Clarifying NIH’s Priorities in Health Economics

Today, NIH is releasing a Guide Notice on Clarifying NIH’s Priorities in Health Economics, demonstrating the importance NIH places on supporting research that examines “how scarce resources are allocated among alternative uses for the care of sickness and the promotion, maintenance, and improvement of health, including the study of how health care and health-related services, their costs and benefits, and health itself are distributed among individuals and groups in society.”  In other words, how economic models and methods can be used to support NIH’s mission to use fundamental knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce illness and disability.

Health economics can provide rigorous tools for answering important questions about how new medical innovations are adopted and deployed; about how patients and doctors can make the best informed choices for treatment and prevention; and about how different ways of delivering health care can affect the health of individuals and populations.   Answering these sorts of questions is vital to our work here at NIH, and as of 2015, NIH funding has supported the work of five Nobel Laureates in Economic Sciences who made great advancements in our understanding of health and society.  In fact, health economics is only one example of the type of behavioral and social science research funded by NIH that is absolutely central to our ability to prevent and treat disability and disease.

Today’s Guide Notice clearly demonstrates the importance that NIH places on supporting health economics research in which health outcomes and health-related behaviors are the primary focus, and the connection between the subject(s) of the study and improved understanding of health are clear and explicit.  Health economics research that makes a strong, explicit tie to health and health-related outcomes is central to the NIH mission, and NIH believes that such studies are a worthy investment of taxpayer funds.  It is also true that an economic analysis is often included as one piece of a larger study and that such analysis is often part of understanding the real-world consequences of health interventions. Studies where the primary focus of the research is not health economics, but include such analyses as a secondary aim, continue to be a valued part of the NIH portfolio.

Some topics and approaches which are not necessarily NIH-wide priorities may still be priorities for the missions of individual Institutes and Centers. Principal Investigators (PIs) and potential PIs for NIH research grants should consult with NIH program officers in Institutes and Centers appropriate to their proposed topic if they have questions about whether their work will fit program priorities.

The Notice also identifies study topics outside the NIH mission, which will not be funded by the agency. These topics, although potentially valuable areas of research, do not connect clearly to NIH’s mission or priorities related to the understanding of health, and therefore may be a better fit at other organizations and agencies. This underscores NIH’s strong commitment to responsible stewardship of the taxpayer dollars and to transparency in setting priorities for the agency.

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