Background: The most appropriate treatment(s) for patients with atrial fibrillation remains uncertain.
Objective: To examine the cost-effectiveness of anti-thrombotic and antiarrhythmic treatment strategies for atrial fibrillation.
Methods: We performed decision and cost-effectiveness analyses using a Markov state transition model. We gathered data from the English-language literature using MEDLINE searches and bibliographies from selected articles. We obtained financial data from nationwide physician-fee references, a medical center's cost accounting system, and one of New England's larger managed care organizations. We examined strategies that included combinations of cardioversion, antiarrhythmic therapy with quinidine, sotalol hydrochloride, or amiodarone, and anticoagulant or antiplatelet therapy.
Results: For a 65-year-old man with nonvalvular atrial fibrillation, any intervention results in a significant gain in quality-adjusted life years (QALYs) compared with no specific therapy. Use of aspirin results in the largest incremental gain (1.2 QALYs). Cardioversion followed by the use of amiodarone and warfarin together is the most effective strategy, yielding a gain of 2.3 QALYs compared with no specific therapy. The marginal cost-effectiveness ratios of cardioversion followed by aspirin, with or without amiodarone, are $33800 per QALY and $10800 per QALY, respectively. Cardioversion followed by amiodarone and warfarin has a marginal cost-effectiveness ratio of $92400 per QALY compared with amiodarone and aspirin. Strategies that include cardioversion followed by either quinidine or sotalol are both more expensive and less effective than competing strategies.
Conclusions: Cardioversion of patients with nonvalvular atrial fibrillation followed by the use of aspirin alone or with amiodarone has a reasonable marginal cost-effectiveness ratio. While cardioversion followed by the use of amiodarone and warfarin results in the greatest gain in quality-adjusted life expectancy, it is expensive (ie, has a high marginal cost-effectiveness ratio) compared with aspirin and amiodarone. Finally, for patients who are bothered little by symptoms of atrial fibrillation, cardioversion followed by either aspirin or warfarin without subsequent antiarrhythmic therapy is the treatment of choice.