Sound economic evaluations of health interventions can provide valuable information for justifying resource allocation decisions, planning for implementation, and enhancing sustainability of effective preventive health interventions. However, the quality of intervention cost estimates are seldom addressed. Reliable cost data forms the foundation of economic evaluations, and without reliable cost estimates, evaluation results may be misleading. This study identified data collection tools often used in obtaining reliable data for estimating intervention costs for interventions that prevent and manage chronic conditions (including mental health, behavioral health, and risk factors) and discussed considerations for their practical application to promote their use.
Intervention costs are the costs of inputs or resources consumed to develop, implement, and/or operate the intervention, which may consist of fixed and variable costs classified into various types such as start-up, operational, materials, and labor. Micro-costing is a commonly used method to derive both fixed and variable costs of an intervention and involves collecting data for each resource consumed. We identified micro-costing data collection tools used in literature published since 2008, and discussed their practical applications in example studies of preventive interventions, including potential strengths and weaknesses.
Micro-costing data collection tools often used in literature include a) standardized comprehensive templates, b) targeted questionnaires, c) activity logs, d) on-site administrative databases, and e) direct observation. These tools are not mutually exclusive and are often used in combination. For example, Mirambeau et al. conducted a cost analysis of a community health worker program and used a standardized cost collection template to compile data from an administrative database and activity logs used to estimate labor time. Ruger et al. conducted a cost analysis of outreach motivational interviewing for smoking cessation and used an activity log to track both labor and materials costs. Considerations for the appropriate application of these tools include the time needed, frequency, and burden of data collection.
Various tools exist for obtaining intervention cost information. Each have unique merits and limitations. Some may be more applicable than others depending on the intervention characteristics. Properly applying them can produce quality cost estimates, which will enhance the usefulness of economic evaluations to inform resource allocation decisions, planning, and sustainability for effective preventive health interventions.