Diagnostic studies of accuracy targeting sensitivity and specificity are commonly done in a paired design in which all modalities are applied in each patient, whereas cost-effectiveness and cost-utility analyses are usually assessed either directly alongside to or indirectly by means of stochastic modeling based on larger randomized controlled trials (RCTs).
However the conduct of RCTs is hampered in an environment such as ours, in which technology is rapidly evolving. As such, there is a relatively limited number of RCTs. Therefore, we investigated as to which extent paired diagnostic studies of accuracy can be also used to shed light on economic implications when considering a new diagnostic test. We propose a simple decision tree model-based cost-utility analysis of a diagnostic test when compared to the current standard procedure and exemplify this approach with published data from lymph node staging of prostate cancer. Average procedure costs were taken from the Danish Diagnosis Related Groups Tariff in 2013 and life expectancy was estimated for an ideal 60 year old patient based on prostate cancer stage and prostatectomy or radiation and chemotherapy. Quality-adjusted life-years (QALYs) were deduced from the literature, and an incremental cost-effectiveness ratio (ICER) was used to compare lymph node dissection with respective histopathological examination (reference standard) and 18F-fluoromethylcholine positron emission tomography/computed tomography (FCH-PET/CT). Lower bounds of sensitivity and specificity of FCH-PET/CT were established at which the replacement of the reference standard by FCH-PET/CT comes with a trade-off between worse effectiveness and lower costs. Compared to the reference standard in a diagnostic accuracy study, any imperfections in accuracy of a diagnostic test imply that replacing the reference standard generates a loss in effectiveness and utility. We conclude that diagnostic studies of accuracy can be put to a more extensive use, over and above a mere indication of sensitivity and specificity of an imaging test, and that health economic considerations should be undertaken when planning a prospective diagnostic accuracy study. These endeavors will prove especially fruitful when comparing several imaging techniques with one another, or the same imaging technique using different tracers, with an independent reference standard for the evaluation of results.
Gerke O, Poulsen MH, Høilund-Carlsen PF. Are you the author?
Department of Nuclear Medicine, Odense University Hospital Denmark; Centre of Health Economics Research, Department of Business and Economics, Faculty of Business and Social Sciences, University of Southern Denmark Denmark; Department of Urology, Odense University Hospital Denmark; Institute of Clinical Research, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Southern Denmark Denmark.
Reference: Am J Nucl Med Mol Imaging. 2015 Jan 15;5(2):183-94.