Cost-utility analysis in spine care: a systematic review

Spine J. 2012 Aug;12(8):676-90. doi: 10.1016/j.spinee.2012.05.011. Epub 2012 Jul 10.


Background context: Despite the importance of the information provided by cost-utility analyses (CUAs), there has been a lack of these types of studies performed in the area of spinal care.

Purpose: To systematically review cost-utility studies published on spinal care between 1976 and 2010.

Study design: Systematic review.

Methods: All CUAs pertaining to spinal care published between 1976 and 2010 were identified using the cost-effectiveness analysis (CEA) registry database (Tufts Medical Center, Institute for Clinical Research and Health Policy) and National Health Service Economic Evaluation Database (NHS EED). The keywords used to search both the registry databases were the following: spine, spinal, neck, back, cervical, lumbar, thoracic, and scoliosis. Search of the CEA registry provided a total of 28 articles, and the NHS EED yielded an additional 5, all of which were included in this review. Each article was reviewed for the study subject, methodology, and results. Data contained within the databases for each of the 33 articles were recorded, and the manuscripts were reviewed to provide insight into the funding source, analysis perspective, discount rate, and cost-utility ratios.

Results: There was wide variation among the 33 studies in methodology. There were 17 operative, 13 nonoperative, and 3 imaging studies. Study subjects included lumbar spine (n=27), cervical spine (n=4), scoliosis (n=1), and lumbar and cervical spine (n=1). Twenty-three of the studies were based on the clinical data from prospective randomized studies, 7 on decision models, 2 on prospective observational data, and 1 on a retrospective case series. Sixty cost-utility ratios were reported in the 33 articles. Of the ratios, 19 of 60 (31.6%) were cost saving, 27 of 60 (45%) were less than $100,000/quality-adjusted life year (QALY) gain, and 14 of 60 (23.3%) were greater than $100,000/QALY gain. Only four of 33 (12%) studies contained the four key criteria of cost-effectiveness research recommended by the US Panel on Cost-Effectiveness in Health and Medicine.

Conclusions: Thirty-three CUA studies and 60 cost-utility ratios have been published on various aspects of spinal care over the last 30 years. Certain aspects of spinal care have been shown to be cost effective. Further efforts, however, are needed to better define the value of many aspects of spinal care. Future CUA studies should consider societal cost perspective and carefully consider the durability of clinical benefit in determining a study time horizon.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Humans
  • Quality-Adjusted Life Years
  • Registries
  • Spinal Diseases / economics*
  • Spinal Diseases / therapy