Cost-effectiveness in surgery: concepts of cost-utility analysis explained

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Economic evaluations are increasingly becoming part of the surgical evidence base. With health and research guidelines emphasizing both clinical and economic benefits, surgeons will need to consider the impact of economic evaluations in the future. It seems reasonable that surgical costs in the public healthcare sector should be justified by the benefits that clinical interventions offer. Thus, it is vital to understand the methodological differences, reported outcomes and limitations of economic evaluations pertinent to surgical practice as well. As terminology and concepts can be unfamiliar to surgeons, understanding results from these studies can seem difficult. This article aims to inform surgical readers of the processes involved in performing economic evaluations to determine and compare the cost-effectiveness of treatments. The various types of economic evaluations, their uses, design characteristics, model parameters, interpretation of outputs, uncertainty analyses and notable limitations are considered. Through a hypothetical clinical example that compares costs and effects of surgical versus medical treatment for cancer, key concepts in economic evaluations are considered.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1717-1723
Number of pages7
JournalANZ Journal of Surgery
Issue number9
Early online date22 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2021


  • cost-effectiveness
  • cost-utility analysis
  • economic evaluation
  • health economics
  • surgical education


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