Quality-adjusted life years (QALYs) are used to determine how to allocate resources to health programmes or to treatments within those programmes in order to gain maximum utility from those limited, shared healthcare resources. However, if we use those same population- based QALYs when faced with individual treatment decisions we may act unjustly in relation to that individual or in relation to the wider population. A treatment with a population-based incremental cost-effectiveness ratio beyond our willingness to pay threshold may be denied to a patient even if, for that particular patient, the QALYs gained for the cost would fall within that threshold. When considering individual cases, it is proposed that we should take an individualised approach to the cost of treatment and response to treatment (‘individualised QALYs’) and a personalised approach to the valuation of health states (‘personalised QALYs’). Only if we do this, can we maximise utility and give the patient a fair opportunity to benefit. Individualised and personalised QALYs also allow us to express patient choice and religious treatment preferences in terms of utility. Individualised and personalised QALYs are explored in the context of individual funding requests in the National Health Service. In preference to the concept of ‘clinical exceptionality’, individualised and personalised QALYs provide the potential for better and more consistent decisions and improved utility. Rather than treating unequal patients as if they were equal, individualised and personalised QALYs promote fair and unequal access to resources for some of our most unequal patients. Potential challenges are also considered.
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