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Setting priorities in and for end-of-life care: challenges in the application of economic evaluation

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 October 2012

Edward Kennedy Professor of Health Policy and Management, Trinity College, University of Dublin, Dublin 2, Ireland
*Correspondence to: Professor Charles Normand, Edward Kennedy Professor of Health Policy and Management, University of Dublin, Trinity College, 3-4 Foster Place, Dublin 2, Ireland. Email:


Health technology assessment processes aim to provide evidence on the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of different elements of health care to assist setting priorities. There is a risk that services that are difficult to evaluate, and for which there is limited evidence on cost-effectiveness, may lose out in the competition for resources to those with better evidence. It is argued here that end-of-life care provides particular challenges for evaluation. Outcomes are difficult to measure, can take place over short time scales, and services can be difficult to characterise as they are tailored to the specific needs of individuals. Tools commonly used to measure health care outcomes do not appear to discriminate well in the end-of-life care context. It is argued that the assumption that units of time of different quality of life can simply be added to assess the overall experience at the end of life may not apply, and that alternative perspectives, such as the Peak and End Rule, might offer useful perspectives.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2012

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