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J Vasc Surg. 1994 Jun;19(6):980-90; discussion 990-1.

The cost-effectiveness of early surgery versus watchful waiting in the management of small abdominal aortic aneurysms.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, Veterans Administration Medical Center, White River Junction, VT.

Abstract

PURPOSE:

The purpose of this study was to compare the relative cost-effectiveness of two clinical strategies for managing 4 to 5 cm diameter abdominal aortic aneurysms (AAAs): early surgery (repair 4 cm AAA when diagnosed) versus watchful waiting (monitor AAA with ultrasound size measurements every 6 months and repair if the diameter reaches 5 cm).

METHODS:

We used a Markov decision tree to compute the expected survival in quality-adjusted life years (QALYs) for each strategy, based on literature-derived estimates for the probabilities of different outcomes in this model. We determined hospital costs for patients undergoing elective and emergency AAA repair at our center. With standard methods of cost accounting, we then calculated the additional cost per year of life saved by early surgery compared with watchful waiting (cost-effectiveness ratio, dollars/QALY).

RESULTS:

Mean hospital costs for elective and emergency AAA repair were $24,020 and $43,208, respectively (1992 dollars). For our base-case analysis (60-year-old men with 4 cm diameter AAAs, with 5% elective operative mortality rate and 3.3% annual rupture rate), early surgery improved survival by 0.34 QALYs compared with watchful waiting, at an incremental cost of $17,404/QALY. Increased elective surgical mortality rate, decreased AAA rupture risk, and increased patient age all reduced the cost-effectiveness of early surgery. Future increases in elective operative risk, noncompliance with ultrasound follow-up and increased threshold size for elective AAA repair during watchful waiting all improved the cost-effectiveness of early surgery. Future increases in elective operative risk, noncompliance with ultrasound follow-up and increased threshold size for elective AAA repair during watchful waiting all improved the cost-effectiveness of early surgery.

CONCLUSIONS:

The cost effectiveness of early surgery for 4 cm diameter AAAs in carefully selected patients compares favorably with that of other commonly accepted preventive interventions such as hypertension screening and treatment. With an upper limit of $40,000/QALY as an "acceptable" cost-effectiveness ratio, early surgery appears to be justified for patients 70 years old or younger, if the AAA rupture risk is 3%/year or more and the elective operative mortality rate is 5% or less. Although not a substitute for clinical judgment, this cost-effectiveness analysis delineates the essential tradeoffs and uncertainties in treating patients with small AAAs.

PMID:
8201717
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

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