Background: There is uncertainty regarding the appropriate target hemoglobin level in hemodialysis patients treated with erythropoietin (EPO).
Methods: We sought to determine the incremental cost-effectiveness of prescribing EPO to maintain different target hemoglobin levels, by incorporating the impact of EPO on health-related quality-of-life (HRQOL) issues and adopting the perspective of the health care purchaser. We evaluated the prescription of EPO to maintain target hemoglobin levels of 11.0 to 12.0, 12.0 to 12.5, and 14.0 g/dL, compared with 9.5 to 10.5 g/dL. Model outputs were quality-adjusted life expectancy and costs.
Results: The base case analysis estimated intravenous EPO requirements to be 3523, 5078, 6097, and 9341 units three times per week to maintain targets of 9.5 to 10.5, 11.0 to 12.0, 12.0 to 12.5, and 14.0 g/dL, respectively. The cost per quality-adjusted life year (QALY) gained for the 11.0 to 12.0 g/dL target vs. 9.5 to 10.5 g/dL was $55,295 US. For the 12.0 to 12.5 g/dL target compared to 11.0 to 12.0 g/dL, and 14.0 g/dL target compared to 12.0 to 12.5 g/dL, the costs per QALY gained were $613,015 US and $828,215 US, respectively. In sensitivity analysis, clinically implausible reductions in hospitalization or EPO requirements associated with the two higher hemoglobin targets were required to make their incremental cost per QALY gained <$100,000 US.
Conclusion: Dosing intravenous EPO to achieve hemoglobin targets of 11.0 to 12.0 g/dL appears to be associated with incremental cost per QALY gained of $50,000 to $60,000, compared with a hemoglobin target of 9.5 to 10.5 g/dL. Aiming for hemoglobin targets in excess of 12.0 g/dL is associated with unfavorable cost-effectiveness ratios and should not be undertaken based on current data.