My last article (link) discussed the three most common types of value assessments my clients request: a value brief, a white paper and a full economic analysis.

That article obviously resonated with folks because I received several inquiries asking for more information. That being said, I wanted to take a deeper dive to go into what organizations should consider when deciding which is best for their needs.

The main differences include:

  1. The ability to claim general versus specific benefits
  2. The use of monetary-only benefits versus a broader scope of value
  3. The level of investment (including time and attention) to create them

As described in the previous article, value briefs and white papers are documents that provide summaries of the value of the healthcare solution by using supporting information from published literature and scientific studies. The goal of these documents is to offer a hypothesis or value message in general terms of the benefits one can expect. Some examples include:

  • “This solution can reduce disease burden or care utilization …” or
  • “This solution can save costs or increase revenues …” or
  • “This solution can improve patient experiences or quality of life …”

However, these documents typically don’t offer specific and quantifiable information about benefits unless the claims in the value brief or white paper are general in nature or there are written studies involving the solution. For example, if discussing a specific digital health solution, the document might say something like:

“Digital health solutions can empower patients and increase something called ‘activation,’ in which patients take a more active role in their health and care decisions; increased activation has been linked to improved outcomes and lower costs. (Hibbard, 2015)”

The cited research is not specific to digital health, and certainly not to the particular solution being discussed. Instead, the idea is to offer a logical argument where one can infer the positive results one might be able to expect from the solution.

In many instances, it’s possible to include specific examples that include specific quantities (e.g., “in a 2017 study, increasing activation resulted in a 13% lower cost compared to the control group”) but it’s clear that it is an example, not a prediction of the results the targeted solution would produce. One may hope to leverage these types of quantities to make a loose estimate of cost-savings or monetary benefit, but additional care should be taken. You can lose credibility if it seems like you are “cherry picking” data or being too optimistic.

While this might seem limiting, the reality is that it’s often possible to explore more types of value in these types of documents than one can in a formal economic analysis. That is because we can explore value concepts that aren’t easily monetizable, whereas an ROI analysis, for example, is limited to monetary benefits.

The goal in a full economic analysis is to move from general statements to specific quantities so that one can estimate what a realized return or cost-savings would be. The key activity in an economic analysis, like ROI, is identifying or developing estimates of these specific quantities that are credible and defendable. This typically involves:

  • Performing an extensive search and review of available information and literature
  • Abstracting key information from a large number of sources
  • Combining this information to develop a range of reasonable estimates that can be used in a base case and sensitivity analysis

If the reader understands that you performed a thorough review of available information and can justify your estimate based on the information found, your results will have the necessary credibility. Combining the available information into a credible estimate is an art as well as a science and requires you to consider various aspects of the studies you have sourced to determine what is reasonable.

After this process, you will be able to make specific claims, like, “We anticipate that organizations who utilize this technology will realize a positive financial return within 6 to 8 months time,” because that claim will be made in context and in light of the supporting information you have accumulated.

Unfortunately, this process often takes a significant amount of time and effort, and is typically limited to benefits that can be translated into monetary terms.

So before deciding if you need a value brief, white paper or a full economic analysis, be sure to fully consider the advantages and disadvantages of each when it comes to your specific healthcare solution.