Economic evaluation of treatments is essential to make the best use of limited resources. The methodology for this is established and there are four basic analyses: cost-minimisation compares different methods of achieving an overall result, cost-effectiveness measures the outcome of treatment in a natural endpoint, cost-utility attempts to measure the treatment's effect on the overall quality of life, and cost-benefit examines the benefits of treatment in monetary terms. Economic evaluation should ideally be performed alongside randomised controlled trials, preferably placebo-controlled. Other less rigorous designs may be easier to arrange but will generate less conclusive results. In such trials, costs must be measured accurately and as fully as possible. Some examples of economic analysis of acupuncture are discussed.
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