Population- versus Cohort-Based Modelling Approaches

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While no single type of model can provide adequate answers under all circumstances, any modelling endeavour should incorporate three fundamental considerations in any decision-making question: the target population, the disease and the intervention characteristics.

A target population is likely to be characterized by various types of heterogeneity and a dynamic evolution over time. It is therefore important to adequately capture these population effects on the results of a model. There are essentially two different approaches in modelling a population over time: a cohort-based approach and a population-based approach.

In a cohort-based model, a closed group of individuals who have at least one specific characteristic or experience in common over a defined period of time is run through a state transition process. The cohort is generally composed of a hypothetical number of representative or ‘average’ individuals (i.e. the target population is considered to be a homogeneous group).

The population-based approach projects the evolution of the estimated prevalent target population and intends to reflect as much as possible the demographic, epidemiological and clinical characteristics of the prevalent target population relevant for the decision problem.

A cohort-based approach is generally used in most published healthcare decision models. However, this choice is rarely discussed by modellers. In this article, we challenge this assumption. To address the underlying decision problem, we affirm it is crucial that modellers consider the characteristics of the target population. Then, they could opt for using the most appropriate approach. Decision makers should also understand the impact on the results of both types of models in order to make informed healthcare decisions.

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