Objective: To determine the incremental cost of improving the outcome for extremely low birthweight (ELBW, birthweight 500-999 g) infants born in Victoria after the introduction of exogenous surfactant (the post surfactant era).
Methodology: This was a geographically determined cohort study of ELBW children in Victoria, Australia of consecutive livebirths born in three distinct eras: (i) 1979-80 (n = 351); (ii) 1985-87 (n = 560); and (iii) 1991-92 (n = 429). Exogenous surfactant was first used in Victoria in March, 1991. The consumption of nursery resources per livebirth, and the survival and sensorineural disability rates at 2 years of age for each era were investigated. Utilities were assigned as follows: 0 for dead, 0.4 for severe disability, 0.6 for moderate disability, 0.8 for mild disability, and 1 for no disability. Utilities were multiplied for more than one disability. Dollar costs were assumed to be $1470 ($A 1992) per day of assisted ventilation, and one dose of exogenous surfactant was assumed to be equivalent to one third of a day of assisted ventilation. Cost-effectiveness (additional costs per additional survivor or life-year gained) and cost-utility (additional costs per additional quality-adjusted survivor or life-year gained) ratios were calculated for the pre-surfactant era (1985-87 vs 1979-80), and for the post surfactant era (1991-92 vs 1985-87).
Results: Considering only the costs incurred during the primary hospitalization, cost-effectiveness and cost-utility ratios were lower (i.e. economically better) in the post surfactant era than in the pre-surfactant era (pre-surfactant vs post surfactant; $7040 vs $4040 per life year gained; $6700 vs $5360 per quality-adjusted life year gained). Both ratios fell with increasing birthweight. In contrast with the pre-surfactant era, cost-utility ratios were less favourable than cost-effectiveness ratios in the post surfactant era. With costs for long-term care of severely disabled children added, both cost ratios were higher in the post surfactant era.
Conclusion: The incremental cost during the primary hospitalization of improving the outcome for ELBW infants has fallen in the post surfactant era.