Background: The TATE trial was a multicentre pragmatic randomized controlled trial of supplementing primary care management (PCM)-consisting of a GP consultation followed by information and advice on exercises-with transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), to reduce pain intensity in patients with tennis elbow. This paper reports the health economic evaluation.
Methods and findings: Adults with new diagnosis of tennis elbow were recruited from 38 general practices in the UK, and randomly allocated to PCM (n = 120) or PCM plus TENS (n = 121). Outcomes included reduction in pain intensity and quality-adjusted-life-years (QALYs) based on the EQ5D and SF6D. Two economic perspectives were evaluated: (i) healthcare-inclusive of NHS and private health costs for the tennis elbow; (ii) societal-healthcare costs plus productivity losses through work absenteeism. Mean outcome and cost differences between the groups were evaluated using a multiple imputed dataset as the base case evaluation, with uncertainty represented in cost-effectiveness planes and through probabilistic cost-effectiveness acceptability curves). Incremental healthcare cost was £33 (95%CI -40, 106) and societal cost £65 (95%CI -307, 176) for PCM plus TENS. Mean differences in outcome were: 0.11 (95%CI -0.13, 0.35) for change in pain (0-10 pain scale); -0.015 (95%CI -0.058, 0.029) for QALYEQ5D; 0.007 (95%CI -0.022, 0.035) for QALYSF6D (higher score differences denote greater benefit for PCM plus TENS). The ICER (incremental cost effectiveness ratio) for the main evaluation of mean difference in societal cost (£) relative to mean difference in pain outcome was -582 (95%CI -8666, 8113). However, incremental ICERs show differences in cost-effectiveness of additional TENS, according to the outcome being evaluated.
Conclusion: Our findings do not provide evidence for or against the cost-effectiveness of TENS as an adjunct to primary care management of tennis elbow.