Incremental cost-effectiveness of adult spinal deformity surgery: Observed quality-adjusted life years with surgery compared with predicted quality-adjusted life years without surgery

Ian McCarthy, Michael O'Brien, Christopher Ames, Chessie Robinson, Thomas Errico, David W. Polly, Richard Hostin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Scopus citations


Object: Incremental cost-effectiveness analysis is critical to the efficient allocation of health care resources; however, the incremental cost-effectiveness ratio (ICER) of surgical versus nonsurgical treatment for adult spinal deformity (ASD) has eluded the literature, due in part to inherent empirical difficulties when comparing surgical and nonsurgical patients. Using observed preoperative health-related quality of life (HRQOL) for patients who later underwent surgery, this study builds a statistical model to predict hypothetical quality-adjusted life years (QALYs) without surgical treatment. The analysis compares predicted QALYs to observed postoperative QALYs and forms the resulting ICER. Methods: This was a single-center (Baylor Scoliosis Center) retrospective analysis of consecutive patients undergoing primary surgery for ASD. Total costs (expressed in 2010 dollars) incurred by the hospital for each episode of surgical care were collected from administrative data and QALYs were calculated from the 6-dimensional Short- Form Health Survey, each discounted at 3.5% per year. Regression analysis was used to predict hypothetical QALYs without surgery based on preoperative longitudinal data for 124 crossover surgical patients with similar diagnoses, baseline HRQOL, age, and sex compared with the surgical cohort. Results were projected through 10-year follow-up, and the cost-effectiveness acceptability curve (CEAC) was estimated using nonparametric bootstrap methods. Results: Three-year follow-up was available for 120 (66%) of 181 eligible patients, who were predominantly female (89%) with average age of 50. With discounting, total costs averaged $125,407, including readmissions, with average QALYs of 1.93 at 3-year follow-up. Average QALYs without surgery were predicted to be 1.6 after 3 years. At 3- and 5-year follow-up, the ICER was $375,000 and $198,000, respectively. Projecting through 10-year followup, the ICER was $80,000. The 10-year CEAC revealed a 40% probability that the ICER was $80,000 or less, a 90% probability that the ICER was $90,000 or less, and a 100% probability that the ICER was less than $100,000. Conclusions: Based on the WHO's suggested upper threshold for cost-effectiveness (3 times per capita GDP, or $140,000 in 2010 dollars), the analysis reveals that surgical treatment for ASD is cost-effective after a 10-year period based on predicted deterioration in HRQOL without surgery. The ICER well exceeds the WHO threshold at earlier follow-up intervals, highlighting the importance of the durability of surgical treatment in assessing the value of surgical intervention. Due to the study's methodology, the results are dependent on the predicted deterioration in HRQOL without surgery. As such, the results may not extend to patients whose HRQOL would remain steady without surgery. Future research should therefore pursue a direct comparison of QALYs for surgical and nonsurgical patients to better understand the cost-effectiveness of surgery for the average ASD patient.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberE3
JournalNeurosurgical focus
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2014


  • Adult spinal deformity
  • Cost-effectiveness
  • Health-related quality of life
  • Scoliosis


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