By David Woods

Drs Lofland (pictured left) and Pizzi (below) are members of Jefferson Medical College’s Department of Health Policy where both are associate professors. They are co-authors of Economic evaluation in US healthcare: Principles and applications.

The book isn’t just for health economists, they say, but rather it’s designed for any healthcare decision-makers… anyone designing or interpreting health economics studies.

The health economics group at a major device manufacturer bought 100 copies of the book to disseminate within the company.

In fact, Jennifer and Laura agree that scientists don’t always understand health economics, in part because they want absolute, black-and-white answers. Health outcomes research is more of a social science, they contend, and is characterised by a lot of grey nuance. Hence, their book also serves to demystify the subject.

The pair believe that while health economics is still a relatively young discipline, broader issues in the current $1.8 trillion US healthcare system are providing the field with a higher profile and greater opportunities.

For instance, as federal and state governments increase spending on healthcare services, they’ll have to make hardnosed decisions about allocating resources; as employers face rapidly increasing healthcare costs, they want data on the costs and productivity impact of medical treatments.

In short, health economists will play a much larger role in decision-making at the highest levels… with presidential candidates of both parties wrestling with how best to streamline the US health system.

Even so, they acknowledge, in a market-based system of healthcare delivery there are political constraints engendered by competing and sometimes conflicting interests. In that sense, health economists may have to deal with politics. But there’s more consistency in how studies are designed, they believe. And we’re ripe for change, they say – a change that also expands the role of health economists into such research issues as the economic impact of such major public health issues as obesity and smoking.

One issue that bothers Jennifer and Laura is when academics are exploited for marketing and promotional purposes – for example, when companies in the pharmaceutical and biotech industries send nearly identical scientific abstracts to several conferences, or ask universities to issue press releases on findings that favour their product.

They contend that each contribution to the literature should be unique and published in a peer-reviewed scientific venue. They call on health economists working for the industry to exercise ‘etiquette’ when working with academics as this will ultimately foster credibility within the field.

As for HOC, the pair are big fans, particularly for the publication’s emphasis on the whole spectrum of communications; but they say they’d like to see more content listed in the subject line of emails… and catchier titles for articles (editor’s note: we’re working on both).