, Volume 35, Issue 6, pp 613–624 | Cite as

Bayesian Methods for Calibrating Health Policy Models: A Tutorial

  • Nicolas A. MenziesEmail author
  • Djøra I. Soeteman
  • Ankur Pandya
  • Jane J. Kim
Practical Application


Mathematical simulation models are commonly used to inform health policy decisions. These health policy models represent the social and biological mechanisms that determine health and economic outcomes, combine multiple sources of evidence about how policy alternatives will impact those outcomes, and synthesize outcomes into summary measures salient for the policy decision. Calibrating these health policy models to fit empirical data can provide face validity and improve the quality of model predictions. Bayesian methods provide powerful tools for model calibration. These methods summarize information relevant to a particular policy decision into (1) prior distributions for model parameters, (2) structural assumptions of the model, and (3) a likelihood function created from the calibration data, combining these different sources of evidence via Bayes’ theorem. This article provides a tutorial on Bayesian approaches for model calibration, describing the theoretical basis for Bayesian calibration approaches as well as pragmatic considerations that arise in the tasks of creating calibration targets, estimating the posterior distribution, and obtaining results to inform the policy decision. These considerations, as well as the specific steps for implementing the calibration, are described in the context of an extended worked example about the policy choice to provide (or not provide) treatment for a hypothetical infectious disease. Given the many simplifications and subjective decisions required to create prior distributions, model structure, and likelihood, calibration should be considered an exercise in creating a reasonable model that produces valid evidence for policy, rather than as a technique for identifying a unique theoretically optimal summary of the evidence.


Author Contributions

N.A.M., J.J.K., A.P., and D.I.S. conceived the paper. N.A.M. wrote the paper. J.J.K., A.P., and D.I.S. edited the paper.

Compliance with Ethical Standards


NAM received funding from National Institutes of Health/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (Grant No. 7R01AI112438-02).

Conflict of interest

The authors report no conflicts of interest directly relevant to the content of this article.

Supplementary material

40273_2017_494_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (1 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 1065 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nicolas A. Menzies
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Djøra I. Soeteman
    • 2
  • Ankur Pandya
    • 2
    • 3
  • Jane J. Kim
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Global Health and PopulationHarvard T.H. Chan School of Public HealthBostonUSA
  2. 2.Center for Health Decision ScienceHarvard T.H. Chan School of Public HealthBostonUSA
  3. 3.Department of Health Policy and ManagementHarvard T.H. Chan School of Public HealthBostonUSA

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