Background: Respiratory isolation of inpatients during evaluation for TB is a slow and costly process in low-burden settings. Xpert MTB/RIF (Xpert) is a novel molecular test for tuberculosis (TB) that is faster and more sensitive but substantially more expensive than smear microscopy. No previous studies have examined the costs of molecular testing as a replacement for smear microscopy in this setting.
Methods: We conducted an incremental cost-benefit analysis comparing the use of a single negative Xpert versus two negative sputum smears to release consecutive adult inpatients with presumed TB from respiratory isolation at an urban public hospital in the United States. We estimated all health-system costs and patient outcomes related to Xpert implementation, diagnostic evaluation, isolation, hospitalization, and treatment. We performed sensitivity and probabilistic uncertainty analyses to determine at what threshold the Xpert strategy would become cost-saving.
Results: Among a hypothetical cohort of 234 individuals undergoing evaluation for presumed active TB annually, 6.4% had culture-positive TB. Compared to smear microscopy, Xpert reduced isolation bed utilization from an average of 2.7 to 1.4 days per patient, leading to a 48% reduction in total annual isolation bed usage from 632 to 328 bed-days. Xpert saved an average of $2,278 (95% uncertainty range $1582-4570) per admission, or $533,520 per year, compared with smear microscopy.
Conclusions: Molecular testing for TB could provide substantial savings to hospitals in high-income countries by reducing respiratory isolation usage and overall length of stay.