Objective: To examine the cost effects of a single dose (5 ml/kg) of a protein-free synthetic surfactant (Exosurf) as therapy for neonatal respiratory distress syndrome, for both rescue and prophylactic therapy.
Research design: Nonblinded, randomized clinical trials of both rescue and prophylactic therapy. Regression analyses were used to control for the independent effects of sex, multiple birth, delivery method, birth weight, and surfactant therapy.
Setting: The prophylactic trial was conducted at a university medical center only; the rescue trial also included a tertiary community hospital.
Patients: Prophylaxis was administered immediately after birth to 36 infants (38 control subjects) with birth weights between 700 and 1350 gm. Rescue therapy was administered at 4 to 24 hours of age to 53 infants (51 control subjects) with established respiratory distress syndrome and birth weights > or = 650 gm (no upper limit). Infants in the prophylactic trial were not eligible for the rescue trial.
Results: For the rescue trial, there was a $16,600 reduction in average hospital costs (p = 0.18), which was larger than the cost of the surfactant ($450 to $900), yielding a probable net savings. For the prophylactic trial, hospital costs were larger for treated infants versus control subjects who weighed less than about 1100 gm at birth and lower for treated infants versus control subjects who weighed more than 1100 gm at birth (p < 0.05). For the prophylactic sample, the result was an average cost per life saved of $71,500.
Conclusions: Single-dose rescue surfactant therapy is probably a cost-effective therapy because it produced a lower mortality rate for the same (and probably lower) expenditure. Single-dose prophylactic therapy for smaller infants (< or = 1350 gm) appeared to yield a reduction in mortality rate for a small additional cost. The use of multiple-dose therapy in infants who do not respond to initial therapy may alter the effects described above to either increase or decrease the observed cost-effectiveness of surfactant therapy. Regardless, surfactant therapy will remain a cost-effective method of reducing mortality rates, relative to other commonly used health care interventions.