The challenges associated with neurodevelopmental disabilities can be complex, and families often access a wide range of specialized clinical, educational, and community-based interventions to help their children. But the reality is money is limited and competition to fund these interventions and services can be stiff. How efficient are our health interventions?

Being able to prove the efficiency and effectiveness of interventions is one way to ensure these critical resources are available for children with neurodevelopmental disabilities.

For example, if researchers can show that by accessing early interventions children with autism will use fewer resources later in life—thereby saving money in the long term—governments might be more invested in making these early interventions available.

The Health Economics Research Program supported by Kids Brain Health Network (KBHN) is focused on doing assessments in order to inform the allocation of funding, services, and supports for kids with neurodevelopmental disabilities.

“By realizing that the health system has a finite budget and you can only spend on so many things, economic evaluations provide some information around decisions on what to fund and what not to fund,” explains Dr. Jennifer Zwicker, director of Health Policy at the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy, and lead of the Health Economics Research Program.

Most recently, Dr. Zwicker and her team completed a study looking at tools typically used to assess the value of interventions, which often informs resource allocation in health care systems. The study found that many of these tools have not been properly used or validated when looking at interventions specific to children with brain-based disabilities.

“The problem is this really limits our ability to do really robust evaluations,” says Dr. Zwicker. “I think the real implications of that are how do you make a case in government about funding or not funding something when you can’t even really do the evaluation in a meaningful way.”

While these findings don’t suggest that doing these critical evaluations is impossible, Dr. Zwicker says the work highlights a gap that needs to be addressed to ensure children and their families are able to access the supports and services they need.

The Health Economics Research Program has also been looking at the cost and health outcomes associated with several ongoing KBHN-supported projects as a way of providing context to the value of specific projects.

For example, Dr. Zwicker and her team have been working with KBHN investigators to articulate the value of FASD screening tools, including eye tracking and biomarkers. Factors for consideration will include the cost of administering the tools, their specificity, and their sensitivity in comparison to other methods already being used. (Read more…)