The cost-effectiveness of interbody fusions versus posterolateral fusions in 137 patients with lumbar spondylolisthesis

Mohamad Bydon, Mohamed Macki, Nicholas B Abt, Timothy F Witham, Jean-Paul Wolinsky, Ziya L Gokaslan, Ali Bydon, Daniel M Sciubba
Spine Journal: Official Journal of the North American Spine Society 2015 March 1, 15 (3): 492-8

BACKGROUND CONTEXT: Reimbursements for interbody fusions have declined recently because of their questionable cost-effectiveness.

PURPOSE: A Markov model was adopted to compare the cost-effectiveness of posterior lumbar interbody fusion (PLIF) or transforaminal lumbar interbody fusion (/TLIF) versus noninterbody fusion and posterolateral fusion (PLF) in patients with lumbar spondylolisthesis.

STUDY DESIGN/SETTING: Decision model analysis based on retrospective data from a single institutional series.

PATIENT SAMPLE: One hundred thirty-seven patients underwent first-time instrumented lumbar fusions for degenerative or isthmic spondylolisthesis.

OUTCOME MEASURES: Quality of life adjustments and expenditures were assigned to each short-term complication (durotomy, surgical site infection, and medical complication) and long-term outcome (bowel/bladder dysfunction and paraplegia, neurologic deficit, and chronic back pain).

METHODS: Patients were divided into a PLF cohort and a PLF plus PLIF/TLIF cohort. Anterior techniques and multilevel interbody fusions were excluded. Each short-term complication and long-term outcome was assigned a numerical quality-adjusted life-year (QALY), based on time trade-off values in the Beaver Dam Health Outcomes Study. The cost data for short-term complications were calculated from charges accrued by the institution's finance sector, and the cost data for long-term outcomes were estimated from the literature. The difference in cost of PLF plus PLIF/TLIF from the cost of PLF alone divided by the difference in QALY equals the cost-effectiveness ratio (CER). We do not report any study funding sources or any study-specific appraisal of potential conflict of interest-associated biases in this article.

RESULTS: Of 137 first-time lumbar fusions for spondylolisthesis, 83 patients underwent PLF and 54 underwent PLIF/TLIF. The average time to reoperation was 3.5 years. The mean QALY over 3.5 years was 2.81 in the PLF cohort versus 2.66 in the PLIFo/TLIF cohort (p=.110). The mean 3.5-year costs of $54,827.05 after index interbody fusion were statistically higher than that of the $48,822.76 after PLF (p=.042). The CER of interbody fusion to PLF after the first operation was -$46,699.40 per QALY; however, of the 27 patients requiring reoperation, the incident (reoperation) rate ratio was 7.89 times higher after PLF (2.91, 26.67). The CER after the first reoperation was -$24,429.04 per QALY (relative to PLF). Two patients in the PLF cohort required a second reoperation, whereas none required a second reoperation in the PLIF/TLIF cohort. Taken collectively, the total CER for the interbody fusion is $9,883.97 per QALY.

CONCLUSIONS: The reoperation rate was statistically higher for PLF, whereas the negative CER for the initial operation and first reoperation favors PLF. However, when second reoperations were included, the CER for the interbody fusion became $9,883.97 per QALY, suggesting moderate long-term cost savings and better functional outcomes with the interbody fusion.

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