Assessing the impact of prescribed medicines on health outcomes Academic Article uri icon


  • This paper reviews methods that can be used to assess the impact of medicine use on population health outcomes. In the absence of a gold standard, we argue that a convergence of evidence from different types of studies using multiple methods of independent imperfection provides the best bases for attributing improvements in health outcomes to the use of medicines. The major requirements are: good evidence that a safe and effective medicine is being appropriately prescribed; covariation between medicine use and improved health outcomes; and being able to discount alternative explanations of the covariation (via covariate adjustment, propensity analyses and sensitivity analyses), so that medicine use is the most plausible explanation of the improved health outcomes. The strongest possible evidence would be provided by the coherence of the following types of evidence: (1) individual linked data showing that patients are prescribed the medicine, there are reasonable levels of patient compliance, and there is a relationship between medicine use and health improvements that is not explained by other factors; (2) ecological evidence of improvements in these health outcomes in the population in which the medicine is used. Confidence in these inferences would be increased by: the replication of these results in comparable countries and consistent trends in population vital statistics in countries that have introduced the medicine; and epidemiological modelling indicating that changes observed in population health outcomes are plausible given the epidemiology of the condition being treated.

publication date

  • December 2007