Clinical economics of head and neck malignancies
Head and Neck Neoplasms
With the continued increase in medical expenditures and the growing awareness that resources are not limitless, there is increasing pressure to curb health care costs and to establish priorities. As potential solutions are proposed and implemented, there is understandable concern that policy choices may adversely affect both the access to and the quality of care. Economic analyses are one tool used to optimize resource allocation decisions. The primary goal of these analyses is to maximize value and efficiency, not necessarily to decrease spending. The current focus on cost cutting is often associated with a more truncated, nonsocietal perspective (e.g., that of the payer or provider). To be most useful, these analyses must be methodologically rigorous. Standard guidelines, such as those established by Eisenberg, are helpful. As shown in the reports applicable to head and neck malignancies that have been discussed here, many articles published in the clinical literature must be interpreted cautiously, because fundamental methodological concerns (e.g., using costs rather than charges, discounting to a common base year) were frequently not addressed. Economic investigations are one aspect of the broader fields of outcomes and health services research. It is easy to underestimate how greatly economic studies depend on the availability of high quality noneconomic data. In that context, current initiatives in evidence-based medicine (EBM), using the best available evidence (considering for example, the type of trial, the quality of the research, and the credentials of the researcher) to help clinicians practice in situations where doubt may exist in the diagnosis, treatment, or prognosis of patients, will likely grow in importance. Evidence-based clinical practice guidelines and systematic literature reviews are manifestations of this trend. Historically, disease control measures and survival have been the primary and points in clinical cancer studies. Economic analyses and studies evaluating other end points (e.g., function, quality of life) will likely play a larger role in the future in evaluating the diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up of head, neck and other malignancies.