Cost-Effectiveness of a National Opportunistic Screening Program for Atrial Fibrillation in Ireland

Value Health. 2016 Dec;19(8):985-995. doi: 10.1016/j.jval.2016.07.007. Epub 2016 Oct 5.


Objectives: To evaluate the cost-effectiveness of a national atrial fibrillation screening program in Ireland involving annual opportunistic pulse palpation of all those older than 65 years during general practitioner consultations, with an electrocardiogram being performed if an irregular pulse is detected.

Methods: A probabilistic Markov model was used to simulate costs and clinical outcomes in a hypothetical cohort of men and women with and without screening over the course of 25 years, using a societal perspective.

Results: Screening was associated with an incremental cost-effectiveness ratio of €23,004/quality-adjusted life-year compared with routine care. Nevertheless, if the relative risk of stroke and systematic embolism in screen-detected patients is more than 12% lower than that in patients with atrial fibrillation identified through routine practice, then screening would not be considered cost-effective at a willingness-to-pay threshold of €45,000/quality-adjusted life-year. An analysis comparing alternative combinations of start age and screening interval found that less frequent screening with a later start age may be more cost-effective than an annual screening from age 65 years.

Conclusions: Annual opportunistic screening of men and women aged 65 years and older in primary care in Ireland is likely to be cost-effective using conventional willingness-to-pay thresholds, assuming that those detected through screening have a comparable stroke risk profile as those detected through routine practice. Raising the start age of screening or increasing the screening interval may improve the cost-effectiveness of a prospective screening program.

Keywords: atrial fibrillation; pulse palpation; screening; stroke.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Atrial Fibrillation / complications*
  • Atrial Fibrillation / diagnosis*
  • Atrial Fibrillation / drug therapy
  • Cost of Illness
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Electrocardiography
  • Female
  • Fibrinolytic Agents / economics
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Ireland
  • Male
  • Markov Chains
  • Mass Screening / economics*
  • Primary Health Care
  • Prospective Studies
  • Quality-Adjusted Life Years
  • Risk Factors
  • Stroke / economics*
  • Stroke / etiology*
  • Stroke / prevention & control
  • Trauma Severity Indices


  • Fibrinolytic Agents