Author: elemmon

Reflections on the first Scottish Health Economics meeting

It’s been just over one month since the official launch of Scottish Health Economics (SHE) at Discovery Point in Dundee.  Set up by the Health Economics Research Unit (HERU) in Aberdeen (find out more about SHE here), “SHE seeks to act as a vehicle for widening engagement with health economics in Scotland, bringing together users and producers of health economics who are interested in the development and application of health economics in Scotland. All activities will draw on the extensive experience and expertise Scotland offers in health economics” (SHE Terms of Reference, 2018).

Since the launch of SHE on the 3rd of October, we’ve had time to reflect and it’s safe to say we are more excited than ever about the future for health economics research in Scotland! In this post, we reflect on the event and highlight some of the take home messages.

Overview of the day

The tone for the day was set by Mandy Ryan, Director of HERU, who gave an enthusiastic welcome to all SHE participants. From this point onwards, the health economics energy in the room was palpable!

Next up, Rachel Baker, Professor of Health Economics at Glasgow Caledonian University, provided an overview of health economics research in Scotland. Of noticeable interest was the useful maps she had prepared, pin pointing where us health economists, both within academic and governmental institutions, are hiding. Although Stirling was left out of the picture (Seda Erdem and colleagues quick off the mark to rectify that!), the map surprised everyone in the room as to the sheer numbers of health economists and other bodies contributing to health economics research going on in Scotland.


© Prof Rachel Baker

Following Rachel’s introduction, Marjon van der Pol, Deputy Director of HERU, talked about capacity building in health economics, and strategies for attracting the next generation of health economists.

The rest of the day was packed with excellent presentations (and a delicious lunch) from academics across the SHE community on a number of interesting health economics research questions, with reflections from the policy community including the Scottish Government, Healthcare Improvement Scotland, NHS Education Scotland and NHS Health Scotland. The academic presentations included our own Research Assistant, Alistair Bullen, who gave an elevator presentation on the use of PACE Statements as source of qualitative secondary data to inform attribute selection in discrete choice experiments.

Whilst all of these presentations were extremely interesting and really showcased the wealth of health economics research going on in Scotland, perhaps the most constructive part of the day was the afternoon breakout sessions (where I think we all agreed we could have spent all day!). The sessions allowed for the opportunity to discuss what we want to get out of SHE, including activities, training, funding opportunities, and the possibility of an annual meeting.

Prof Cam Donaldson summed up the day perfectly in his closing remarks, commenting on the unmistakable enthusiasm that charged the room throughout the event.

Take home messages

As a group, we believe that the SHE network offers a starting point for collaborations with other health economics researchers in Scotland that we can build on going forward. Simply knowing and being aware of the research going on in Scotland is in itself useful to identify who holds expertise in a particular area. At the same time, SHE will allow links to form between academic researchers and the policy community, ensuring that Scottish health economics research is contributing in the issues that matter most to the people of Scotland.

Overall, we felt that the take home message from the day was really the unique position that Scotland is in and the potential that exists for collaborative work between and across academic institutions and government.

We recently completed the SHE event survey so we will wait to see the outcome of that and very much look forward to seeing how SHE develops and contributing to the networking potential that SHE offers.

EHE would like to thank all of the organisers and presenters who made the day worthwhile!


Researcher Spotlight: Alistair Bullen


Alistair is an early career researcher who is currently the Research Assistant attached to the INFO-BC (Supporting shared decision making in secondary breast cancer) project.

He graduated from the University of York’s MSc in Health Economics in 2018 having previously completed a degree in Economics from the University of East Anglia. Alistair intends to continue to further his development towards becoming a seasoned researcher in the field of Health Economics.

Current Work

The INFO-BC project is currently the only project which Alistair is attached to. INFO-BC utilises discrete choice experiments in order to elicit patient preferences for second line treatment for secondary breast cancer. Alistair’s work involves executing systematic reviews, conducting qualitative field work and analysis, binary choice models, and utility theory.

Research Interests

Alistair is currently exploring how his current research may be able to evolve further into a topic for a PHD. He intends to progress further in either the area of cancer or the field of choice experiments, or both.


Alistair has previously taught on the Health Economics module for the MSc in Clinical Trials.

Alistair Bullen at HESG

Author: Alistair Bullen

Health Economics Study Group and Discrete Choice Experiments

I am the primary researcher on INFO-BC. We plan to implement a discrete choice experiment (DCE). A DCE is a type of stated preference exercise where respondents make decisions hypothetical scenarios. Our team identified opportunity to use DCE’s in a secondary breast cancer setting. At the start of July I attended the Summer Health Economics Study Group (HESG) at the University of East Anglia (UEA), needless to say one of my main objectives was to discover what my peers in other parts of the UK doing in the area of preference elicitation. I found the three studies particularly interesting and have provided a summary of each of them here:

Moffatt. P, King. M, Viney. R, White. B, Butler. L, 2019. Impact and detection of straightlining response in health surveys (working paper)

The problem of straightlining is prominent in DCEs. Straightlining is when a respondent does not engage in a DCE and is instead found to be consistently choosing at random or choosing according to arbitrary factors, such as always choosing the option on the left. The authors demonstrated the problem of straightlining in an example DCE.  They also propose methods to identify straightliners and mitigate the problem. The proportion of straigliners identified was high at 45.2%, although there were concerns from the audience that the DCE used in the study was particularly complex and was therefore likely to have a higher proportion of straighliners. The methods which excluded individuals identified as straightliners appeared to provide more reliable estimates, although it remains to be seen if the same method would have the same results in the case of a more typical DCE design where there is likely to be a smaller proportion of straightliners.

McNamara. S, Tsuchiya, A. Holmes, J, 2019. Which preferences? choice architecture and normative health economics (working paper)

Stated preference exercises all have a choice architecture which affects how respondents interpret information and the decisions they make. This in turn impacts the resulting preferences. In health economics the results of stated preference can have real world effects on the decisions to provide or not provide treatments and technologies. In this study the authors illustrate how choice architecture can affect preferences using the example of a stated preference exercise eliciting public aversion to health inequalities. The authors address three key questions.

  1. If preferences are architecture sensitive, should we be using them in health-economic evaluation?
  2. If preferences are to be used in this way, what type of preference should we be using?
  3. How should we be structuring choice architectural decisions?

In summary the authors argue for the use of preferences assuming the approach is reasonable. They propose four questions to help Heath Economists structure their choice architecture. Finally they call for closer collaboration of Health Economists, behavioural scientists, philosophers, and policy makers to address the issue the sensitivity of preferences for choice architecture.

Boyers. D, Van der pol. M, Watson. V, 2019. The impact of ex-ante correction methods on hypothetical bias in Discrete Choice Experiment responses: A case study in dental care (working paper)

I acted as the discussant for this paper. The authors experimented with methods designed to mitigate hypothetical bias from their DCE. Hypothetical bias specifically refers to bias that arises when respondents fail to respond to a DCE in the same way that they would respond in an equivalent real life scenario. There was some evidence that two interventions went a small part of the way to mitigate hypothetical bias, these interventions were an honesty oath and a consequentiality script. To simplify the interventions: the honesty oath asked respondents to tick a box before the experiment and thereby promise to give honest responses; the consequentiality script informed respondents of the consequences the DCE is likely to have on policy decisions. The honesty oath was accompanied with the added complication that the completion rate was 10.3% lower than the baseline. The general verdict of the myself audience was that this is an interesting area for further research but that one would have reservations about implementing the proposed interventions unless stronger evidence was produced.

Researcher Spotlight: Katharina Diernberger


Katharina is currently working as a Research Fellow for Health Economics at the Clinical Trials Unit Edinburgh and part time as a Doctoral Fellow at the Edinburgh Cancer Centre.

She is a Masters Graduate in European Health Economics and Management (EU-HEM) which included studying at the Management Center Innsbruck, University of Bologna and the University of Oslo.

She has working experience as a fully trained nurse in the Austrian health and social sector and did her BSc in Nursing.

Research Interests

Katharina’s research interests are wide spread and include Dementia and Cardio-Oncological studies as well as methodological questions such as expert elicitation for economic evaluation of diagnostic tests. Currently her main focus is in the area of end of life care. She is working with English and Scottish routine data and is involved in several Clinical Trials.


Katharina developed and taught the Health Economics module for the MSc in Clinical Trials. Currently the module is refined and subsequently offered again in the coming academic years. She managed to involve colleagues from Edinburgh as well as health economists from Leeds and is seeking further collaboration with experts in related fields.

She is in her last few month of training for her Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice which she enjoyed and recommends for all (early career) researchers who strive to get involved in teaching.

Further, Katharina has supervised students from various masters programs and is having some ongoing and lined up commitments for supervision.

Current work

Currently, Katharina is doing a part time PhD on a University of Edinburgh staff scholarship. Several of the projects that Katharina is involved in feed directly into the development of her PhD.

Ongoing projects:

Cardiac Care, Allocative Efficiency in End of Life Care, ENeRgy Trial, Mabel Trial, EPAT Trial, TVT Trial


Hello everyone and welcome! We are the Edinburgh Health Economics (EHE) group, part of Edinburgh Clinical Trials Unit (ECTU), and this is our new blog!

In recent years, our enthusiastic team has been growing.  We now feel like it is about time that we shared with you, the research community, some of the work that we have been getting up to. For our first post, we thought that the best thing to do would be to get our Team Leader – Peter Hall – to tell you a bit about our group and our new blog.

Pete has been leading the EHE group, which bases itself within ECTU and the Usher Institute, since it was established in 2015. He is a Reader in Cancer Informatics and Health Economics, and practicing Oncologist at the Edinburgh Cancer Centre. When he isn’t treating patients, cycling to and from meetings, he is lecturing medical students, working tirelessly on one of his many research projects and keeping the EHE group on track.

Here’s what Pete had to say:

“It is an enormous privilege every day to hear the great ideas to solve problems in health economics that our group grapples with. Although Health Economists at our heart, we come from diverse backgrounds. This must be one of the reasons why we end up taking quite novel approaches to solve the established challenges of measuring value in healthcare. The environment we operate in with new data science and informatics opportunities in Scotland really gives the best opportunities to allow each of our members to shine.”

“One of our missions at the moment is to reach out to make sure that everyone knows when and how they should think about Health Economics in their research plans. The answer is ALWAYS and AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE. We hope that this blog will help you start a conversation with us. We would also love to hear from other Health Economists who share our interests.”

“As we look forward to the continuing development of EHE, the future looks bright! We hope you will join us in following this blog as we share and report on our range of activities. To find out more about our team and the projects we are working on, look out for our ‘Team Spotlight’ posts over the next few weeks!”