Application of Constrained Optimization Methods in Health Services Research

Published Sep 2018


Crown W, Buyukkaramikli N, Sir MY et al. Application of Constrained Optimization Methods in Health Services Research: Report 2 of the ISPOR Optimization Methods Emerging Good Practices Task Force. Value Health 2018;21(9):1019 – 1028.


Background: Constrained optimization methods are already widely used in health care to solve problems that represent traditional applications of operations research methods, such as choosing the optimal location for new facilities or making the most efficient use of operating room capacity. Objectives: In this paper we illustrate the potential utility of these methods for finding optimal solutions to problems in health care delivery and policy. To do so, we selected three award-winning papers in health care delivery or policy development, reflecting a range of optimization algorithms. Two of the three papers are reviewed using the ISPOR Constrained Optimization Good Practice Checklist, adapted from the framework presented in the initial Optimization Task Force Report.

The first case study illustrates application of linear programming to determine the optimal mix of screening and vaccination strategies for the prevention of cervical cancer. The second case illustrates application of the Markov Decision Process to find the optimal strategy for treating type 2 diabetes patients for hypercholesterolemia using statins. The third paper (described in Appendix 1) is used as an educational tool. The goal is to describe the characteristics of a radiation therapy optimization problem and then invite the reader to formulate the mathematical model for solving it. This example is particularly interesting because it lends itself to a range of possible models, including linear, nonlinear, and mixed-integer programming formulations.

From the case studies presented, we hope the reader will develop an appreciation for the wide range of problem types that can be addressed with constrained optimization methods, as well as the variety of methods available.

Conclusions: Constrained optimization methods are informative in providing insights to decision makers about optimal target solutions and the magnitude of the loss of benefit or increased costs associated with the ultimate clinical decision or policy choice. Failing to identify a mathematically superior or optimal solution represents a missed opportunity to improve economic efficiency in the delivery of care and clinical outcomes for patients.

The ISPOR Optimization Methods Emerging Good Practices Task Force’s first report provided an introduction to constrained optimization methods to solve important clinical and health policy problems. This report also outlined the relationship of constrained optimization methods relative to traditional health economic modeling, graphically illustrated a simple formulation, and identified some of the major variants of constrained optimization models, such as linear programming, dynamic programming, integer programming, and stochastic programming.

The second report illustrates the application of constrained optimization methods in health care decision making using three case studies. The studies focus on determining optimal screening and vaccination strategies for cervical cancer, optimal statin start times for diabetes, and an educational case to invite the reader to formulate radiation therapy optimization problems. These illustrate a wide range of problem types that can be addressed with constrained optimization methods. Health care delivery, health services, health policy, medical decision making, operations research, constraints, optimal, optimization

Copyright 2018, ISPOR–The Professional Society for Health Economics and Outcomes Research.

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