Introduction. The relationship between the effectiveness of health care interventions and their costs is of increasing interest. The goal of the present study was to summarize the economic evaluations (EEs) published in the field of rheumatology and related disciplines, and to focus in particular on methodologic issues.

Methods. MEDLINE was searched in order to identify all relevant EEs published between 1966 and February 1995. Titles and abstracts of 1,435 articles were retrieved and independently reviewed by 2 assessors. Overall, 63 articles were identified by either assessor as being definite or possible full EEs (defined as an analysis comparing 2 or more strategies involving the assessment of both costs and consequences), and were assessed independently.

Results. Thirty-six articles were determined to be full EEs (33 cost-effectiveness and 3 cost-utility analyses). Most were published in the periods 1984–1990 (31%) and 1991–1995 (61%). Main areas covered were methods of prevention (44%), treatment (31%), and treatment-prevention (22%). Disorders most frequently studied were osteoarthritis (36%), osteoporosis (22%), and rheumatoid arthritis (14%). Direct and indirect costs were measured or estimated in 100% and 28% of the EEs, respectively. The viewpoint of the analysis was stated explicitly in 12 studies (33%). Incremental and sensitivity analyses were presented in 17 (47%) and 23 (64%), respectively. Inadequate use of economic terms was also documented.

Conclusion. The EE articles reviewed adhered partially to basic analytic methods. Economic evaluations in the field of rheumatology need to be improved to comply with current standards for the evaluation of health care interventions.