Analysis and interpretation of cost data in randomised controlled trials: review of published studies

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Survey of published randomised trials including an economic evaluation with cost values suitable for statistical analysis; 45 such trials published in 1995 were identified from Medline.

Main outcome measures

The use of statistical methods for cost data was assessed in terms of the descriptive statistics reported, use of statistical inference, and whether the reported conclusions were justified.


Although all 45 trials reviewed apparently had cost data for each patient, only 9 (20%) reported adequate measures of variability for these data and only 25 (56%) gave results of statistical tests or a measure of precision for the comparison of costs between the randomised groups. Only 16 (36%) of the articles gave conclusions which were justified on the basis of results presented in the paper. No paper reported sample size calculations for costs.


The analysis and interpretation of cost data from published trials reveal a lack of statistical awareness. Strong and potentially misleading conclusions about the relative costs of alternative therapies have often been reported in the absence of supporting statistical evidence. Improvements in the analysis and reporting of health economic assessments are urgently required. Health economic guidelines need to be revised to incorporate more detailed statistical advice.

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