Surgical treatment for knee osteoarthritis (OA) has become increasingly common. The many people who have damage to only one part of their joint (unicompartmental knee OA) are faced with three options—total knee arthroplasty (TKA), unicompartmental knee arthroplasty (UKA), or nonsurgical treatment. A study by Kazarian et al. in the October 3, 2018 issue of The Journal estimates the lifetime cost-effectiveness for those three options in patients from 40 to 90 years of age.
The authors used sophisticated computer modeling to estimate both direct costs (those related to medical/surgical care) and indirect costs (such as missed workdays) of the three options as a function of patient age at the time of treatment initiation. Here are the key findings:
- The surgical treatments were less expensive and provided patients from 40 to 69 years of age with a greater number of quality-adjusted life years (QALYs) than nonsurgical treatment.
- In patients 70 to 90 years of age, surgical treatments were still cost-effective compared with nonsurgical treatment, albeit less so than in younger patients. In this older age group, “cost-effectiveness ratios” of surgical treatment remained below a “willingness to-pay” threshold of $50,000 per QALY.
- When the two surgical treatments were compared to one another, UKA beat TKA decisively in cost-effectiveness among patients of any age.
After crunching more numbers, Kazarian et al. estimated that, by 2020, if all of the patients with unicompartmental knee OA who were candidates for UKA or TKA (a projected total of 120,000 to 210,000 people) received UKA, “it would lead to a lifetime cost savings of $987 million to $1.5 billion.
From these findings, the authors conclude that patients with unicompartmental knee OA should receive surgical treatment, preferably UKA, instead of nonsurgical treatment until the age of 70 years. After that age, all three options are reasonable from a cost-effectiveness perspective.
But perhaps the most important thing to remember about these findings is that they add information to—but should not replace—clinical decision-making based on complete and open communication between doctor and patient.