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Cost effectiveness of adding magnetic resonance imaging to the usual management of suspected scaphoid fractures


Objective: To determine the cost effectiveness of a magnetic resonance imaging scan (MRI) within 5 days of injury compared with the usual management of occult scaphoid fracture.

Methods: All patients with suspected scaphoid fractures in five hospitals were invited to participate in a randomised controlled trial of usual treatment with or without an MRI scan. Healthcare costs were compared, and a cost effectiveness analysis of the use of MRI in this scenario was performed.

Results: Twenty eight of the 37 patients identified were randomised: 17 in the control group, 11 in the MRI group. The groups were similar at baseline and follow up in terms of number of scaphoid fractures, other injuries, pain, and function. Of the patients without fracture, the MRI group had significantly fewer days immobilised: a median of 3.0 (interquartile range 3.0–3.0) v 10.0 (7–12) in the control group (p  =  0.006). The MRI group used fewer healthcare units (median 3.0, interquartile range 2.0–4.25) than the control group (5.0, 3.0–6.5) (p  =  0.03 for the difference). However, the median cost of health care in the MRI group ($594.35 AUD, $551.35–667.23) was slightly higher than in the control group ($428.15, $124.40–702.65) (p  =  0.19 for the difference). The mean incremental cost effectiveness ratio derived from this simulation was that MRI costs $44.37 per day saved from unnecessary immobilisation (95% confidence interval $4.29 to $101.02). An illustrative willingness to pay was calculated using a combination of the trials measure of the subjects’ individual productivity losses and the average daily earnings.

Conclusions: Use of MRI in the management of occult scaphoid fracture reduces the number of days of unnecessary immobilisation and use of healthcare units. Healthcare costs increased non-significantly in relation to the use of MRI in this setting. However, when productivity losses are considered, MRI may be considered cost effective, depending on the individual case.

  • IQR, interquartile range
  • MRI, magnetic resonance imaging
  • scaphoid fracture
  • wrist
  • magnetic resonance imaging
  • diagnosis
  • cost effectiveness

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