it is mostly recommended to use the same rate for costs and effects. With respect to the analysis of sensitivity the main difference is that oftentimes the probabilistic or deterministic approach is recommended exclusively. Methods for modeling are only described vaguely and mainly with the rational that the “appropriate model” depends on the decision problem. Considering all other aspects a comparison is challenging as recommendations vary regarding detailedness and addressed issues.


There is a considerable unexplainable variance in recommendations. Further effort is needed to harmonize methods for preparing economic evaluations.