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Willingness to pay as a measure of the benefits of mental health care

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Background Decision-makers would benefit from being able to plan and evaluate mental health care interventions or programmes on the basis of costs and consequences that are measured in the same unit of measurement (money being the most convenient). Monetized quantification of the consequences of alternative interventions could be subsequently incorporated into cost-benefit allocation decisions. Aim This paper provides an overview of the policy and research context within which willingness-to-pay survey techniques are located, together with a review of the main approaches used to date. We also highlight key issues in the application of these techniques and indicate areas of mental health research and policy that could benefit from their introduction. Method Willingness-to-pay survey techniques are reviewed, and issues concerning their validity and application in the context of cost-benefit analyses of mental health policies are discussed. Discussion Different survey methods are available for generating willingness-to-pay data, the most common being the contingent valuation approach. An assessment of the validity of data generated by these alternative techniques is vital in order to ensure that they are consistent with the notion of economic preferences and values. Implications The generation of valid and meaningful data on the monetized value of mental health outcomes would provide decision-makers with an improved evidence-based framework for resource allocation. Copyright © 1999 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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