Can endoscopic ultrasound or magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography replace ERCP in patients with suspected biliary disease? A prospective trial and cost analysis

J M Scheiman, R C Carlos, J L Barnett, G H Elta, T T Nostrant, W D Chey, I R Francis, P S Nandi
American Journal of Gastroenterology 2001, 96 (10): 2900-4

OBJECTIVES: ERCP is the gold standard for pancreaticobiliary evaluation but is associated with complications. Less invasive diagnostic alternatives with similar capabilities may be cost-effective, particularly in situations involving low prevalence of disease. The aim of this study was to compare the performance of endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) with magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP) and ERCP in the same patients with suspected extrahepatic biliary disease. The economic outcomes of EUS-, MRCP-, and ERCP-based diagnostic strategies were evaluated.

METHODS: Prospective cohort study of patients referred for ERCP with suspected biliary disease. MRCP and EUS were performed within 24 h before ERCP. The investigators were blinded to the results of the alternative imaging studies. A cost-utility analysis was performed for initial ERCP, MRCP, and EUS strategies for these patients.

RESULTS: A total of 30 patients were studied. ERCP cholangiogram failed in one patient, and another patient did not complete MRCP because of claustrophobia. The final diagnoses (N = 28) were CBD stone (mean = 4 mm; range = 3-6 mm) in five patients; biliary stricture in three patients, and normal biliary tree in 20. Two patients had pancreatitis after therapeutic ERCP, one after precut sphincterotomy followed by a normal cholangiogram. EUS was more sensitive than MRCP in the detection of choledocolithiasis (80% vs 40%), with similar specificity. MRCP had a poor specificity and positive predictive value for the diagnosis of biliary stricture (76%/25%) compared to EUS (100%/100%), with similar sensitivity. The overall accuracy of MRCP for any abnormality was 61% (95% CI = 0.41-0.78) compared to 89% (CI = 0.72-0.98) for EUS. Among those patients with a normal biliary tree, the proportion correctly identified with each test was 95% for EUS and 65% for MRCP (p < 0.02). The cost for each strategy per patient evaluated was $1346 for ERCP, $1111 for EUS, and $1145 for MRCP.

CONCLUSIONS: In this patient population with a low disease prevalence, EUS was superior to MRCP for choledocholithiasis. EUS was most useful for confirming a normal biliary tree and should be considered a low-risk alternative to ERCP. Although MRCP had the lowest procedural reimbursement, the initial EUS strategy had the greatest cost-utility by avoiding unnecessary ERCP examinations.

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