New working paper – ‘The relationship between individual risk and cost-effectiveness in screening interventions’

I’ve just released a new working paper, along with my co-authors Profs Marilyn James and David Whynes. You can access it through RePEc here. The paper discusses the (somewhat obvious) relationship between a person’s risk of developing a disease and the cost-effectiveness of screening them. This is important because publicly-funded screening interventions will, in the future, I suspect, have to discriminate based on risk.

Here’s the abstract:

Advancements in our understanding of the causes and correlates of disease mean that we are now able to estimate an individual’s level of risk. This, and the ever-increasing need for healthcare interventions to be cost-effective, has led to calls for the introduction of risk-based screening. Risk-based screening would involve the use of information about an individual’s risk factors to decide whether or not they should be eligible for screening, or the frequency with which they should be invited to attend screening. Evidence is emerging that targeted screening, towards those at higher risk, can increase the cost-effectiveness of a screening programme. The relationship between individual risk and the cost-effectiveness of screening an individual is implicitly recognised in current population screening programmes in the UK. However, the nature of this relationship, and its implications for cost-effectiveness analysis, has not been presented in the academic literature. In this study we propose that an individual’s risk of developing a disease has a consistent and quantifiable relationship with the cost-effectiveness of screening them. We suggest a simple modification to standard methods of cost-effectiveness analysis that enables the incorporation of individual risk. Using numerical examples we demonstrate the nature of the relationship between risk and cost-effectiveness and suggest means of optimising a screening intervention. This can be done either by defining a minimum level of risk for eligibility or by defining the optimal recall period for screening. We suggest that methods of decision modelling could enable such an analysis to be carried out, and that information on individual risk could be used to optimise the cost-effectiveness of population screening programmes.

I’d really appreciate any comments you might have on this paper. Feel free to post below or alternatively please send me an email.

#100wordreview – Quack Policy. Abusing Science in the Cause of Paternalism (Jamie Whyte) [Book]


I found this IEA publication very difficult to read, because almost every paragraph is flawed; sometimes logically, often evidentially and at times morally. The book takes what any undergrad might learn in Econ101 and applies it to current challenges and policy responses in health and climate change. All with gusto and arrogance. Whyte has little regard for the policy context, or for much of economic thought from the last 40 years. Most arguments depend on false analogies, which are painful to read. In the author’s own words: “Science progresses by ignoring mere opinion, expert or otherwise”. Thank goodness for that.

#100wordreview – The Humble Economist (Tony Culyer) [Book]

A collection of 21 abridged essays summarising Tony Culyer’s most important contributions. Fellow health economists may have already read the book’s constituent parts, but much can be gained from digesting them in this form. The book presents Culyer’s work as a cohesive set of ideas, woven together in his unmistakable style and approach; best characterised by the book’s title. For non-economists interested in health research, the book disarms economics of its alienating features that lead to confusion and misunderstanding about what economists actually do and why they do it. For economists, herein lies an exemplar approach to your discipline.