Headroom approach to device development: current and future directions

Headroom analysis as a method to estimate the potential for a cost-effective implementation of self-management interventions

The COMPAR-EU project aims to rank the most (cost-)effective interventions for self-management. To estimate the cost-effectiveness of self-management interventions (SMIs) health economic models were used to predict the lifetime health benefits and (healthcare) costs for a scenario assuming one-time implementation of a SMI in comparison with a scenario assuming care as usual.

One of the important components of a cost-effectiveness analysis is the cost of the intervention. However, in some cases these costs are not readily available. As an alternative to standard cost-effectiveness analysis a headroom analysis can then be performed. In a headroom analysis (1), a headroom is estimated indicating how much an intervention or treatment may maximally cost to be considered cost-effective given the health benefits associated to the intervention and a threshold for the cost associated to these health benefits. Health benefits are often expressed in quality-adjusted life-years (QALYs). A threshold for the cost per QALY reflects the maximum cost society is willing to pay to gain one additional QALY.

In the COMPAR-EU project data on the characteristics and health benefits of SMIs were obtained from published data. The cost of SMIs is determined by factors such as the type of healthcare provider involved, the time spend per patient and the mode of delivery. The majority of published studies on self-management did not provide enough detailed information on these factors to be able to estimate the cost of SMIs. Therefore, a headroom analysis was conducted to estimate what SMIs may maximally cost to be considered cost-effective given its health benefits and a certain threshold for cost-effectiveness. Headrooms were estimated for two different threshold values: €20,000 per QALY gained, as this is a figure that is often used in the context of preventive interventions, and €50,000 per QALY gained, as this value is more often used for curative interventions in for instance COPD and heart failure patients. Overall, headrooms for SMIs varied across diseases and countries and were estimated to range from €0 to €2,400 and from €200 to €8,000 at a threshold of €20,000 and €50,000, respectively.

A lower headroom for a particular SMI implies that the SMI needs to be delivered at lower cost in order to achieve cost-effectiveness. As such, headroom estimates are relevant for policymakers and health care providers as they give guidance to when (and when not) to consider SMIs a tool to gain health at reasonable costs, and in what disease areas and patient groups it might be more efficient to invest in SMIs.


Martine Hoogendoorn

Martine Hoogendoorn is a Senior Researcher at iMTA with more than 15 years experience in modelling the disease COPD. She holds a Master´s degree in Human Nutrition from Wageningen University and a PhD in Health Economics from the Erasmus University Rotterdam. She has extensive experience in disease modelling using different types of models (e.g. cohort, patient-level, Markov, DES).

de_Groot_ Saskia

Saskia de Groot

Saskia is a Medior Researcher at iMTA. She holds a Master´s degree in Health Economics, Policy & Law from the Erasmus University Rotterdam, a Master´s degree in Clinical Epidemiology from the Netherlands Institute for Health Science of the Erasmus Medical Center and a PhD in Health Economics from the Erasmus University Rotterdam.


[1] Girling A, Lilford R, Cole A, Young T. Headroom approach to device development: current and future directions. Int J Technol Assess Health Care. 2015 Jan;31(5):331-8.