Study objective: To estimate the cost-effectiveness of diagnostic management strategies for adults with minor head injury.
Methods: A mathematical model was constructed to evaluate the incremental costs and effectiveness (Quality Adjusted Life years Gained, QALYs) of ten diagnostic management strategies for adults with minor head injuries. Secondary analyses were undertaken to determine the cost-effectiveness of hospital admission compared to discharge home and to explore the cost-effectiveness of strategies when no responsible adult was available to observe the patient after discharge.
Results: The apparent optimal strategy was based on the high and medium risk Canadian CT Head Rule (CCHRhm), although the costs and outcomes associated with each strategy were broadly similar. Hospital admission for patients with non-neurosurgical injury on CT dominated discharge home, whilst hospital admission for clinically normal patients with a normal CT was not cost-effective compared to discharge home with or without a responsible adult at £39 and £2.5 million per QALY, respectively. A selective CT strategy with discharge home if the CT scan was normal remained optimal compared to not investigating or CT scanning all patients when there was no responsible adult available to observe them after discharge.
Conclusion: Our economic analysis confirms that the recent extension of access to CT scanning for minor head injury is appropriate. Liberal use of CT scanning based on a high sensitivity decision rule is not only effective but also cost-saving. The cost of CT scanning is very small compared to the estimated cost of caring for patients with brain injury worsened by delayed treatment. It is recommended therefore that all hospitals receiving patients with minor head injury should have unrestricted access to CT scanning for use in conjunction with evidence based guidelines. Provisionally the CCHRhm decision rule appears to be the best strategy although there is considerable uncertainty around the optimal decision rule. However, the CCHRhm rule appears to be the most widely validated and it therefore seems appropriate to conclude that the CCHRhm rule has the best evidence to support its use.
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