Health technology assessment agencies often prefer that utilities used to calculate quality-adjusted life years in cost-utility analyses (CUAs) are derived using standardized methods, such as generic preference-based measures completed by patients in clinical trials. However, there are situations when no standardized approach is feasible or appropriate for a specific medical condition or treatment that must be represented in a CUA. When this occurs, vignette-based methods are often used to estimate utilities. A vignette (sometimes called a “scenario,” “health state description,” “health state vignette,” or “health state”) is a description of a health state that is valued in a preference elicitation task to obtain a utility estimate. This method is sometimes the only feasible way to estimate utilities representing a concept that is important for a CUA. Consequently, vignette-based studies continue to be conducted and published, with the resulting utilities used in economic models to inform decision making about healthcare resource allocation. Despite the potential impact of vignette-based utilities on medical decision making, there is no published guidance or review of this methodology. This article provides recommendations for researchers, health technology assessment reviewers, and policymakers who may be deciding whether to use vignette-based methods, designing a vignette study, using vignette-based utilities in a CUA, or evaluating a CUA that includes vignette-based utilities. Recommendations are provided on: (A) when to use vignette-based utilities, (B) methods for developing vignettes, (C) valuing vignettes, (D) use of vignette-based utilities in models, and (E) limitations of vignette methods.
Louis S. Matza Katie D. Stewart Andrew J. Lloyd Donna Rowen John E. Brazier