BACKGROUND: The rising cost of health care has increased the need for the orthopaedic community to understand and apply economic evaluations. We critically reviewed the literature on orthopaedic cost-utility analysis to determine which subspecialty areas are represented, the cost-utility ratios that have been utilized, and the quality of the present literature.
METHODS: We searched the English-language medical literature published between 1976 and 2001 for orthopaedic-related cost-utility analyses in which outcomes were reported as cost per quality-adjusted life year. Two trained reviewers independently audited each article to abstract data on the methods and reporting practices used in the study as well as the cost-utility ratios derived by the analysis.
RESULTS: Our search yielded thirty-seven studies, in which 116 cost-utility ratios were presented. Eleven of the studies were investigations of treatment strategies in total joint arthroplasty. Study methods varied substantially, with only five studies (14%) including four key criteria recommended by the United States Panel on Cost-Effectiveness in Health and Medicine. According to a reader-assigned measure of study quality, cost-utility analyses in orthopaedics were of lower quality than those in other areas of medicine (p = 0.04). While the number of orthopaedic studies has increased in the last decade, the quality did not improve over time and did not differ according to subspecialty area or journal type. For the majority of the interventions that were studied, the cost-utility ratio was below the commonly used threshold of $50,000 per quality-adjusted life year for acceptable cost-effectiveness.
CONCLUSIONS: Because of limitations in methodology, the current body of literature on orthopaedic cost-utility analyses has a limited ability to guide policy, but it can be useful for setting priorities and guiding research. Future research with clear and transparent reporting is needed in all subspecialty areas of orthopaedic practice.
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