Choice and judgement in developing models for health technology assessment; a qualitative study

J Chilcott, P Tappenden, S Paisley, A Rawdin, M Johnson, E Kaltenthaler


Introduction The role of models in supporting health policy decisions is reliant on model credibility. Credibility is fundamentally determined by the choices and judgements that people make in the process of developing a model. However, the method of uncovering choices and making judgements in model development is largely unreported and is not addressed by modelling methods guidance.
Methods This qualitative study was part of a project examining errors in health technology assessment models. In-depth interviews with academic and commercial modellers were used to obtain descriptions of the model development process. Data were analysed using framework analysis and interpreted in the context of the methodological literature.
Results The activities involved in developing models were characterised according to the themes; understanding the decision problem, conceptual modelling, model implementation, model checking, and engaging with the decision maker. Finding and using evidence was frequently mentioned across these themes. There was marked variation between practitioners in the extent to which conceptual modelling was recognised as an activity distinct from model implementation.
Discussion Methodological approaches to addressing model credibility described in the wider modelling literature highlight the necessity to disentangle the conceptual modelling and implementation activities. Whilst interviewees talked of judgements and choice making throughout model development, discussion indicated that these were based upon skills and experience with no discussion of formal approaches. Methods are required that provide for a systematic approach to uncovering choices, to generating a shared view of consensus and divergence, and for making judgements and choices in model development.