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Ont Health Technol Assess Ser. 2014 Feb 1;14(2):1-67. eCollection 2014.

The appropriate use of neuroimaging in the diagnostic work-up of dementia: an economic literature review and cost-effectiveness analysis.



Structural brain imaging is often performed to establish the underlying causes of dementia. However, recommendations differ as to who should receive neuroimaging and whether computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) should be used.


This study aimed to determine the cost-effectiveness in Ontario of offering structural imaging to all patients with mild to moderate dementia compared with offering it selectively according to guidelines from the Canadian Consensus Conference on the Diagnosis and Treatment of Dementia (CCC). We compared the cost-effectiveness of CT and MRI as first-line strategies.


We performed a systematic literature search (2000 to 2013) to identify cost-effectiveness studies of clinical prediction rules and structural imaging modalities. Studies were assessed for quality and applicability to Ontario. We also developed a model to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of clinical guidelines (image all versus according to CCC) and modalities (CT versus MRI). Transition probabilities, utilities, and costs were obtained from published literature or expert opinion. Results were expressed in terms of costs and quality adjusted life years (QALYs).


No relevant cost-effectiveness analyses were identified in the published literature. According to the base-case results of our model, the most effective and cost-effective strategy is to image patients who meet CCC criteria with CT and to follow-up with MRI for suspected cases of space-occupying lesions (SOL). However, the results were sensitive to the specificity of MRI for detecting vascular causes of dementia. At a specificity of 64%, the most cost-effective strategy is CCC followed by MRI.


Studies used to estimate diagnostic accuracy were limited by a lack of a gold standard test for establishing the cause of dementia. The model does not include costs to patients and their families, nor does it account for patient preferences about diagnostic information.


Given the relative prevalence of vascular dementia and SOLs, and the improvement in QALYs associated with treatment, the strategy with the greatest combined sensitivity (CCC with CT followed by MRI for patients with SOLs) results in the greatest number of QALYs and is the least costly. Due to limitations in the clinical data and challenges in the interpretation of this evidence, the model should be considered a framework for assessing uncertainty in the evidence base rather than providing definitive answers to the research questions.

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