Introduction to Epidemiology in health economics


What is Epidemiology?

Epidemiology is a branch of medical science that systematically investigates the distribution (pattern or frequency) and determinants (risk factors, causes, etc) of any disease or any health-related states and events in a definite population.

Epidemiology word is originated from following Greek root words:

  • Epi: “upon” or “about”
  • Demos: “people”
  • Logos: “study”

Epidemiology determinants may include the associated factors which directly or indirectly determine presence or absence of any health state in a specific population.

Epidemiological study helps us to understand that at a specific location how many people are living with a disease or disorder. Epidemiology research also let us know if these numbers are changing with time and how these health conditions are affecting any specific community or country.

Types of epidemiological studies

Epidemiological studies are majorly categorized in two types:

1. Descriptive Epidemiology

Descriptive epidemiology defines the frequency and distribution of a specific disease or any health-related events under observation based on the key basic features.

Descriptive epidemiology studies answer the four major questions:

  1. How many: Such studies define how many people are affected with any specific disease or how many people exhibit a specific health state or associated event
  2. Who: Some diseases are found in some specific population or can be associated with a specific subgroup of population. Such studies define who are the most susceptible for a specific disease or health state or associated events?
  3. Where: Such studies identify the location determinant. Some diseases are limited to just a specific location due to any specific exposure limited to that location only. Some diseases are not limited to any specific area and can be observed anywhere or can spread one location to another one. Such studies define which communities or locations are more associated with any specific disease.
  4. When: Such studies identify the time determinant. Many diseases are observed to be in its peak in some specific season. Some diseases are just limited to a specific season but frequency of some diseases is not dependent on time. Descriptive epidemiological researches help us to understand such an association of a specific disease with time.

2. Analytic epidemiology

Analytic epidemiology investigate a hypothesis about the cause of disease by investigating how the different exposures relate to disease. Analytic epidemiology answers two major questions which include:

  1. How: Analytic epidemiology helps us to identify the risk factors associated with any specific disease.
  2. Why: Analytic epidemiology also helps us to identify the etiologic and other causes of any specific disease.

Why epidemiology studies are required?

The primary use of such epidemiology studies is done either to reduce or possibly eliminate the health problems or to promote the well-being of a community or any specific location.

Epidemiological studies help in achieving following three specific objectives:

1. To understand the distribution and magnitude of a disease in human population

2. To understand cause (etiological or risk factors) of a disease and its pathogenesis

3. To provide the specific data essential for the planning, and disease management which ultimately helps to prevent, control and treat any specific health problem. Epidemiology data also help to evaluate a healthcare service or priorities among the healthcare services.

Epidemiological principles are applied in following healthcare sectors:

  1. Clinical research
  2. Disease prevention
  3. Health promotion
  4. Health protection
  5. Health services research
  6. Health economics

The epidemiological outcomes play a key role in health economics, making of specific health policies, and management of health services.

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