Costs and economic evaluation


David Kaunelis
Julie Glanville


We are grateful for the assistance of Eleanor Kotas on this chapter in 2019-2020.


Last updated: 10 April 2024

What's new in this update


This update includes a link to the HEORO burden of illness database, references to new NICE guidance and a new scoping review on model parameter searching, and new suggestions for identifying geographic filters which might be helpful in focusing some searches. 


This domain focuses on the importance of obtaining information about costs and outcomes as well as efficacy and effectiveness when evaluating new technologies. Economic evaluation is an important part of health technology assessment because it assists with priority-setting between different health technologies. An economic evaluation identifies, measures, values and compares the costs and outcomes of a technology with its relevant comparator.

This domain overlaps with the effectiveness domain and the organizational domain (1).

There is various guidance on conducting searching as part of systematic reviews of economic evaluations and utilities (2,3,4,5).

Sources to search

Some databases identify and collect economic evaluations and health economics studies (6,7,8,9,10,11) to promote efficient retrieval. These databases are built largely from MEDLINE and Embase, but offer a variety of value added information such as critical appraisals, results, categorisations and indexing. These databases can save time in identifying economic evaluations, but may not be comprehensive because of publication lags or geographical focus (e.g. the Cost-Effectiveness Analysis (CEA) registry). NHS EED ceased updating at the end of 2014 and is available only as a closed database. HEED is no longer available. This means that sensitive searches should also include searches of general medical databases such as MEDLINE and Embase (6,7,10-15). Searching Science Citation Index and conference abstracts (via websites as well as Embase) may also increase retrieval (11,14). Pitt et al. conducted a bibliometric analysis of full economic evaluations of health interventions published in 2012-14, comparing, among other things, the sensitivity and specificity of searches in 14 databases (16). This study confirms that Econlit is not a high yield resource for economic evaluations and suggests that Scopus may be a useful resource to search, which may merit investigation.

Searching non-database sources is likely to identify further studies outside of commercial journal publications (12).


Most recent reviews of economic evaluations have not followed published searching approaches in detail and are also currently poorly reported (17). Reviews should report the searches explicitly and search a range of resources (2,11,17). The following information sources should be considered when searching for economic evaluations and utility studies:

Burden of illness studies have been collected in the HEORO burden of illness database (

Identifying information to populate economic models may involve searching a range of resources including statistics, datasets, and  bibliographic databases (6,7,26,27,28,29,30,31,32). A recent poster describing a scoping review of health technology assessment guidance on finding model inputs notes that there is little empirical research on how to identify information for model inputs (33). Guidance on suggested minimum searching levels for model parameters is available, although the author notes that much of the guidance has not been empirically tested (30). Additional suggestions for identifying utility studies include standard approaches such as checking the reference lists of eligible studies, consulting experts, carrying out citation searches and named author searching (3) and identifying completed HTA reports (34). One study has examined the use of routine data (typically obtained for health insurance funds or other reimbursement data sources rather than bibliographic databases) in economic evaluations and highlighted that these data may increasingly need to be included in economic evaluations (35). A further study has explored challenges to incorporating environmental impacts into economic evaluations (36). NICE guidance suggests that costs information might be identified from national list prices, national audit data or from the economic literature (5).

Designing search strategies

Principles of systematic review methodology should be followed for the design of search strategies to identify economic evaluations. The recent CHEERS 2022 statement on reporting economic evaluations recommends that authors should add "economic evaluation" to article titles to aid recall and specify the type of evaluation, but despite these recommendations search filters are still currently required in the major bibliographic databases (5,37,38). 


The development of sensitive subject searches within the specific economic evaluation databases is recommended to capture the population and the intervention of interest (6,7,39). An overview of methods for systematic reviews of health economic interventions suggests that a systematic search should use relevant elements of PICO combined with an economic search filter (20). Shemilt is more cautious still, suggesting that only intervention search terms may be required and focus can be achieved by adding the population concept (18). However, there is no requirement to add an economic evaluation search filter to searches within economic evaluation databases because they are pre-filtered (3,9). 


Search filters for economic studies can be considered (in combination with concepts capturing the population and/or intervention) in general bibliographic databases such as MEDLINE or Embase (20). Published search filters, which can be identified from the InterTASC Information Specialists' Sub-Group (ISSG) Search Filter Resource, tend to have high sensitivity but poor precision (40-42). A filter validation study conducted in 2018 highlights filters with between 89.9% (2.9% precision) and 70.2% sensitivity (14.1% precision) (43). Cost-utility studies are often the focus of health technology assessments and a paired MEDLINE and Embase filter could be considered (44). CDA (formerly CADTH) offers a more precision maximizing search filter for rapid reviews (45,46). Search strategies to identify cost-effectiveness information may need to be adapted from those developed for searching for effectiveness studies (47). Searching for particular economic methods may require the use of several techniques (48).

Searches to inform specific parameters of decision models may not be required to be as extensive and systematic as those to identify economic evaluations, as decision models are developed in an organic way, some parameters do not require the identification of comprehensive evidence and it may not be feasible to conduct extensive searches for all parameters of a model (6,26,30).


Health state utility values (HSUVs) are important parameters in decision models. Recent research has indicated that for NICE HTA submissions, literature reviews for utilities are typically undertaken (31). Searching for utilities requires specific techniques (3,27,49) and the careful use of search filters can also be considered (3). There are few subject headings dedicated to utilities within MeSH and EMTREE, and although general subject headings such as ‘Quality of life’ will yield relevant studies, they are likely to demonstrate poor precision (3). Free text terms should be included in searches and three types may be helpful to include: general terms (such as QALY), instrument specific terms (such as EQ-5D) and terms describing methods of utility elicitation such as standard gamble (3). Search filters make use of a selection of these terms which have been shown to perform well in practice (3,49,50). Arber et al. have published three validated filters for retrieving HSUVs (sensitivity maximizing; a balance of sensitivity and precision; and precision maximizing) (50). One study recommends the use of iterative searching for utilities, following an initial scoping search, and lists factors to consider when defining the search criteria (49). 

Searching for cost of illness/burden of illness can make use of population search terms (perhaps taken from an accompanying effects review) (17).

In some cases searches may also be focused, using a second filter, on specific countries or regions (51). Geographic filters can be identified from the ISSG Search Filter Resource ( and other filter collections.

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How to cite this chapter:

Glanville J, Kaunelis D. Costs and economic evaluation.  Last updated 10 April 2024. In: SuRe Info: Summarized Research in Information Retrieval for HTA. Available from: 

Copyright: the authors