Objective: Assessment of the cost-effectiveness and cost-utility of early intervention in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients, with combined step-down prednisolone, methotrexate and sulphasalazine, compared to sulphasalazine alone.
Methods: Multicentre 56 week randomized double-blind trial with full economic analysis of direct costs and utility analysis with rating scale and standard gamble measurement techniques.
Results: The combined-treatment group included 76 patients and the sulphasalazine group 78 patients. The mean total costs per patient in the first 56 weeks of follow-up were $5519 for combined treatment and $6511 for treatment with sulphasalazine alone (P = 0.37). Out-patient care, in-patient care and non-health care each contributed about one-third to the total costs. The combined-treatment group appeared to generate savings in the length of hospital stay for RA, non-protocol drugs and costs of home help, but comparisons were not statistically significant. Protocol drugs and monitoring were slightly more expensive in the combined-treatment group. Clinical, radiographic and functional outcomes significantly favoured combined treatment at week 28 (radiography also at week 56). Utility scores also favoured combined treatment.
Conclusion: Combined treatment is cost-effective due to enhanced efficacy at lower or equal direct costs.