Objectives: The aim of this study was to investigate how the societal perspective is conceptualized in economic evaluations and to assess how intersectoral costs and benefits (ICBs), that is, the costs and benefits pertaining to sectors outside the healthcare sector, impact their results.
Methods: Based on a search in July 2015 using PubMed, Embase, CINAHL, and PsychINFO, a systematic literature review was performed for economic evaluations which were conducted from a societal perspective. Conceptualizations were assessed in NVivo version 11 using conventional and directed content analysis. Trial-based evaluations in the fields of musculoskeletal and mental disorders were analyzed further, focusing on the way ICBs impact the results of economic evaluations.
Results: A total of 107 studies were assessed, of which 74 (69.1 percent) provided conceptualizations of the societal perspective. These varied in types of costs included and in descriptions of cost bearers. Labor productivity costs were included in seventy-two studies (67.3 percent), while only thirty-eight studies (35.5 percent) included other ICBs, most of which entailed informal care and/or social care costs. ICBs within the educational and criminal justice sectors were each included five times. Most of the trial-based evaluations analyzed further (n = 21 of 28) reported productivity costs. In nine, these took up more than 50 percent of total costs. In several studies, criminal justice and informal care costs were also important.
Conclusions: There is great variety in the way the societal perspective is conceptualized and interpreted within economic evaluations. Use of the term “societal perspective” is often related to including merely productivity costs, while other ICBs could be relevant as well.