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Current state of the art in preference-based measures of health and avenues for further research

Brazier, J (2005): Current state of the art in preference-based measures of health and avenues for further research.


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Preference-based measures of health (PBMH) have been developed primarily for use in economic evaluation. They have two components, a standardized, multidimensional system for classifying health states and a set of preference weights or scores that generate a single index score for each health state defined by the classification, where full health is one and zero is equivalent to death. A health state can have a score of less than zero if regarded as worse than being dead. These PMBH can be distinguished from non-preference-based measures by the way the scoring algorithms have been developed, in that they are estimated from the values people place on different aspects of health rather than a simple summative scoring procedure or weights obtained from techniques based on item response patterns (e.g., factor analysis or Rasch analysis).

The use of PBMH has grown considerably over the last decade with the increasing use of economic evaluation to inform health policy. Preference-based measures have become a common means of generating health state values for calculating quality-adjusted life years (QALY). The status of PBMH was considerably enhanced by the recommendations of the U.S. Public Health Service Panel on Cost-Effectiveness in Health and Medicine to use them in economic evaluation. A key requirement for PBHM in economic evaluation is that they allow comparison across programmes.

While PBMH have been developed primarily for use in economic evaluation, they have also been used to measure health in populations. PBHM provide a better means than a profile measure of determining whether there has been an overall improvement in self-perceived health. The preference-based nature of their scoring algorithms also offers an advantage over non-preference-based measures since the overall summary score reflects what is important to the general population. A non-preference-based measure does not provide an indication to policy makers of the overall importance of health differences between groups or of changes over time.

The purpose of this paper is to critically review methods of designing preference based measures. The paper begins by reviewing approaches to deriving preference weights for PBMH, and this is followed by a brief description and comparison of five common PBMH. The main part of the paper then critically reviews the core components of these measures, namely the classifications for describing health states, the source of their values, and the methods for estimating the scoring algorithm. The final section proposes future research priorities for this field.

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