What is a Cost of Illness Study? Why is there a need?


Cost of illness studies are a type of economic study common in the medical literature. The aim of a cost of illness study is to identify and measure all the costs of a particular disease. The output, expressed in monetary terms, is an estimate of the total burden of a particular disease to society. 

Costs of illness studies, from a societal perspective, are interested in the total costs to all those affected (patients, caregivers, family) by a medical condition. The three different cost components are direct costs; the medical costs directly related to an illness, indirect costs; the impact of an illness on ability to work for the patient and caregiver, and lastly intangible costs; the costs of pain and suffering, usually in the form of quality of life measures.

Numerous cost-of-illness studies have been conducted over the past 30 years. Many of these studies have been instrumental in public health policy debates because they highlight the magnitude of the impact of an illness on society.

Cost of Illness studies in Ireland

Looking at illnesses from an economic perspective has become increasingly popular in Ireland, for policy makers and patient advocates alike. The constraints on the health budget resulting from the recession puts pressure on governments to make evidenced based and cost effective decisions, and cost of illness studies can provide such evidence. 

Patient organisations, at the other end of the spectrum, are well aware of the economic costs that are associated with some medical conditions and want to make the government aware of such costs that patients may be subject too. Indeed, in October 2014 Inclusion Ireland hosted a conference on the ‘Cost of Disability’ which voiced the importance of looking at illnesses and disability from an economic perspective, and not just a medical perspective. 

There has been cost of illness studies carried out on blindness, dementia, mental illness, obesity, autism, suicide and heart failure, to name a few, in Ireland over the past few years. However there has not been a national and comprehensive cost of Multiple Sclerosis study carried out. 

What is the cost of MS?

It is imperative that a study on the cost of Multiple Sclerosis is carried out in Ireland, as the International evidence shows that Multiple Sclerosis is associated with significant costs to people with MS, and to society as a whole. The figure below shows the average cost of MS per person with MS in various countries.

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There are many factors which make MS a ‘costly’ disease. 8,000 people in Ireland have MS, and the prevalence rate in Ireland one of the highest in the world. Most people are diagnosed between the ages of 24 and 30, quite young compared to many other conditions. As this age group is at the beginning of their career, it can result in lots of productivity losses and hence indirect costs for society. The fact that 54% of people with MS are unemployed is reflective of this. 

Medication, trips to neurology clinics and physiotherapist visits, which can be part of daily life for people with MS, can result in high ‘direct costs’ associated with the condition. Furthermore caregivers are paramount to needs of people with MS, and multiple sclerosis can too result in costs for caregivers and wider society.

MS Ireland wants to estimate the true costs of MS on a national basis in Ireland. By doing so, MS Ireland will be able to articulate the substantial economic impact of MS, which could shape future health policy in Ireland. The survey will run until the 9th of April and can be completed online. 

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If you have any questions, or to have a survey posted to you, please ring the MS Information Line on 1850 233 233 (Monday - Friday 10am - 2pm).