Background: Decompressive craniectomy has been traditionally used as a lifesaving rescue procedure for patients with refractory intracranial hypertension after severe traumatic brain injury (TBI), but its cost-effectiveness remains uncertain.
Methods: Using data on length of stay in hospital, rehabilitation facility, procedural costs, and Glasgow Outcome Scale (GOS) up to 18 months after surgery, the average total hospital costs per life-year and quality-adjusted life-year (QALY) were calculated for patients who had decompressive craniectomy for TBI between 2004 and 2010 in Western Australia. The Corticosteroid Randomisation After Significant Head Injury prediction model was used to quantify the severity of TBI.
Results: Of the 168 patients who had 18-month follow-up data available after the procedure, 70 (42%) achieved a good outcome (GOS-5), 27 (16%) had moderate disability (GOS-4), 34 (20%) had severe disability (GOS-3), 5 (3%) were in vegetative state (GOS-2), and 32 (19%) died (GOS-1). The hospital costs increased with the severity of TBI and peaked when the predicted risk of an unfavorable outcome was about 80%. The average cost per life-year gained (US$671,000 per life-year) and QALY (US$682,000 per QALY) increased substantially and became much more than the usual acceptable cost-effective limit (US$100,000 per QALY) when the predicted risk of an unfavorable outcome was >80%. Changing different underlying assumptions of the analysis did not change the results significantly.
Conclusions: Severity of TBI had an important effect on cost-effectiveness of decompressive craniectomy. As a lifesaving procedure, decompressive craniectomy was not cost-effective for patients with extremely severe TBI.