Cost effectiveness analysis of BMD referral for DXA using ultrasound as a selective pre-screen in a group of women with low trauma Colles' fractures

Technol Health Care. 2000;8(5):277-84.


Measurements of bone density (BMD) are central to the World Health Organisation (WHO) approach to the definition of osteoporosis. Dual energy X- ray absorptiometry (DXA) remains the gold standard technique for measuring the bone mineral density (BMD) but Quantitative Ultrasound (QUS) is an attractive alternative method of bone assessment because it is easy to use and relatively inexpensive. It has been suggested that QUS could be used as a selective population pre-screen, to maximise the cost effectiveness of referral for DXA assessment of BMD. We set out to examine how such an approach might perform in the assessment of women with low trauma Colles' fracture. In 46 women aged 50-80 (mean 67) years we used DXA to measure BMD at lumbar spine and hip, and heel bone ultrasound to measure Broad Band Attenuation (BUA) and Velocity of Sound (VOS). We calculated local costs of pounds sterling 45 for DXA and pounds sterling 15 for QUS. We identified a BUA threshold of 60 dB/MHz as most cost effective as pre-screen, and calculated a sensitivity of 93% and specificity of 84% in identifying those subjects who were subsequently identified as having osteoporosis by DXA. DXA assessment of all patients had a cost of pounds sterling 77 per osteoporotic subject identified. We examined the cost-effectiveness of using QUS as a pre-screen, only referring subjects for more expensive DXA assessment if BUA was less than 60 dB/MHz. However this approach had no advantage, still costing pounds sterling 78 per osteoporotic subject identified. QUS assessment does not appear cost-effective as a pre-screen for DXA, even in this high risk group of women with low trauma Colles' fracture. A QUS pre-screen would only be cost-effective if the scan could be performed at a substantially lower cost.

MeSH terms

  • Absorptiometry, Photon / economics*
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Bone Density
  • Colles' Fracture / diagnosis*
  • Colles' Fracture / etiology
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Osteoporosis / complications
  • Osteoporosis / diagnosis*
  • Patient Selection*
  • Referral and Consultation / economics
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Ultrasonography / economics*
  • Ultrasonography / methods
  • United Kingdom