Social, Ethical, and Other Value Judgments in Health Economics Modelling

Project Summary

In many research areas, scientists use computer models to study things of interest in the world. Recently, some studies have looked closely at computer models, and asked whether building them requires researchers to make ‘social value judgments’ (decisions about what is good for society, not just good from a scientific point of view). These studies showed that computer modelling does involve making social value judgments. However, they did not look specifically at health economics models, used to study health and healthcare spending.

In this project, researchers looked at social value judgements involved in building health economics models specifically. To do this, the researchers interviewed twenty-two health economists between February and May, 2019.

Project Findings

The project findings suggest that social value judgments are involved throughout health economics modelling.

Specifically, these judgments influence:

  • early modelling decisions (like what to model)
  • model assumptions (like when to assume that different patient groups will have the same experiences, despite their differences)
  • decisions about trade-offs between desirable model features (like whether it is more important for the model to be simple to understand, or more important for it to include all possible information)
  • setting standards of evidence (like deciding how ‘strong’ evidence needs to be before researchers conclude that something is true)

These results point to decisions that researchers should pay special attention to in health economics, particularly research that aims to incorporate patient and public values.


Harvard S, Werker G, Silva D. Social, ethical, and other value judgments in health economics modelling. Social Science & Medicine. Volume 253, 2020, 112975, ISSN 0277-9536. (

Harvard S., Werker G., 2021. Health Economists on involving patients in modeling: potential benefits, harms, and variables of interest. PharmacoEconomics.

This project is part of the Health Economics and Simulation Modelling Cluster.


Stephanie Harvard, Principal Investigator
Gregory R. Werker, Co-Investigator
Diego S. Silva, Co-Investigator
Alison Mclean, Patient Partner
Don Grant, Patient Partner