Measuring outcomes in palliative care: limitations of QALYs and the road to PalYs.
Tools for measuring outcomes in health and social care have become key parts of the processes of evaluation and setting priorities. Measures of output that can be used in all settings and specialties have the advantage that they facilitate comparisons and choices between and within patient groups. However, the most commonly used composite measure of outcomes, the quality-adjusted life year (QALY) appears not to work well in complex interventions, such as palliative care, leading to the paradox that there is evidence that people would give priority to interventions and services that would be shown not to be cost-effective, using QALYs as an outcome measure. This article explores the possible reasons for this paradox, and looks at alternative approaches that may provide better tools for setting priorities within palliative care and for comparison of palliative and other care services.