Health state utility values (‘utilities’) are an integral part of health technology assessment. Though traditionally categorised by disease status in oncology (i.e. progression), several recent assessments have adopted values calculated according to the time that measures were recorded before death. We conducted a simulation study to understand the limitations of each approach, with a focus on mismatches between the way utilities are generated, and analysed.
Survival times were simulated based on published literature, with permutations of three utility generation mechanisms (UGMs) and utility analysis methods (UAMs): (1) progression based, (2) time-to-death based, and (3) a ‘combination approach’. For each analysis quality-adjusted life-years (QALYs) were estimated. Goodness of ft was assessed via percentage mean error (%ME) and mean absolute error (%MAE). Scenario analyses were performed varying individual parameters, with complex scenarios mimicking published studies. The statistical code is provided for transparency and to aid future work in the area.
%ME and %MAE were lowest when the correct analysis form was specifed (i.e. UGM and UAM aligned). Underestimates were produced when a time-to-death element was present in the UGM but not included in the UAM, while the ‘combined’ UAM produced overestimates irrespective of the UGM. Scenario analysis demonstrated the importance of the volume of available data beyond the initial time period, for example follow-up.
We show that the use of an incorrectly or over-specifed UAM can result in substantial bias in the estimation of utilities. We present a fowchart to highlight the issues that may be faced.