Background: Low-molecular-weight heparins are effective for treating venous thrombosis, but their cost-effectiveness has not been rigorously assessed.
Objective: To evaluate the cost-effectiveness of low-molecular-weight heparins compared with unfractionated heparin for treatment of acute deep venous thrombosis.
Design: Decision model.
Data sources: Probabilities for clinical outcomes were obtained from a meta-analysis of randomized trials. Cost estimates were derived from Medicare reimbursement and other sources.
Target population: Two hypothetical cohorts of 60-year-old men with acute deep venous thrombosis.
Time horizon: Patient lifetime.
Intervention: Fixed-dose low-molecular-weight heparin or adjusted-dose unfractionated heparin.
Outcome measures: Costs, quality-adjusted life-years (QALYs), and incremental cost-effectiveness ratios. An in-patient hospital setting was used for the base-case analysis. Secondary analyses examined outpatient treatment with low-molecular-weight heparin.
Results of base-case analysis: Total costs for inpatient treatment were $26,516 for low-molecular-weight heparin and $26,361 for unfractionated heparin. The cost of initial care was higher in patients who received low-molecular-weight heparin, but this was partly offset by reduced costs for early complications. Low-molecular-weight heparin treatment increased quality-adjusted life expectancy by approximately 0.02 years. The incremental cost-effectiveness of inpatient low-molecular-weight heparin treatment was $7820 per QALY gained. Treatment with low-molecular-weight heparin was cost saving when as few as 8% of patients were treated at home.
Results of sensitivity analysis: When late complications were assumed to occur 25% less frequently in patients who received unfractionated heparin, the incremental cost-effectiveness ratio increased to almost $75,000 per QALY gained. When late complications were assumed to occur 25% less frequently in patients who received low-molecular-weight heparin, this treatment resulted in a net cost savings. Inpatient low-molecular-weight heparin treatment became cost saving when its pharmacy cost was reduced by 31% or more, when it reduced the yearly incidence of late complications by at least 7%, when as few as 8% of patients were treated entirely as outpatients, or when at least 13% of patients were eligible for early discharge.
Conclusions: Low-molecular-weight heparins are highly cost-effective for inpatient management of venous thrombosis. This treatment reduces costs when small numbers of patients are eligible for outpatient management.