Structural neuroimaging in psychosis: a systematic review and economic evaluation

Health Technol Assess. 2008 May;12(18):iii-iv, ix-163. doi: 10.3310/hta12180.


Objectives: To establish the clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of structural neuroimaging [structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scanning] for all patients with psychosis, particularly a first episode of psychosis, relative to the current UK practice of selective screening only where it is clinically indicated.

Data sources: Major electronic databases were searched from inception to November 2006.

Review methods: A systematic review of studies reporting the additional diagnostic benefit of structural MRI, CT or combinations of these in patients with psychosis was conducted. The economic assessment consisted of a systematic review of economic evaluations and the development of a threshold analysis to predict the gain in quality-adjusted life-years (QALYs) required to make neuroimaging cost-effective at commonly accepted threshold levels (20,000 pounds and 30,000 pounds per QALY). Sensitivity analyses of several parameters including prevalence of psychosis were performed.

Results: The systematic review included 24 studies of a diagnostic before-after type of design evaluating the clinical benefit of CT, structural MRI or combinations in treatment-naive, first-episode or unspecified psychotic patients, including one in schizophrenia patients resistant to treatment. Also included was a review of published case reports of misidentification syndromes. Almost all evidence was in patients aged less than 65 years. In most studies, structural neuroimaging identified very little that would influence patient management that was not suspected based on a medical history and/or physical examination and there were more incidental findings. In the four MRI studies, approximately 5% of patients had findings that would influence clinical management, whereas in the CT studies, approximately 0.5% of patients had these findings. The review of misidentification syndromes found that 25% of CT scans affected clinical management, but this may have been a selected and therefore unrepresentative sample. A threshold analysis with a 1-year time horizon was undertaken. This combined the incremental cost of routine scanning with a threshold cost per QALY value of 20,000 pounds and 30,000 pounds to predict the QoL gain required to meet these threshold values. Routine scanning versus selective scanning appears to produce different results for MRI and CT. With MRI scanning the incremental cost is positive, ranging from 37 pounds to 150 pounds; however, when scanning routinely using CT, the result is cost saving, ranging from 7 pounds to 108 pounds with the assumption of a 1% prevalence rate of tumours/cysts or other organic causes amenable to treatment. This means that for the intervention to be viewed as cost-effective, the QALY gain necessary for MRI scanning is 0.002-0.007 and with CT scanning the QALY loss that can be tolerated is between 0.0003 and 0.0054 using a 20,000 pounds threshold value. These estimates were subjected to sensitivity analysis. With a 3-month time delay, MRI remains cost-incurring with a small gain in QoL required for the intervention to be cost-effective; routine scanning with CT remains cost-saving. When the sensitivity of CT is varied to 50%, routine scanning is both cost-incurring or cost-saving depending on the scenario. Finally, the results have been shown to be sensitive to the assumed prevalence rate of brain tumours in a psychotic population.

Conclusions: The evidence to date suggests that if screening with structural neuroimaging was implemented in all patients presenting with psychotic symptoms, little would be found to affect clinical management in addition to that suspected by a full clinical history and neurological examination. From an economic perspective, the outcome is not clear. The strategy of neuroimaging for all is either cost-incurring or cost-saving (dependent upon whether MRI or CT is used) if the prevalence of organic causes is around 1%. However, these values are nested within a number of assumptions, and so have to be interpreted with caution. The main research priorities are to monitor the current use of structural neuroimaging in psychosis in the NHS to identify clinical triggers to its current use and subsequent outcomes; to undertake well-conducted diagnostic before-and-after studies on representative populations to determine the clinical utility of structural neuroimaging in this patient group, and to determine whether the most appropriate structural imaging modality in psychosis should be CT or MRI.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / pathology
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / economics
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Neurocognitive Disorders / diagnosis
  • Neurocognitive Disorders / economics
  • Neurocognitive Disorders / pathology
  • Psychotic Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Psychotic Disorders / economics
  • Psychotic Disorders / pathology
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed / economics
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed / methods*