Nerve transfer versus muscle transfer to restore elbow flexion after pan-brachial plexus injury: a cost-effectiveness analysis

Neurosurg Focus. 2017 Jul;43(1):E4. doi: 10.3171/2017.4.FOCUS17112.


OBJECTIVE Pan-brachial plexus injury (PBPI), involving C5-T1, disproportionately affects young males, causing lifelong disability and decreased quality of life. The restoration of elbow flexion remains a surgical priority for these patients. Within the first 6 months of injury, transfer of spinal accessory nerve (SAN) fascicles via a sural nerve graft or intercostal nerve (ICN) fascicles to the musculocutaneous nerve can restore elbow flexion. Beyond 1 year, free-functioning muscle transplantation (FFMT) of the gracilis muscle can be used to restore elbow flexion. The authors present the first cost-effectiveness model to directly compare the different treatment strategies available to a patient with PBPI. This model assesses the quality of life impact, surgical costs, and possible income recovered through restoration of elbow flexion. METHODS A Markov model was constructed to simulate a 25-year-old man with PBPI without signs of recovery 4.5 months after injury. The management options available to the patient were SAN transfer, ICN transfer, delayed FFMT, or no treatment. Probabilities of surgical success rates, quality of life measurements, and disability were derived from the published literature. Cost-effectiveness was defined using incremental cost-effectiveness ratios (ICERs) defined by the ratio between costs of a treatment strategy and quality-adjusted life years (QALYs) gained. A strategy was considered cost-effective if it yielded an ICER less than a willingness-to-pay of $50,000/QALY gained. Probabilistic sensitivity analysis (PSA) was performed to address parameter uncertainty. RESULTS The base case model demonstrated a lifetime QALYs of 22.45 in the SAN group, 22.0 in the ICN group, 22.3 in the FFMT group, and 21.3 in the no-treatment group. The lifetime costs of income lost through disability and interventional/rehabilitation costs were $683,400 in the SAN group, $727,400 in the ICN group, $704,900 in the FFMT group, and $783,700 in the no-treatment group. Each of the interventional modalities was able to dramatically improve quality of life and decrease lifelong costs. A Monte Carlo PSA demonstrated that at a willingness-to-pay of $50,000/QALY gained, SAN transfer dominated in 88.5% of iterations, FFMT dominated in 7.5% of iterations, ICN dominated in 3.5% of iterations, and no treatment dominated in 0.5% of iterations. CONCLUSIONS This model demonstrates that nerve transfer surgery and muscle transplantation are cost-effective strategies in the management of PBPI. These reconstructive neurosurgical modalities can improve quality of life and lifelong earnings through decreasing disability.

Keywords: CPT = Current Procedural Terminology; EMG = electromyography; FFMT = free-functioning muscle transplantation; ICER = incremental cost-effectiveness ratio; ICN = intercostal nerve; ICU = intensive care unit; MRC = Medical Research Council; PBPI = pan–brachial plexus injury; PSA = probabilistic sensitivity analysis; QALY = quality-adjusted life year; SAN = spinal accessory nerve; cost-effectiveness; gracilis muscle; intercostal nerve; nerve transfer surgery; pan–brachial plexus injury; peripheral nerve surgery; spinal accessory nerve.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brachial Plexus / injuries
  • Brachial Plexus / surgery*
  • Brachial Plexus Neuropathies / surgery*
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Elbow
  • Humans
  • Intercostal Nerves / surgery*
  • Male
  • Nerve Transfer* / methods
  • Neurosurgical Procedures* / economics
  • Neurosurgical Procedures* / methods
  • Quality of Life
  • Range of Motion, Articular / physiology
  • Recovery of Function / physiology